With school out, it’s time to take the family to FARMS! Children of all ages (as they say) love llamas and alpacas. (I was just kidding about the tigers in the headline.) Below are three of my favorite fiber stops in North Carolina, taken from my guidebook Farm Fresh North Carolina. While I was researching the book, Lina captured this lovely image of me at Bedford Falls Alpaca Farm in Warne. Note the similar hairdos. Love that!
The logo for Apple Hill Farm in Valle Crucis, near Boone, shows an apple flanked by a donkey and a goat, with an alpaca on top. Owner Lee Rankin planned to have only alpacas on the forty-three acres she bought in 2001. But after an animal she thinks was a mountain lion killed several of her alpacas, she got llamas to guard the alpacas, donkeys to bray warnings, and goats as a sacrificial meal. Since those additions, life on this lovely farm in the mountains has been peaceful but busy. In 2009 Lee opened the farm seasonally on Saturdays for tours, and she arranges private visits other days. Her setting and setup are superb. Even the barn is beautiful enough to live in. The tour includes a look at the naturally grown produce garden, berries, apple orchard, and, of course, the alpacas. A lovely shop in the barn carries goods made from alpaca fleece, goat-milk soap, and other handmade products. “What we really like is teaching people about the animals,” Lee said. “If a child learns that animals have feelings, then I’ve done my job.”
Guerrant and Janet Tredway started out buying a few llamas for their own enjoyment in 2005, “and it’s just sort of grown from there,” said Guerrant, who goes by “G. A.” In 2009 the couple started to open their 100-acre farm, west of Eden and near the Virginia border, to visitors. Not only can people touch and feed llamas and see how their fiber is processed, they’re invited to a fascinating show. G. A. will put a llama through an obstacle course, an activity for which some of their fifteen or so animals have won medals. G. A. and Janet are avid collectors of country and farm antiques, including household items, toys, and tools, which they present in two buildings, one loosely set up as a general store. G. A. also restored a sharecropper’s cabin. “We want people to see how things used to be,” said G. A., who grew up on the family land, used first for a dairy and then for a tobacco farm. “If anybody wants to donate anything, just let us know.”
With dozens of wineries in the state, it doesn’t hurt to offer something different. Perhaps the most unusual twist can be found at Divine Llama Vineyards in East Bend, which combines a llama farm with a winery. With only a parking lot between pasture and tasting room, visitors sipping their merlots can watch llamas cavort. “Ninety percent of people go to the pasture before coming to the tasting room,” said co-owner Michael West. “The llamas are people magnets, for sure.” West and his wife, Julia, co-own the farm (called Four Ladies and Me), while they and longtime friends Thomas and Julia Hughes own the winery. Together they bought seventy-seven acres in 2006, planted five acres of vinifera grapes, and opened the winery in 2009. The Wests and their three daughters have raised llamas since 2004, and they now keep a herd of about thirty-five. On most Saturdays and by appointment, the Wests will give winery customers a tour of the farm. During the grape harvest, the llamas are put to work, Michael said. “They wear packs with five-gallon buckets for the grapes, and we have fields full of volunteers who want to help them out.”