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Olympic snowboarder Jamie Anderson will be wearing a hat, mittens and a sweater made from U.S. wool in the 2018 Winter Olympics. Photo provided by Ralph Lauren.

Winter Olympics will showcase agriculture (and curling)

Not too long ago I was with some friends at a local eatery watching the television intently. The featured sport was curling.

I do not claim to know much about the sport of curling, but here’s the gist. Players slide 44-pound, polished stones with flat bottoms on ice toward a target area (sort of like winter shuffle board). Each team has four players and eight stones and they try to get the stones positioned in the highest point categories. The stone is pushed down the ice by a curler and then sweepers vigorously sweep the ice with brooms to influence the path of the stone with hopes of bonking their opponents stones to lower scoring areas and putting theirs in the highest scoring positions.

The place I was eating was very small and pretty much everyone present ended up watching curling very intently. I must say it was the most thought I’d ever given to curling, but that may change soon as it is time once again for the Winter Olympics and curling is, of course, among the many events.

While curling may not be at the top of my viewing priority list for the 2018 Winter Olympics, I will certainly try to watch some because I really enjoy all things Olympic (even, on occasion, the figure skating, but they show waaaay too much of that in my opinion). I love the snowboarding, ski jumping, speed skating and downhill skiing. I will even be taking note of the uniforms this year being worn by the U.S. athletes in the opening and closing ceremonies because they will be showcasing a unique

Winter grazing at Imperial Stock Ranch. Photo courtesy of Imperial Stock Ranch.
Winter grazing at Imperial Stock Ranch. Photo courtesy of Imperial Stock Ranch.

partnership for U.S. agriculture.

The Team USA uniforms were made with homegrown materials including wool direct from Imperial Stock Ranch, a 145-year-old family-owned sheep and cattle ranch in Oregon’s high desert. The ranch provided wool used for making the hats, sweaters, and other pieces in the opening and closing ceremony uniforms.

As the price of wool declined in recent decades, Imperial Stock Ranch began to seek out ways to add value to its products.

“Imperial Stock Ranch has been raising sheep, cattle, grains and hay since 1871. In 1999, we shifted from selling commodity wool and began a value-added business taking the raw wool to product and selling the wool products — one of which was yarn. That effort grew into multiple markets,” said Jeanne Carver, with Imperial Stock Ranch. “About 13 years later, we received a call from Ralph Lauren when they were conducting research for a Made in America program. That call led to a relationship between Ralph Lauren and Imperial Stock Ranch, and ultimately, Imperial Stock Ranch provided the wool yarns for the Opening Ceremony sweater for Team USA at the 2014 Winter Olympics and Paralympics in Sochi, Russia.”

That relationship continued leading up to the 2018 Winter Olympics that start this week in PyeongChang, South Korea.

“The Imperial Stock Ranch American Merino yarn program is used in the Opening Ceremony sweater and hat, and the Closing Ceremony sweater, hat and mittens for the 2018 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games in PyeongChang,” Carver said. “We are humble yet proud to make a small contribution to the Team USA Collection.”

The high quality end products they sell start with a focus on quality production on the ranch.

“We have a long history of sheep and wool production. This is our 147th year. It begins with genetics,

Photo courtesy of Imperial Stock Ranch.
Photo courtesy of Imperial Stock Ranch.

and our selection characteristics. Our sheep live on native grass lands in a rotational grazing management program, which is a very clean life and requires little to no inputs,” Carver said. “We ensure clean facilities prior to shearing, and then skirt and class the wool at shearing. We do not use paint on the wool and are very preventive with regard to any contamination. Having direct relationships with customers is a strong motivation for all our ranch crew to take extra care in guarding the quality and care of the wool clip.”

The wool for the Olympic uniforms was spun into yarn by National Spinning Co., Inc., an employee-owned manufacturer and distributor based in North Carolina. From there the process continues with the help of numerous other U.S. businesses partnering with Ralph Lauren to produce the Olympic apparel designed to keep the athletes warm in the predicted frigid temperatures at the event.

Though they would love to, the Carvers will not be making the trip to South Korea to see the wool from their ranch on display. They will be quite busy at home.

“We have just begun lambing, and that keeps everyone on task for the month of February,” Carver said. “This is an important time of year in our operation.”

Like the food so often taken for granted in this country, it is easy for the amazing process required for clothing (and the agricultural production of the raw materials used to make it) to be under appreciated. It is great to see a unique partnership between agriculture and the fashion industry showcased on an international stage that only comes around every four years. That makes everything about the Winter Olympics a little more exciting, even curling.

For more about the process of taking wool from the ranch to a final Ralph Lauren Olympic uniform, check out this well-done video made prior to the 2014 Olympics with Imperial Stock Ranch: https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=121&v=z7BDDj_NBEQ

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