Right now I'm working on a piece for MatadorNetwork about the Lansing, NC area. They asked me for a "story" about my neck of the woods, and Lansing was it. It's a teeny town (population: 108) that must be at the vortex of some wormhole. It has heart. It has pull. It has that pioneer spirit that beckons to people.
It also has alpacas.
The story is likely going to be full of the most interesting people of the town taking guesses about this wormhole theory. Why they came there, what gave them their energy, and how it seems to foster a lack of conformity and new, ahead-of-the-curve ideas without even trying. It's also going to be full of photos by Megan Deitz, who was kind enough to get wrapped into my hare-brained idea and put her name behind the visuals.
On our trek back and forth over the Appalachians in pursuit of this story, one of the places we stopped was Landmark Farm, an 18-acre farm outside of Lansing dotted with just-sheered alpacas. While I got the down-low from Ralph and Rachelle, two people I'm now convinced have dream careers, Megan got to poke her nose around the alpaca pen and make a few new friends. The farm has 9 of the 20-some varieties of alpacas (though 15 alpacas in total), all of which are some degree of frickin' adorable. And it turns out – incredibly sustainable.
For years now, Kashmir (cashmere) goats have been taking their toll on the land. Some would say the industry is environmentally catastrophic. The grasslands of China are turning into icy deserts, and as cashmere is getting cheaper, it ain't getting any better. There are over 20 million goats in Mongolia alone, and 90% of the land there is desert-ifying thanks to over-grazing.
Alpacas, on the other hand, don't destroy root systems and have hooves that don't destroy the topsoil. What's more, it takes four goats to make one cashmere sweater; it takes one alpaca to make four sweaters. And did I mention how cute they are?!
Alpaca fibers can be just as soft as cashmere, and often are less likely to pill. Fashion designers are starting to catch onto this, too, and Louis Vuitton and Versace are already filling their lineup with alpaca, while other designers are on wait-lists for the best of the Peruvian fibers. Yet another way Lansing is trendy and setting the mark!
In the coming years, we'll likely see the alpaca business booming, as it probably should. The only way an alpaca sweater could be better, really, is if the picture of the alpaca the sweater came from was on the tag.
Oh, and if you're wondering about getting one as a pet, you have to adopt two. They're pack animals – and you'll be twice as happy.