Patricia Sanville, Frederick County Sheep Breeders Association President
The 2020 Frederick County Sheep Breeders Association held a virtual annual meeting this year to bring sheep breeders together in a safe manner. At the conclusion of the business meeting, President Patty Sanville moved onto new business, which included the presentation of the Shepherd of the Year award. The decision to give this award virtually, and whether or not that was less exciting or somehow less of an honor, was certainly considered. Ultimately, the board voted to honor this member at this time.
There were members who were still out there, sharing their time and talent whenever possible. These members consistently raised their hand to help with virtual events, with shows that were now different, with youth programs that needed to shift gears, and with brainstorming how things could be done safely in our new reality.
The challenges our industry faced this past year and continues to face going forward into the next are no match for this member.
These members signed up for several of the demonstrations we are involved in, both by bringing sheep and demonstrating fiber arts. Again, these events will eventually resume, and I am quite sure these members will again raise their hand.
The award was presented to Mary Ellen and Matt Clark of Thurmont. Both Matt and Mary Ellen grew up in agriculture and have never shied away from a hard day’s work. As a former 4-H member in Carroll County, Maryland, and now 4-H volunteer, Mary Ellen’s roots in agriculture and Matt’s work ethic were a match made in heaven. They were married in 2000, and very soon after, began planning for their own future in production agriculture.
Clark Family Farms consists of 300 acres of crop production, including corn, soybeans, wheat, straw, timothy, orchard grass, alfalfa, and now also a commercial sheep flock. The sheep flock was added in 2013, once their daughter, Caroline, now 14 years old, joined 4-H. Mary Ellen wanted her children to represent the third generation of agriculture in her family, so a 4-H animal project was a perfect way to accomplish this. The Saylor Family helped them get started as they navigated raising market lambs with great success. With the support of fellow breeders, the commercial flock now stands at more than 25 in the breeding program.
Once the family was comfortable with a meat flock, Caroline then became interested in a heritage breed, which was being raised by the Sanville Family. The intrigue of raising an animal, harvesting wool, and making her own yarn became her number one priority, and who could stop a child from learning this art form. The registered Leicester Longwool flock was started with a ewe named Patty, purchased from Carolann McConaughy of Stillpoint Farm. This ewe became the family’s prized animal and quickly multiplied into a flock of ten and growing. The fleeces of this breed are known for the beautiful luster and ease for hand-spinning. As members of the Livestock Conservancy program, the family has been focused on breeding and exhibiting this rare heritage breed to promote its versatility to other sheep enthusiasts. Matt and Mary Ellen have expanded their business by preparing sheep pelts, handmade felted crafts, dryer balls, yarn, roving, and fleeces.
Over the years, this couple has promoted the education of their children by participating in and attending numerous programs. In addition to countless 4-H livestock judging, livestock skillathon, and entrepreneurship courses, they have attended FAMACHA classes, and the Twilight Tours hosted at the Western Maryland Research Center. This family has been focused on improving its business acumen through the many educational experiences available in the Maryland area. The children have become active sewers, exhibiting wool clothing at local, regional, and state events. The highlight of the year includes the MD Make It With Wool Contest, which three of the family members have entered annually. Preston commented, “If we could only get Dad to sew, well, that’s not going to happen!” This year, the family lambed over 16 ewes and raised the most market lambs since starting out, but did not take them to all of the shows as planned due to COVID-19. The ewes are bred again, and the family will start watching for lambs again in January.
Mary Ellen is a board member of the Frederick County Sheep Breeders and is also employed by AstraZeneca, located in Frederick. In addition to managing several farms, Matt is employed as a sales manager for Devilbiss Construction in Frederick.
Congratulations to Mary Ellen and Matt Clark, Frederick County Sheep Breeders 2020 Shepherd of the Year.
Mary Ellen and Matt Clark of Thurmont awarded Frederick County Sheep Breeders 2020 Shepherd of the Year.