Apple Hill Farm, Where Alpacas & Dreams Meet
The tagline for Apple Hill Farm is “A place where animals talk & people listen.”
Owner Lee Rankin was also certainly listening to some inner spirit when she followed her dream to raise alpacas and found herself buying a farm in Banner Elk, NC.
Moving to a new state, alone with her toddler son, she dug-in, bought her first three alpacas in 2002, and learned the hard way through experience and research. Those first animals were attacked; two of them and their newborns were killed by a mountain lion (locals swear mountain lions are in the area, but the State won’t confirm). One thing led to another and now the thriving herd is protected by innovative fencing, guard donkeys (they will easily fend off coyotes), working guard dogs and a herd of sacrificial goats who seem to have nothing to fear.
A hands-on owner, Lee is constantly checking on things and chatting with guests. Her other animal residents include chickens, Shetland ponies, horses, llamas and angora goats.
As visitors came to the farm, more and more people were requesting tours and the agri-tourism aspect of the farm began to fall into place. Truly “organically” grown (as they like to say in the business world today), the business has evolved and expanded based on demand.
There are now daily walking tours at 2PM, between mid-May through mid-October, as well as by appointment. Tours are $12 for adults, $7 for children, free for kids under 3, and last from 60-90 minutes depending on how chatty the group is and what’s going on. Our guide Brianne was absolutely terrific. A recent psychology graduate from nearby Appalachian State University, she has worked at the farm for several years. Her love of the animals, exceptional knowledge, and ability to handle the group were awe-inspiring.
The tour is great with children or without. I went with adult friends and we all enjoyed the day. We were in luck and got to see the annual shearing, which generally takes place on the first Saturday in June.
A highlight of the visit was meeting spinner/artist Joanne Lawrence who was spinning the alpaca wool by hand on a spinning wheel; calmly pumping the foot pedal as she chatted with us. She is an accomplished knitter and artisan who makes the most magical fairy dolls. We were privileged to see a couple of her works-in-progress, and now understand their curly mohair locks are made from Angora goat wool. She made it all look so easy . . . .
The Farm’s gift shop is stocked with the largest selection of alpaca products in the High Country. They have more than 20 varieties of alpaca yarn from lace to rug weight, in a wide variety of colors. In addition to the wool for the DIY crowd, there are plenty of really cute and beautiful items like socks, hats, scarves, gloves, dolls, ornaments and more for those of us who prefer some ready-made retail therapy (but, alas, not Joanne’ fairies, which are generally made to order).
Find out what other surprises are waiting at Apple Hill Farm.
Can you hear what the animals are saying?
Just the Facts:
Apple Hill Farm, Banner Elk, NC