Program will make series of stops on reservation

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FARMINGTON — A program designed to promote the purchase of wool and mohair from producers on the Navajo Nation returns to the reservation this week.

Stanley Strode, wool manager for the Mid-States Wool Growers Cooperative Association, said wool and mohair will be examined to determine their grade, then weighed before the pricing is finalized.

The price is based on wool grade, and market value determines pricing.

Strode said the price for fine grade is up this year while coarse grade has seen a dip, but buyers remain committed to giving producers fair pricing.

"We are here to buy wool for commercial industry," Strode said.

With that in mind, the group will not buy Navajo-Churro wool because there is no commercial market for it.

Strode said the program helps group members obtain product while providing fair pricing to producers for their work.

In terms of packaging the wool, Strode said group members prefer that producers use plastic or burlap wool bags.

If producers use trash bags, the preference is heavy-duty plastic because it endures handling during transportation, he added.

The group will be selling plastic wool bags for $4 at each stop.

This is the seventh year for the wool and mohair buy on the Navajo Nation. The project was developed through a partnership between Black Mesa Water Coalition and Diné College's Land Grand Office.

Together, they arrange for buyers from the Mid-States Wool Growers Cooperative Association and Peace Fleece to purchase wool and Teddy Varnell, a Chicago-based independent buyer, to purchase mohair.

Strode said the idea for the buy program started when he was contacted by Roberto Nutlouis from the Black Mesa Water Coalition about visiting the reservation to purchase wool directly from Navajo producers.

That first year, the buy occurred only in Piñon, Arizona, and filled half a semi-trailer truck. Since then, the program has grown to nine communities, and purchases last year weighed approximately 143,000 pounds and filled seven semi-trailer trucks, Strode said.

"It works for us, and it works for them," he said.

The group will start on Tuesday at the fairgrounds in Window Rock, Arizona.

The next stop will be from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. Wednesday at the Diné College Center in Crownpoint.

On Thursday, they will be at the Diné College's north campus in Shiprock from 9 a.m. to noon, then at the Mexican Water Chapter house from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m.

The group will return to Arizona to visit Tsaile, Kaibeto, Piñon, Tuba City and Dilkon.

For more information, contact Diné College's Land Grant Office at 928-724-6941 or the Black Mesa Water Coalition at 918-675-8290.

Noel Lyn Smith covers the Navajo Nation for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4636 or by email at nsmith@daily-times.com.

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