It’s not uncommon to hear restaurants boast of being a “farm to table” establishment. Or to see an ad for a chocolate company that is proud to be “bean to bar.” Consumers are becoming more concerned about where their goods come from. Knowing there is a direct relationship between the farm and the end product gives shoppers more control over supporting people and causes they believe in. Here in Union County, Happy Hills Alpaca Farm brings the fruits of their labor straight to the public. In this spirit, it could be said the alpacas are a “farm to fiber” business.
Valerie Hietala’s life path has taken her many places, and the activities that take place at Happy Hills Alpaca Farm are the product of her rich background. Originally from Minnesota, Valerie started out with an Agricultural degree from the University of Wisconsin. She then traveled and lived in Germany for four years. After returning to the states, her educational path took her to Boston and Harvard University where she studied children’s literature. Valerie then furthered her college career by earning a Masters of Science in Ecology from the University of Colorado. Valerie has been a naturalist, teacher, author and even a real estate salesperson. But according to the Happy Hills website, she longed for the “good farm life.”
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Twelve years ago, while up in Vermont, Valerie learned how to hand spin yarn. She then bought two alpacas and brought them back to North Carolina. “We began raising and breeding alpacas shortly afterward when we bought show stock,” said Valerie. Now, Happy Hills has raised over 70 alpacas and sold over 50 of them. Valerie has personally mid-wifed over 25 alpaca births.
But Valerie is not just a farmer that raises and sells stock. Happy Hills is a “farm to fiber” business because she uses her talents to hand spin yarn from the luxury fiber of the alpacas. Alpaca fleece is similar to cashmere in feel. It can be spun to light or heavy weights and is quite durable. Alpaca fleece also has no lanolin, which makes it hypoallergenic. This makes it very desirable to buy as yarn, or knitted into socks or winter caps.
Besides alpacas, Happy Hills raises other fiber animals. They have sheep, angora goats (where mohair comes from) and a llama. Valerie said, “The sheep fleece is for needle felting and beginning spinning lessons. The mohair is for both. We give farm tours and ‘Picnic With The Paca’ tours, which are a lot of fun!” Happy Hills is also a participant in the Charlotte “Know Your Farms” tour.
Happy Hills is very open to the public. Besides the unique picnic tours, the farm offers spinning, knitting, and felting lessons that are taught by Valerie herself. They also make the alpacas available for “adopting” for a year. This program is for people who want to spend time with an alpaca, but don’t have the ability to own one themselves. Adoptive parents get to help feed and train the alpaca, and they receive updates as well as a photo of themselves with the alpaca. Another one-of-a-kind service that is offered is the “Fantasy Alpaca Shoot.” This is a photo session with alpacas that is set up in a Renaissance style.
Valerie has also written books about some of the animals on the farm. The Story of Gracie Mae is a children’s book about the farms friendly and lovable sheep. Bubu the Magic Alpaca is a children’s story about how one of the littlest alpacas helped save Santa at Christmas by rounding up all the other alpacas to help pull Santa’s sleigh. Her latest novel is Sapphire and Shoshone the Friendly Alpacas.
Besides socks and hats, Happy Hills products include hand felted toys, cat toys, dryer balls, yarn, earrings, shawls, baby outfits, and pet remembrance mementos. The farm will also sell you bags of manure as fertilizer.
Happy Hills Alpaca Farm is located between Mineral Springs and Monroe and is open to visitors by appointment. They are usually open on Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday, but do request visitors call ahead to schedule a time. The phone number is 802-683-7433. Valerie’s handmade products can be bought at the farm, or found at the Created In The Carolinas Co-op gift shop, located at 216 W. North Main Street, Waxhaw. To learn more about the farm, visit www.happyhillsalpacafarm.com, or email firstname.lastname@example.org