Posts Tagged With: leather

Meet Our Leather Crafter Alena Ivakhnenko

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If you visit our General Store in Bluffton you’ll notice our leather workshop tucked in the back corner. Our leather crafter Alena works here daily and has hand-made almost every leather product on our shelves.  Alena grew up in the Ukraine and spent most of her childhood in her grandmother’s garden. There she developed a deep connection with agriculture and the natural world.

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Once she realized it was possible to turn the outdoors into a career and a lifestyle, Alena began focusing on gaining experience and worked in Ching Animal Sanctuary, the Utah Conservation Corps and the Alaska Forest Service. She hopes to work her own farm in the future and also educate high school age teenagers about agricultural career options.

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Alena applied to White Oak Pastures as an intern in the Garden Program. While working in the garden, Alena listened to the Farmer to Farmer podcast. This podcast highlighted the opportunity for value-added product creation in the farming off-season. Alena hopes to work with value-added products such as leather with her own farm and saw the White Oak Pastures leather crafting position as an opportunity to learn a life-long skill.

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While Alena’s background in photography lent her a visual eye, she has never worked with her hands in a craft like this before. However, she applied her hard work ethic and artistic eye and grew the leather department immensely. Alena finds it very rewarding to “experience what goes in to developing and expanding a business”.

mortelliti_lowres-2179The most gratifying aspect of her job is the “appreciation from people who get the products I make with my own two hands”. Alena finds it “satisfying to see something that I made from start to finish that people are using”.

A difficult part of her job is performing repetitive tasks while still maintaining attention to detail. Working with hair-on leather is also very hard and she will occasionally get “hair splinters”.  Our leather is very thick and working with it can be quite time consuming. There is also a fair amount of problem solving regarding stitching and cutting since each hide is unique.

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The goats and turkeys are Alena’s favorite White Oak Pastures farm animals. The goats are “silly and cute” and the turkeys are “super sweet and really intelligent birds”.

Customers often come in to our General Store and see Alena working in the leather shop. However, they do not automatically assume that the leather she’s crafting comes from our own cattle. Alena sees this as a symptom of our consumer society’s isolation from the product supply chain. She feels our leather department plays an important role in helping consumers reevaluate how they see the product supply chain. Alena feels strongly that a zero-waste approach to farming is important for the future of sustainable farms and how they think of revenue.

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Categories: Rural Community, Staff Spotlight, Zero-Waste | Tags: , | Leave a comment

We’re Into Leather

We’re into leather! The White Oak Pastures Leather Department was created to utilize our cowhides in a way that is continuous with our zero-waste protocol.

The journey of our cowhides to leather is a labor intensive one. Hides are removed by hand in our red meat abattoir, then there are three avenues for our hides once they are removed from the carcass. Hides are either A.) used by our leather department, B.) hand crafted on our farm into pet chews or C.) sold to a pretannery in Kentucky.

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We learned the hard way, but now, we only save cowhides during the winter months because this time of year is cool enough to preserve them. At the end of each day, the hides are transported to an on-farm barn where they are salted and stored. We create a hide-salt lasagna layering hide, salt, hide, salt. We use about 200 pounds of salt per hide. The hides are stored here for 4-6 weeks. After this, we shake the excess salt off the hides, fold them onto pallets and load them onto our trailer which we personally drive to a multi-generational family-owned tannery in Sebring, FL: Sebring Custom Tanning. About 6 months later, after the hides are tanned and ready for pick up, we make the drive back down to FL and bring them back to White Oak Pastures. We have a great relationship with the tannery and they do a wonderful job with our hair-on and hair-off cattle hides. The product returned to us is a Full Grain Leather, which means the suede and the top grain layers remain together to create a quality product and feel.

Our leather craftsman, Alena, is self-taught in the art of measuring, cutting, dying and sewing leather into beautiful finished products. We create patterns that we like and want to wear or carry, and in return, our customers appreciate these same patterns as well. Although we use the same design every time, each hide is different, and as such there are no two identical items in our store. The spine of each hide is thickest, this is where the sturdiest leather comes from. We use this section for our bigger bags (totes), coasters, mouse pads, belts, dog collars and keychains. The edges of the hide (the belly) are thinnest and most flexible and we use this section for our smaller bags, new cross-body bags, bracelets, earrings, and wallets.

Come see us in our newly opened White Oak Pastures General Store. In the far corner, tucked away, you’ll find our leather workshop.

With the holidays quickly approaching, keep in mind our leather products make great gifts and are available in our online store. Look forward to new patterns, color palates and craftsmanship in 2017!

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Categories: Zero-Waste | Tags: , , | 2 Comments

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