This past weekend I had the distinct pleasure to spend the day at Black Diamond Alpacas Ranch. The day was set up as a one day knitting retreat with Kira K. who is not only a talented designer and teacher but just a damn cool human being.
The day began early under a leaden sky which dumped and drizzled rain. I drove an hour and a half from my home near SFO out to Brentwood, CA. Rolling, unusually green (from all the rain we've had this winter) hills with giant wind turbines, wind farms as they are called, greeted me after I left the interstate. It was almost surreal and a little creepy honestly. The wind turbines are so enormous, they gave me the feeling the earth was being invaded by aliens.
The long rural roads through farmland took me further and further away from the hectic pace of the Bay Area. I was in heaven. I could smell soil, manure and green things and it made me supremely happy. No matter how much I grow in my small backyard garden, I just can't escape the fact that I live in a town with neighbors right on top of me and loads of concrete everywhere.
I pulled into the ranch and climbed out. The farmhouse is lovely. Light and airy with a huge porch which provides shelter from rain (like on this day) and protection from the upper 90s to 100 degree heat of the summer.
We spent the morning snacking on goodies, drinking tea and coffee, learning a great slip stitch pattern from Kira, fondling and purchasing beautiful alpaca yarn, playing with the resident kitties and meeting the owners of the ranch.
After lunch we went out to see the girls. There are about 50 males and 50 females on the ranch. They are kept separate because in order to sell a cria you need to know exactly who the daddy is. All animals are microchipped so they know who is who.
The ranch owners, Donna and Mike love their alpacas and know each of their names. It was interesting to talk to them about the current market. There's not that much demand right now for alpaca so they do not want to breed any. Additionally, it's getting so expensive to produce the yarn that it's almost cheaper to buy it from Peru! But they don't want to do that. Donna and Mike shear their alpacas in the spring, send the fleeces to a Northern California mill to spin it. Then they dye it themselves on the ranch. It's a local product!
Mike talked about their experiences at Stitches West as vendors and how there is so much price gouging to get more customers. But that hurts local businesses. It's not sustainable. One of the great things about the resurgence in popularity of knitting, crochet and spinning is that people are more and more willing to pay for their yarn, especially high quality locally produced yarn. Sure it costs more, but that cost is not lining the pockets of the ranchers, it's barely covering costs.
We, as fiber folks, can help. Whenever you can, please purchase yarn from small producers like Black Diamond Alpaca. We have the power to help grow this segment of the yarn market and that is good for both us and the ranchers. The ranches thrive and we get beautiful, high quality unique yarns. It's a win-win!
Do you have a favorite small business you like to purchase yarn from?