From every fiber of their beings

Cranston sheep farmer plans Johnston Historical Society presentation


After morning chores at Hurricane Hill Farm, owner Drake Patten took a moment to appreciate her surroundings.

“What draws the eye is the sheer beauty of the place — its woodlands and fields and waterways, the birds and wildlife that make their home here,” she said, pausing, adding one more asset to the list: “The light.”

At 2 p.m. on Sunday, March 24, the Johnston Historical Society will provide a glimpse behind the scenes of the 48-acre Cranston sheep farm. They’ll host Patten as their next featured speaker at the society’s 101 Putnam Pike museum.

Earlier this week, while struggling to keep the animals fed and the work from piling up, Patten reflected on her unique, surviving Ocean State property.

“At the same time, its history is visible,” she said, putting her early morning observations into words. “The land is also bounded by stone walls and stone fences-reminding us of a time when Western Cranston was all farms — field upon field as far as you could see. But the farm’s story begins long before those walls were built.”

The working farm’s focus may be wool production, but its owners have pledged to cultivate history and the arts as well as their fuzzy livestock.

“The Narragansett people were drawn here by the natural resources the area offered and eventually, the colonists saw the same value — and, as is true across New England, imposed their ideas of land ownership on the indigenous population,” Patten explained.

Her History

Before she moved to Rhode Island in 1998, Drake served as an archeologist at various American historic sites including Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello in Virginia. According to Patten, her past academic research “focused on the intersections of slavery, freedom and gender in the ante- and post-bellum South.”

She believes her “background in history, archaeology and anthropology” afford her a unique perspective on “managing a small, historic fiber farm during a time of big agriculture and fast fashion.” And now her current research is “focused on the story of her own farm; one that begins long ago with the Narragansett people.”

“I’m trained in history, archeology and anthropology so I am constantly thinking about this place from a variety of viewpoints — trying to understand all the stories it tells,” Patten explained. “So for me, the thru-line is the land — that is the thing that connects all the chapters of this place. One day, when we are no longer its stewards, the land will continue to speak.”

Drake and her husband Wright Patten bought the farm in 2014.

Since, they “have worked to re-wild this place while also developing a rare breed fiber flock to promote wool as a remedy to synthetic fabric and fast fashion.”

“The work is relentless and often overwhelming (there are only two of us) but it is always fulfilling, it is always a gift,” Patten wrote via email on Tuesday morning, as the chores piled up. She was short on time, but long on love for Hurricane Hill.

Shear Passion

Hurricane Hill Farm’s still working.

Drake Patten shepherds a small flock of Leicester Longwool sheep. Her Johnston Historical Society talk will be called “Woolen-u-like to talk about it? The history and tradition of fiber farming on a small Rhode Island Farm.”

“In this conversation, we’ll explore the history and magic of wool, its intimate role in early America, its 20th Century replacement with plastic-based textiles and its exciting current resurgence as a sustainable, renewable material for a climate change-conscious future,” she wrote in her pitch to the Johnston Historical Society. “We’ll handle fleece and finished products, discuss how raw fleece goes from the back of a sheep to your back and delve into the life of a shepherd. All of this will be viewed through the lens of a 21st Century fiber farmer working on an historic, conservation farm in Cranston.”

Patten assured the historical preservationists on Putnam Pike that “no sheep will be harmed in this talk,” but “sadly, none will be attending.”

“Before [she] fell in love with sheep,” Drake Patten said she worked in the “local nonprofit sector leading the RI Council for the Humanities and the Steel Yard.” She also owned Cluck! Farm and Garden until 2020, but now focuses primarily on selling heritage goods, hosting farm events, and most importantly, raising Leicester Longwool sheep.

Hurricane Hill Farm, while focused on wool production, has survived and evolved over time and now plays a few other integral roles (courtesy of its owners). So, besides a working farm, Hurricane Hill’s also a peaceful retreat, a home to artists, a workplace of makers, an event space, a naturalist’s delight and a place to stay, according to its website (

“Back in 2014, we had only a tiny inkling of what it would take to begin the re-awakening of this place we call Hurricane Hill,” Patten wrote. “What we had instead was a big dream, a lot of determination and some decent experience with old places. Still, what we had imagined while we negotiated price and sought financing paled in comparison to what we learned once the property became ours.”

Preserving More Than Land

Hurricane Hill Farm’s motto: “Shave ‘em to Save ‘em!”

“I am fascinated with how intertwined (pun intended) textiles (and textile production) were in our lives for millennia and how far away we have strayed from that as manufacturing and profit turned to synthetic material and fast fashion-most of that only in the last 100 years,” Patten wrote. “When I have the opportunity to point out how closely we once lived with animals like sheep (for example how many sheep-related phrases are part of our language), I find that people slow down and think about that.”

Her presentation on March 24 is “intentionally interactive and built with a hands-on focus.” She’ll utilize “no slides or Powerpoint, just conversation and exploration.”

“My husband and I live on a farm where the past is ever also the present and that has a great influence on how we work, what we think about and how we try to share it with others,” Patten explained. “While the talk won’t bring people to the farm, we do have our Shearing Day coming up on May 4th — a great day to see the farm in action and watch the flock get shorn for the summer.”

When Drake and Wright Patten first visited Hurricane Hill, “the land was neglected and overgrown, the soil heavily compacted from years of horses on untended trails.”

“Trees had healed around old sections of fencing, lengths of discarded hose held gates shut-or permanently open,” Patten explained. “Piles of tires and car parts littered the woods. Swathes of the property were literally impassable. Some neighbors had taken to using our land as a dumping ground for old Christmas trees, yard waste and their dogs’ needs.”

A 19th Century barn still stood, however, framed in timber and packed “with trash and broken equipment.”

“The rental cottage was neglected and, as we came to learn, inhabited by a robust population of mice,” Patten recalled. “The main house, although well-restored in the first half of the 20th Century, needed a total reset. Every single building needed a coat of paint and new gutters. We knew the farm had been loved before us, and we believed it would rise to the occasion of being loved again, but it was hard to see the path.”

The couple had a terrible first winter, marred by “buried junction boxes, mouse nests, a suspect pipe, sodden insulation … Any tradespeople we hired had to reschedule as the snow piled up and our governor closed the roads.”

“We stood inside the gutted cottage, listened to the howling wind and watched deer come in silent numbers to the back field, raising high up on their hooves to eat any and every bit of any evergreen they could reach,” Patten recalled. “It was the starving time outdoors. Indoors, we were feeling a bit worried ourselves.”

Then they discovered delightful surprises — “a hidden cache of love letters from World War II, an attic time-capsule with still more correspondence (this time from the Vietnam War), racks of vintage clothes, a box of Beatles memorabilia and a few lovely oil paintings” — which fueled their efforts.

“And of course, the best surprise was how much difference it made as each surface was stripped, cleaned and refinished,” Patten explains to prospective visitors. “Slowly, but surely, the path cleared. Since that first winter, we have continued to experience ups and downs, continued to find ourselves fixing one thing only to see another one break. Sometimes we curse the place, sometimes its beauty brings us to tears.”

The sheep help. Their wool growing, thickening; the personality-packed animals ever in need of attention.

“What has been a constant throughout is the miracle of the farm returning to life — of land being given back to its wild self and to bird life and to us,” Patten wrote to preserve the history of her farm’s resurrection. “And all those creatures (and we) have become part of this place. Today, we marvel at the diversity of birdsong, the density of native bees and other insects, the return of native plants to our meadows and even the seasonal migration of frogs across the land (and sometimes through our buildings). Even on the hardest days, we feel gratitude. There could be no better metaphor for life.”

The March 24 Johnston Historical Society event will be free and open to the public. For more information, call 401-231-3380 or email


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