Walking back to the house, I asked John and Iris how they decided to start farming. In 2007 John had retired from working in food distribution and wanted something different to do. One evening, while watching TV they saw a commercial about raising alpacas for their wool. By 2008 they had built the infrastructure and started farming. At this point they had also begun to learn more about sustainable farming systems. John read books by Joel Salatin and began to feel more and more strongly that they needed to be part of a natural and sustainable food system. They realized that many parts of our society are losing their relationship with food and that it is important to be connected with food and farmers. With the economic downturn of 2008 they knew they would not be able to make a living solely with Alpacas and gradually began to diversify. Currently they shear the alpacas in the spring, and then send the wool to be processed. It comes back to them as skeins of yarn, as well as finished products such as socks and sweaters. They sell these at markets in the fall and winter. In the spring, summer, and fall they operate their CSA, sell at the Portsmouth and Suffolk Farmer’s Markets, and operate a PYO blackberry field.
Back at the house, sipping on ice tea, I asked John and Iris what they enjoy most about farming. They answered that in addition to the peace and quiet, they love the feeling of connection to the land and animals. The best times of the day are dawn and dusk , sitting on the porch with a cup of coffee or a glass of wine, experiencing the sunrise or set, and watching the interactions of the animals.
But farming has its challenges as well. Alpacas tend to get intestinal worms that can wreak havoc on their health. The traditional way of dealing with the worms is to give them antibiotics every month, whether they need them or not. This is what John and Iris were taught, and what they did until the worms in their alpacas began to develop a resistance to the antibiotic. John knew there had to be a better way. After quite a bit of research they have settled upon a rotation of natural treatments to keep the worms in check. These include rotating between putting diatomaceous earth, vinegar, peroxide, and Shacklee soap in the alpaca’s water several days each month. Also, lespedeza, a grass like plant, kills the worms. He feeds this to the alpacas several days a month. Taking a cue from Joel Salatin, he also keeps chickens in the alpaca field to aerate the earth, interrupting the worm’s life cycle. This year, they are installing fence to create more grazing areas for the alpacas. This will enable them to implement a rotational grazing system, to keep the land and alpacas even healthier.
Despite these challenges and the hard work, John and Iris enjoy their life. They say it keeps them young. And farming and eating locally is important simply because it provides the community with food, really, really good food.