As a girl in her carefree teenage years, Natasha Lehrer was not anticipating the awakening of her entrepreneurial spirit when her family moved to the countryside from a Chicago suburb. Settling into rural life in the village of Big Rock, Illinois, she felt a deep connection to a biblical verse from the book of Esther: “And who knows but that you have come to royal position for such a time as this?” Inspired by the legacy of the agrarian lifestyle sur- rounding her new home on the Midwestern prairie, Natasha considered raising sheep. In the process of seeking her path, a kind soul gave her a spinning wheel, and fatefully the Lehrers’ new house came with a loom. An unexpected turn of events led to the purchase of a lamb and a mother ewe, and overnight Natasha became a sheep farmer.
Full of pluck and passion, she dove right in, getting her hands dirty as she learned the shepherding trade and steadily increasing her flock over the years. She taught herself to spin wool and began weaving. Enamored of the honesty and integrity of the community, Natasha yearned to help her fellow local wool producers by connecting knitters and spinners with the farmers who created the fibers.
Determined and devout, Natasha won a United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) value-added grant for single-use agriculture in the fall of 2005. At 19 years of age, she used the seed money to purchase a large, rambling Victorian house and christened it Esther’s Place in homage to her biblical inspiration and the ewe she brought home that first summer. “As I started one thing, it began to roll into many other areas,” Natasha recalls, as she details all that the business encompasses—a fiber arts studio, a retreat center, and an educational facility.
The house became her headquarters. Here, she strove to connect the two worlds of farming and fiber arts by teaching the time-honored traditions of weaving and spinning while preserving the identity of locally sourced fibers. The sincerity and goodness of the American farmer are felt here—sheep graze in a bucolic pasture visible through the windows, and shelves display vibrant colors of wool. “Esther’s Place is unique because we take it a step backward from what you normally see in a yarn shop,” Natasha explains. “We can’t call a wholesale distributor when we need ten more skeins of wool.”
In addition to having developed an enduring love for her community, Natasha feels compelled to extend her message throughout the country. She works with the USDA and the American Farm Bureau to help raise awareness and to encourage legislative efforts to maintain wool as a valuable commodity. Her quiet, persistent voice has become the champion of farmers and fiber lovers everywhere.
Natasha smiles as she recounts the highlights of her work at Esther’s Place. “The best part is sitting down with a group of people from all over, talking together and working together,” she says. The shop has become a vibrant resource, blessed with the interactions and relationships created beneath the rambling roof of the haven she has nurtured. It is a house where Natasha’s vision rings true—a place where all are warmly welcomed to learn, laugh, linger, and be inspired.
Text Brittany Williams
Photography Kimberly Finkel Davis
Styling Yukie McLean
“Spinning the Good Life” can be found on page 82 of the January/February 2011 issue of Victoria.