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They Offer All Natural Tanning
The 3 women who started Driftless Traditional Tannery use all natural tanning techniques. It’s a slow and labor-intensive method that uses minerals, tannins from trees, natural oils, and smoke.
“We did a lot of reading, a lot of research and had a lot of trials and failures,” says Bethany Edmond Storm, Driftless Traditional Tannery. “We tried using brains and eggs, but they were too labor intensive. We eventually settled on using alum because it matched our ability to do tanning at scale.”
Storm and her partners Brandi Bonde and Danielle Dockery met through an organization called Soil Sisters. The group encourages and supports women farmers and ag entrepreneurs.
“The idea of a tannery came to us because we didn’t like the process used on our animals’ hides,” says Storm. “We wanted hides tanned without bleaches or peroxide and other dangerous chemicals. We didn’t want to put anything into the waste stream that could do damage.”
Once they had the concept in mind and had identified a possible process, they went to work using hides from their animals and from local butchers. One area farmer gave them 5 hides to experiment with.
They built much of the equipment they now use, including a small tumbler that has since been replaced with a larger unit. Other items include a smokehouse, buffing table, and a vat with paddles. Bonde set aside space in her barn for a controlled environment.
“The biggest challenge was funding to get us up and running,” says Storm. “We received a personal loan from one supporter and held plant sales this past spring to raise money.”
Prospective customers are encouraged to study and follow the tannery’s web page on hide processing. It provides detailed instructions on the do’s and don’ts of preparation.
“Because we don’t use pesticides or heavy chemicals, it’s important that hides come to us in the best possible condition,” says Storm. “If we get hides that are warm or with excess amounts of offal or meat, we risk hair slippage due to bacteria. If our customer does everything they can with the hides, we will do all we can.”
Currently the tannery charges a flat rate of $75 for tanning services. Cured sheepskins on the website are priced from $200 to $300 or more. Goatskin drums range from $180 to $200.
While they are satisfied with the process they now follow, Storm says they continue to refine it and explore new recipes such as one that uses bark from a mimosa tree. They are also upgrading equipment when they can.
“We would love to have a facility open for training people,” she says. “The local fibershed movement is huge, and there is a great need for tanneries like ours.”
“We make no promises on when we can get a hide back to the owner,” says Storm. “When we sent hides out, it commonly took a year and a half to get them back.”
Contact: FARM SHOW Followup, Driftless Traditional Tannery, W6124 Pioneer Rd., New Glarus, Wis. (ph 608 669-5608; driftlesstraditionaltannery@gmail.com; www.driftlesstraditionaltannery.com;

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2021 - Volume #45, Issue #1