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CLIFTON PARK: Festival spotlights area farms

With the cozy sound of an accordion playing in the background, Ruth Olmsted sat at a spinning wheel, making samples of wool. Kids gathered around, watching as she wove colors together into fluffy patterns of purple, blue and green.

This was a typical scene of Clifton Park's 15th annual Farm Fest. Olmsted co-owns Shepherd's Hey Farm on Riverview Road with her husband, Larry Syzdek. On Sunday, Sept. 16, Shepherd's Hey had a few dozen visitors who came to pet the sheep and learn about the farm.

This gives us an opportunity to meet with the community and have them come and see the farm and ask questions about the animals and what we do, Syzdek said. "We think it's very important that the community learns about farming and asks questions, because they don't get a chance to get close to animals. There's something very fine and peaceful about feeding animals and taking care of them."

Shepherd's Hey is one of seven local farms that participated in the town-organized event. Olmsted said that the family has owned the 17.5-acre property since 1986 and has participated in Farm Fest for the last 12 years.

The farm has approximately 90 sheep, which are sheared for their wool once a year. Shepherd's Hey also fills seasonal lamb meat orders. Olmsted sells most of the raw fleece to be spun, but said that she enjoys hand-spinning some of the fleece herself.

"It's very calming. I like the creativity of it, I like to be able to mix the colors at will and create something really creative," Olmstead said. "I like learning about ancient crafts and keeping them alive. This style spinning wheel itself goes back to the 15th century."

"I've learned a lot from working with sheep," Syzdek said. "[I learned] to deal with people in a strong but forthright way. Dealing with sheep is the same way. They have certain needs and requirements in their life and we learn about those needs and those requirements, and you can apply that in your daily life."

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