Embracing Nature and Tradition: A Conversation with Jessandra Phillips of Hawthorn Farm, Mayne Island, BC.
At the sunny end of Mayne Island, British Columbia is a haven of rustic charm and natural beauty, owned and nurtured by the passionate Jessandra Phillips and her somewhat irascible husband Jonathan. Their journey began in 2008 when they purchased their farm; a decision that would pave the way to a life steeped in agriculture, creativity, and sustainability.
The farm was blessed with a south-facing orientation but cursed with a hard rocky clay soil which required a regenerative approach to farming. Embracing the allure of farm life, Jess and her husband planted five hundred apple trees, introduced bees, ducks, chickens and milking goats, expanding their animal family as their beloved Border Collie found companionship among his many new friends. The addition of five Icelandic sheep marked a pivotal moment, sparking Jess’s fascination with traditional yarn-making.
These Icelandic sheep, famous for their appearance, provide fleece that Jess has sheared on a twice yearly bases. The fleece, with its fast-growing and soft fibers, travels from Mayne Island to a custom mill in Alberta. Jess personally oversees the process, ensuring 50 pounds of fleece transforms into the cherished Icelandic Lopi yarn. The vintage machines at the mill add a touch of nostalgia and charm to this intricate process.
When asked about her preference for Lopi yarn, Jess lights up with enthusiasm. “I love the traditional style,” she shares. “Acrylic yarns simply don’t compare. Lopi yarn is soft and warm, making it perfect for crafting Icelandic sweaters and scarves. Its rustic quality adds character and depth to every creation.”
What sets this wool apart is its extraordinary composition, consisting of two distinct fibers that harmonize to create a textile marvel.
The inner fiber, delicate and soft, wraps you in a cocoon of warmth. Its fine texture not only feels luxurious against the skin but also provides unparalleled insulation, making it perfect for chilly days. Meanwhile, the outer fiber, long and glossy, stands as nature’s shield against the elements. Water-repellent and breathable, it ensures you stay dry and comfortable, even amidst rain or snow.
What truly makes Icelandic wool exceptional is the seamless union of these fibers. Together, they form a lightweight yet incredibly warm fabric, embodying the essence of coziness without the heaviness. Whether you’re wrapped in an Icelandic wool sweater or snuggled under a blanket, you’re guaranteed unparalleled comfort.
Despite her busy life tending to animals, participating in the farm’s regenerative practices, and preparing for the opening of the Last Ox Cidery in 2024, Jess finds fulfillment in her creative pursuits. Not only does she dream of fashioning a sweater using her chunky knitting machine, but she also channels her artistic energy into crafting exquisite pieces of jewelry. Under the moniker “Waters Edge Silver,” Jess sells her silversmith creations online, showcasing her talent and love for craftsmanship.
Reflecting on the farm’s journey, Jess shares, “It’s been a labor of love, a tapestry woven with trials and errors ( lots of errors ). From bees to birds, our land thrives with life. We try to harness the lessons of nature, employing techniques like using fleece pellets around our apple trees to nurture the orchard.”
As I bid farewell to Jess (I could chat with her all day if I could!), we leave with a profound appreciation for her dedication to the land, her craft, and the preservation of tradition. Mayne Island’s rustic beauty finds its embodiment in Jess’s farm—a sanctuary where nature, tradition, and creativity harmoniously converge.