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Lysa Gallardo Grant, owner of Pocopaca, Jim Thorpe, Pa.

| 03.18.2013 |

In case you are wondering, the individual in the above photograph is not the subject of today's interview. The photograph features one of the residents of Pocopaca, an alpaca farm based in Pennsylvania's Pocono Mountains. And our Superstar of the Week, Pocopaca owner Lysa Gallardo Grant, is enjoying the unique opportunity of creating a business experience based on her love of animals.

 

We'll allow our camera-friendly alpaca to stay in the picture while this week's Superstar tells the story behind her farm's creation.

 

Q: What was the inspiration for Pocopaca?

 

Lysa Gallardo Grant: I've always loved animals. I'm a trained vet tech and I run a small farm here in Jim Thorpe, Pennsylvania. I've raised chickens, turkeys, a steer, a pot-bellied pig and goats, but none of them were as cute as my alpacas. Initially, I was looking for an animal to guard my chickens and thought of a guard llama. I reached out to a Yahoo! group and was contacted by a local farm owner who was looking to re-home two alpacas. They turned out to be great chicken guards, as well as the start of Pocopaca.

 

Q: How long did it take to start Pocopaca, and when did it officially launch?

 

Lysa Gallardo Grant: I've been raising alpacas for the past five years or so, but we only registered the farm name last year. When I became secretary of the Small Alpaca Famers of America (SAFA) organization, I thought it was important to formalize our operation a bit.

 

Q: What have been some of the challenges in starting and maintaining Pocopaca? And conversely, what have been some of the high points of this endeavor?

 

Lysa Gallardo Grant: I've had some unique challenges with this farm because I'm not approaching this business in the typical fashion. Most alpaca farmers raise registered show animals that sell for a great deal of money. They breed these animals and sell them to other farmers, many of whom spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on their farms.

 

All of my alpacas are rescued animals. They come to me when they get too old to breed or get sick with something that bigger farmers fear might spread through their herds. I take them in and care for them. But that doesn't mean I'm not in it to generate some revenue.

The fiber these animals grow is very special. I'm building a business that will provide this fiber to crafters who will use it to knit or crochet projects. It means I have to learn or work with partners to get the animals sheared, the fiber cleaned, carded, spun into yarn and then sold. As for high points, every morning when I go out to the barn to feed and care for my alpacas qualifies. I love them very much.

 

Q: How have you been able to promote the farm and your alpaca yarn sales? And what kind of a feedback have you received, to date?

 

Lysa Gallardo Grant: We have a website and we're using social media, but the truth is we've been careful not to over-promote. If you don't shear your own animals and if you count on third-party mills to prepare your fiber, you're at the mercy of their schedules. That makes it hard to fulfill too many orders.

 

Many of the people to whom I sell my fiber are already in the industry, so volunteering for SAFA and for other organizations brings me into contact with people I can market to. SAFA also provides a place on their site to sell your products. People who use alpaca fiber for their projects don't require much selling. All they have to know is where to find you. Attending conferences such as GALA (Greater Appalachian Llama and Alpaca Assoc) and the annual Camelid Conference is another great way to connect with other prospective clients.

 

To date, I have sold yarn and product only to friends and family who are grateful and are amazed at the softness and strength of alpaca fiber versus other fiber, such as wool or synthetic yarn.

 

Q: What professional advice would you give to someone who is interested in following your example and launching their own alpaca farm business?

 

Lysa Gallardo Grant: Well, they should only follow my example if they truly love the animals. Becoming a breeder is where most of the money is made in this industry and I don't participate in that. However, there is plenty of information available online for anyone who wants to get involved in that part of the business.

 

There are some great Yahoo! groups with folks who are happy to answer questions. And I would recommend visiting a local farm. Many farms participate in Alpaca Farm Days, usually in September, where you can meet farmers and ask questions or just meet an alpaca.

 

If you're interested in what I do, contact me through the Pocopaca website. I'll be happy to tell anyone about the joys of this work.

 

(Editor's note: Pocopaca can also be visited via Facebook.)