Three milking goats, two dozen laying hens, and a large garden in June of 1946 at the age of 10, was the commencement of my desire to be a farmer and the start of what today is Cestari Sheep & Wool Company. Initially going door to door selling my products was noteworthy, because it gave me experience in dealing with people, a practice I still believe in today at the age of 80.
Francis Chester at Age 12, 1948Within two years of selling goats milk, eggs, and produce at the age of 12, I operated a farm stand on a newly acquired property that fronted a major highway on Long Island just acquired by my father. This stand proved to be my gateway to the real world of business. I had to learn how to negotiate purchases from produce brokers and farmers, and how to deal with the public. This operation paid my entire way through college, law school, and graduate school, and also allowed me to buy a small farm in Mill Neck, New York, adjacent to Oyster Bay, Long Island.During this time, I acquired my first herd of sheep, old type Suffolk’s and Horn Dorset’s, which back then had a pretty good fleece. I had a great time selling both lamb and wool.In 1968, recently married to my lovely wife, Diane, I sold everything on Long Island and moved our herd of sheep to a farm in Virginia. My marketing approach, by necessity, had to change. In 1969-1970, I proceeded to have our wool processed and spun by a New England mill. Diane and I packed the yarn, loaded it into our car, and took it off to yarn shops in the Washington, D.C. and Northern Virginia. We sold the finished yarn from 3,000 lbs. of our wool within 2 weeks of our road trip and thus started a new approach to our sheep and wool operation - selling yarn. It was about this time that I changed breeds, first to Columbia, then adding Targhee sheep later. In the 1970s, wool mills were going out of business around us. I was very concerned about where I could get my wool processed and converted into yarn going forward, so I decided to buy wool mill equipment to establish my own mill. I visited many mills and studied their operations carefully to learn the ins and outs of the manufacturing end of the industry.
In 1981, I set up my first yarn mill with great success. Later, I moved the operation to my present location in Churchville, Virginia. Our business is family owned and operated. My wife, Diane, is my rock and the caretaker of the herd. My son, Scott, heads up production at our mill and helps around the farm. My daughter, Sabrina, is our head sheep shearer in the Spring. My grandson, Tristan (age 12), helps in our country store, does all the landscaping around our business, helps out on the farm (he herds the sheep on his four-wheeler) and travels with me from time to time to trade shows and events. My granddaughter, India Rose (age 8), is the new face of our marketing initiative.
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