Theresa McEvoy, who co-owns and operates an alpaca farm and retail space with her husband Andy in Little Falls, NY, first became interested in alpacas when she visited a farm in nearby Oppenheim. “I went on a farm visit in 2002 and fell in love,” she said. McEvoy enjoyed that initial visit so much that she spent the next two years working on the farm gleaning all she could about caring for the animals.
In 2004, Andy surprised Theresa with two Huacaya alpacas, both male, and within the year, two females were added so a breeding program could begin on the couple’s farm, Paca Gardens, outside of town.
Over the next decade, the herd size grew to over a dozen and the excess fiber meant McEvoy needed an outlet. However, making the leap from farm to an off-site retail location was huge. “At that time, not a lot of people knew about alpaca,” she said.
Fortunately, the couple knew of a cooperative market located downtown, where they operated their shop under the farm name.
“It was very simple,” said McEvoy. “We set-up our booth and loaded our product in. The Shops at 25 West are a co-op, so there was no need for us to physically be there. From the first month, business was great and our products were selling very well.
That was 2008. By 2012, business was going well enough that the couple decided to keep the booth at The Shops and expand into an additional, larger retail space located on Main Street. “Once we opened up our very own store, we decided to keep a smaller booth at The Shops,” said McEvoy.
There was only one problem.
The herd was still growing. “We could not possibly supply a store our size,” explained McEvoy. Instead, the couple joined a U.S. co-op fiber pool, where their fiber is blended with other alpaca from U.S. farms and milled into product. McEvoy also imports product directly from Peru, where alpacas are native.
While McEvoy said she hasn’t experienced many challenges in terms of keeping the retail spaces and farm going, she was concerned about engaging a local demographic. Quality alpaca fiber is valuable and add to that the cost of processing and milling the fleeces, it translates to higher retail prices.
McEvoy found the more affordable and practical items like socks, made from alpaca fibers, are popular with regular visitors to the store. The insulating quality of alpaca fiber is similar to polar bear fleece, and in the local climate laughs McEvoy, “It’s not long before they are back for more socks now that they know the insulating benefits of alpaca.”
“Facebook has been good to us,” said McEvoy, who shared the social media platform allowed her to educate people on uses for alpaca fibers, while sharing their farm and retail progress. She also relies on local print media and television to get the word out to people who might be passing by Little Falls on the interstate. “We bring in a lot of traffic into our beautiful city from outside the area,” she said.
McEvoy said farming and operating a retail location means long hours, but said the rewards are worth it. “We run our business completely ourselves. It’s been a great experience and we look forward to what the future may hold.”
She went on to say the benefits extend far beyond the revenue, and advised farmers considering a retail outlet to be prepared for the communicative aspect of retail. “We’ve had great conversations with some fantastic and loyal customers and met some great people through the years,” said McEvoy. “They’ve become friends.”
The duo also sees regular visitors to their farm, where people are able to interact directly with the animals. McEvoy said this is a vital component to educating the end consumer about how quality care begets quality fiber. She also enjoys watching others benefit from spending time with the animals.
McEvoy advises farmers, interested in raising alpacas: “Know you’ll make mistakes; we all do. But get up the next day and make positive changes so that mistake becomes a lesson.” She added, “Never forget, your alpacas are why you’re here. Take care of them as you would any other animal in your care.”
Afterall, continued McEvoy, “Healthy alpacas are happy alpacas.” And happy alpacas mean, in this case, a happy farm couple who saw their dream come to fruition.