Fiber Farms can be Fabulous Fun to Visit

Originally Posted: Thursday, January 10, 2013


Fiber farms are a fabulously fun way to meet your farmer! Spruce Ridge Farm alpaca raised by Steve McCarthy and Jeff Lick are surely the luckiest animals in the field. They are fed a special vegetarian grain with molasses base that they love to eat, roam freely on the gorgeous rolling hills sprawling 48 acres in Old Chatham and seem to love where they live among their “family” of one llama, 66 alpaca,100 guinea hens, 35 egg laying hens, Cosmo, the black lab and official farm “greeter” and their wonderful owners who have dedicated their lives to making all of these animals well cared for, comfortable and happy. And their fur coats! Thick and enviable keeping these alpaca six times warmer than wool all winter long.


McCarthy told me, “I love having animals and I do all of this for them. They are treated well, they live happily and we make business and support community by selling their fiber.” An avid gardener and inspired by an article he read about alpaca manure being a great natural fertilizer, the curiosity became reality. McCarthy and Lick decided to move out of the city and bought their alpaca farm in 1999, formerly a horse farm and orchard prior to that, to raise these lovely creatures (think Dr. Seuss)! Having a passion for organic gardening and animals, the venture naturally took off for the couple.


When I visited the farm there were new babies, lots of teenagers, ladies and a few golden girls in the flock with multi generations of offspring. Perdita, at 13 years of age, has been at the farm since birth and is the best producer for quality babies. Satire is the eldest at 19 years old. She came to the farm pregnant from Peru and was the first of the flock. She’s been the matriarch since and seemed spry and alert nibbling away on grain.


Perhaps not as well known as their cousin, the llama, who weigh closer to 450 pounds and typically are domesticated to be beasts of burden or pack animals; alpaca are smaller, about 170 pounds and live to be about 20 years old. Both descend from the Camelid family, which includes camels, vicuñas, llama, guarnero and alpaca. Herbivores, they eat one cup of grain per day, are shorn once annually in the spring for fiber, are bred anytime of the year and are super clean as they make their “restroom” communal in one spot instinctively — so the farm never smells, always pristine!


At Spruce Ridge Farm, the “McLick” couple married last year to bond their 32-year partnership and live at the farm. They raise pigs and cows to “know their food source” as well as offer services for alpaca breeding, boarding and stud services. Year-round farm tours are available with the couple. Four people work on the farm with Steve and Jeff — Katie Chrysler from Ghent manages the shop and Lick’s dad, Bob Lick, at 90 years old, is a testament to healthy farm living. He mows the acreage and manages errands essential for the many hands to make light work rule.


At the Spruce Ridge Farm shop you will find everything you need and plenty more for your closet and the home. Choose from socks (3,000 pairs per year sold!), incredible rugs and fiber baskets (perfect for laundry or baby gifts) woven with recycled fabric and coarse fiber!


They have lush sweaters, coats, vests, scarves, shawls, sofa throws, gloves and hats all made locally by various designers, through cooperative fiber pools that create unique and chic items that made me swoon. And you feel good about it as they give back to the community. The hats are knit by Girl Scouts from the Hawthorne Valley school, they work with a learning disabled group who offer crochet and weaving and local folks design and produce beautiful products for the shop. I may swear off cashmere and source all of my favorite things down the road at Spruce Ridge Farm.


Alpaca fiber farming is responsible by nature. It lacks the need for chemical processing or cleaning, which means rivers and lakes are not polluted with mill effluents. Available in 22 natural colors so dramatic chemical dyes are never required, unlike chemical-based fabrics, alpaca keeps you warm even when wet and is better for the environment.


Value added is the name of the game in agriculture and to sustain profitability McCarthy explained, “It’s different from other types of farming. Here we take fiber, sort and grade, send to the mill where the yarn is spun ready to sell or make diverse products to sell direct to the consumer.”


Lick added, “Similar to all farming, if you produce a single crop you won’t do as well as if you offer value added products to cater to many and afford a profit. And in the Hudson Valley we have better opportunity for success given our proximity to New York City or Boston and clientele who value the work we do.”


And the prices are beyond fair — these products would costs hundreds if not thousands at Bergdorf’s!


McCarthy and Lick work all year long tending to their busy shop and supporting local events. They host their own open farm day annually at the end of September. The shop is open on weekends (Saturday and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 4p.m. and by appointment) and farm tours are welcome and encouraged.


Alpaca are so adorable, so soft to touch and so meticulously well kept at Spruce Ridge Farm — forget FAO and bring the kids on a farm tour. They will bliss out and never forget the experience! They will be chatting about their new alpaca friends for months to come — and you will too. Spruce Ridge Farm is a treasure in our region not to be missed. A great day out in the winter months for fresh air. FarmOn!


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