By BRWIA Interns Megan Biddix and Abby Bishop. June 2013
I’ll be the first to admit it, I wasn’t exactly sure what an alpaca was until I visited Landmark Farm Alpacas. Last Thursday morning, I pulled on my shoes, tugged on a sweater, and headed towards Grassy Creek, NC. In my mind I was imagining that corny llama named Tina, from the movie Napoleon Dynamite, with mangy fur and a tendency to spit at the least provocation. That was about the closest connection that I had to any type of animal resembling an alpaca. Lets just say I was in for a surprise.
As we turned onto Landmark Church Road, the winding drive led us to a field revealing these interesting creatures that looked gentle and serene, and INCREDIBLY cute. We were soon under the inspection of several alpacas, heads lifting up curiously, mid-graze. The previous image of the animal that I had created in my mind instantly dissolved. In fact, these guys and gals looked nothing like “Tina.”
Landmark Farm Alpacas is owned and operated by Ralph and Rachelle Bridges. Retiring from Florida and relocating to the mountains of western North Carolina, this couple purchased their first alpaca in 2008, and from what it seems like after spending the afternoon with them, it was love at first sight. Ralph told us that Rachelle had always had a strong interest in alpacas, so when it came time for them to retire, they were drawn to the idea of owning and operating their own alpaca farm. In October of 2010, they made their dream a reality and transitioned from Tallahassee, Florida to the small town of West Jefferson, NC, the gateway to the Blue Ridge Parkway. Their alpacas live in an immaculate barn that they like to refer to as the “Paca Palace,” (And let me tell you something, that barn was seriously one of the nicest facilities I’ve seen). Currently, the barn houses about 12 alpacas, and Rachelle excitedly told us there was soon to be a new addition to the family. As soon as Rachelle got to the barn, she and Ralph proudly ushered us over to a fenced area that they reserved for showing the animals.
"Making a connection and learning from local farmers is what the Farm Tour is all about."
With what took hardly any coaxing, four alpacas strutted towards us and into the fenced area, heads tilted curiously to the side. I was amazed at the variety of colorings and textures of the animals’ coats. Ralph and Rachelle rattled off their names (Speed bump, Nalah, Smudged in Black... just to name a few) and proudly cracked a few jokes about what this guy, or this girl, had once done. It turns out that alpacas each have very unique personalities. After spending about 20 minutes or so admiring these beautiful animals, petting their soft coats and listening to funny stories, Rachelle and Ralph let the alpacas out of the pen and back into their larger grazing area. Rachelle then led us back to the barn so that we could see their freshly sheered alpaca fleece.
“…down the road, we also hope to promote sustainable farming and agritourism, as well as the healing nature of these gentle creatures through the use of animal-assisted therapy.”
Alpacas are native to Peru, and when the summer months begin to approach, they are given “hair cuts” in order to help keep them cool. Once sheered, the alpaca fleece is sorted and stored in preparation to be made into fiber for a variety of goods. I was excited to learn that the Bridges’ had yarn available for purchase that was made from the fleece of their animals. The yarn included a small identification card with a picture of the alpaca, the animal’s name, and a fun fact about the specific animal. It’s so exciting to me to imagine being able to create a garment out of material from an animal that I’ve met, from a farm that I’ve visited.
Touring Landmark Farm was a great experience, and a lot of fun! From learning about an exotic, fuzzy animal that I hardly knew a thing about, to making connections with their knowledgeable care-takers, the trip out to Landmark Farm was well worth the drive. Afterwards, I found I was a lot more knowledgeable about alpacas and what goes into running an alpaca farm. Ralph and Rachelle Bridges are an inspiring couple who prove that retirement doesn’t just mean Tuesday morning bridge groups or a senior citizen discount (not that there is anything wrong with either of those). When asked about future plans, the couple said: “…down the road, we also hope to promote sustainable farming and agritourism, as well as the healing nature of these gentle creatures through the use of animal-assisted therapy.” Making a connection and learning from local farmers is what the Farm Tour is all about.
You couldn't ask to meet a more passionate, knowledgeable couple than the Bridges, so make sure to mark their farm as a stop on the High Country Farm Tour on August 3 and 4th!