Belfast Mini Mills finds new U.S. market

An American couple is on P.E.I. this week to buy a $100,000 mini mill for their business run by people with special needs.

Workplace for people with special needs buying $100K mini mill

Denise Vinciguerra says the mill will help St. Isidore Farms. (CBC)
An American couple is on P.E.I. this week to buy a $100,000 mini mill for their business run by people with special needs.

Denise and Mark Vinciguerra run St. Isidore Farms in Michigan. The farm provides meaningful employment for adults with special needs. It has a vegetable garden, horses and alpacas

"They run the entire farm. They grow the vegetables, they go to the farmers markets, we raise alpacas — and there's where the mini mills come in," says Mark Vinciguerra. 

The mill will let them turn alpaca​ fleece into yarn. That will either be made into things like scarves, or sold to retailers. 

After a world-wide search for mini mill makers, they settled on Belfast Mini Mills. 

Fights high unemployment rate

Mark Vinciguerra says the unemployment rate for special needs people is up to 90 per cent in Michigan. He and his wife's daughter Renee has special needs and they started the farm for her seven years ago.

Today, more than 75 people work on the farm each week to feed the animals, take the horses to pasture and clean the stalls. "The program is a vocational skills program. They come in and learn skills," Denise Vinciguerra said. 

"It gives our special population that sense of accomplishment," her husband added. 

The couple have the money and are ready to buy. They're in P.E.I. to make final arrangements and to learn how to operate the machine. 

Mills in northern Scotland and Libya

It's the first time Belfast Mini Mills owner Doug Nobles has built a mill for people with special needs, but he's no stranger to international dealings. 

The family-run business, which employs 20 people, has mills in 30 countries. That includes remote locations like North Ronaldsay in Scotland's Orkney Islands, Libya and across South America. 

"This is exciting for us because we're always looking for new ways to sell machines," he said. "We've never done anything for special needs."

The St. Isidore mill will get extra safety features and Nobles will travel to Michigan to help get the mill running. 

He expects to start building it later this summer and have it ready for Christmas.