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Woman-operated Wisconsin tanning company is all natural

PAOLI, Wis. (AP) — A stiff piece of cowhide and a mangled beaver pelt tacked to the wall serve as reminders of the beginnings.

A pile of soft, plush sheep skins are the proof of progress for these Soil Sisters, their biceps well-toned, their business plan unique.

Driftless Traditional Tannery is providing farmers with an alternative for their hides without the use of harsh chemicals favored by large-scale tanneries.

Instead of chromium, bactericides, acids and formaldehyde, the recipe for success for Bethany Storm, Danielle Dockery and Brandi Bonde includes salt, alum, farm fresh eggs and gallons of olive oil purchased in bulk from Costco.

A visit last week to their small production facility behind Landmark Creamery in this artisan hamlet offered up a glimpse of the physically demanding, wet and sometimes dangerous work required to turn a hide into a blanket, throw, seat cover, dog bed, purse or drum.

“I think we all enjoy the physical work of it,” Bonde, 43, said. “We’re all the type of people who move constantly. It will keep us fit, that’s for sure.”

The process can include the use of sharp hand tools and the “machine of doom,” a motorized fleshing machine that resembles a grinding wheel only with a razor-sharp blade to remove membranes. Hides, most always speckled with blood and fecal matter, are cleaned with a power washer and transferred back and forth into troughs, a washing machine and a massive tumbler. And it’s all done by hand.

“The cleaning process is intense, and messy and critical,” Dockery, 51, said. “And when it’s wet it’s really heavy and your shoulders are on fire. And that’s what I love.”

The trio, all farmers themselves, have combined their talents to create one of the few natural tannery businesses in the country...

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