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April 10, 2006

Alpacas pack ‘em in

photo of alpacas
Moore County farmer Joe Picariello feeds his alpacas. (Photo by Becky Kirkland)

Moore County farmer Joe Picariello, 63, was content with the idea of raising his alpacas – longhaired South American animals of the camel family – and enjoying a quiet life on his small farm. That is, until an invitation from Cooperative Extension planted a new seed and inspired him to become part of a burgeoning industry in North Carolina: agricultural tourism.

Within a year of receiving Extension’s invitation to visit agritourism operations in Eastern North Carolina, Picariello and his wife Ursula launched an agricultural tourism venture of their own, Crystal Pines Alpaca Farm, complete with hayrides, a petting zoo and educational programs.

“After visiting those [agritourism] farms, we said to ourselves, ‘We can do this with our alpacas,’” Picariello said. “We bought other animals, including miniature cows, pigs and donkeys; put up an old-fashioned barn; installed a barnyard and bought a hay wagon. We’ve only been in operation for about a year, and already it’s been very successful.”

Helping Picariello is Moore County Agricultural Extension Agent Taylor Williams. With support from the GoldenLEAF Foundation, Williams created the Sandhills Farm Market and Agritourism Development Project.

The project’s Web site, www.SandhillsAgriculture.com, offers visitors a detailed color map that features 42 different agritourism ventures in Montgomery, Anson, Moore and Richmond Counties. Stops along the map invite visitors to enjoy everything from pick-your-own berry farms to corn mazes, ice cream stands and animal farms.

And now, more farmers will be able to participate, thanks to a GoldenLEAF grant that will pump an additional $26,000 into the project, enabling it to expand to other counties and add new heritage sites that highlight the work of local craftspeople.

On a peak day, Crystal Pines Alpaca Farm hosts 200-300 children from area schools, and in it’s first year of business, the farm netted $4,000. The biggest attractions: friendly alpacas who give “kisses” on the cheek and chickens that lay colored eggs.

“Taylor and the Extension office were such a big help,” Picariello said. “We went to all the workshops … they answered all of our questions, or if they couldn’t, they’d tell us where to go to get the answers. I’m so pleased we got out there and tried this.”
--S. Stanard

Posted by Suzanne at April 10, 2006 03:12 PM