Missouri Woman Puts Sustainable Spin on Farm Life

Related Story

COLUMBIA - It all started with a trip to Washington. This one vacation made Ann Mayes give up her job in corporate America and sell her house in the suburbs. All so she could raise alpacas.

"They're addicting," Mayes said with a smile.

It was in the state of Washington nearly a decade ago that Mayes first became familiar with alpacas. After the trip, Mayes bought a farm and three alpacas, but it took some time for alpacas to become her passion.

"You've got to sheer them once a year. That's how I got started in the fiber business," Mayes said. "After the first sheering, I'm looking at all this fiber and saying, 'I got to figure out what to do with this.'"

As the owner of Alpacas d'Auxvasse, Mayes sheers, sorts and washes the fiber of her 28 alpacas before sending it off to be carded. Carding involves using brushes to separate and straighten the fibers. Afterward, Mayes spins the fiber into yarn, which can then become socks, shirts, sweaters or shawls.

"Anything you can do with wool, you can do with alpaca fiber, but alpaca fiber is so much softer," laughed Mayes.

The uses for alpaca fiber don't stop there. Maya Creek, a site aimed at teaching ways to live a sustainable lifestyle near Fulton, uses alpaca fiber to insulate its houses. Alpaca manure also works as fertilizer and their mouths are regular lawn mowers. Alpaca fiber can also be used for rugs, bird balls and toys.

Mid-Missouri Peaceworks director Mark Haim said all of the extra uses add up.

"If you grow some corn or wheat or soy beans, you'll make some money," Haim said. "But the dollars per acre are nowhere near the dollars per acre if you raised tomatoes and made it into salsa or tomato sauce."

In Mayes case, the added uses for alpaca fiber make it a value added product or as Haim explained, a perfect example of sustainable living.

Mayes got one of 38 booths at the tenth annual Sustainable Living Fair on Sunday, an event chiefly organized by Haim, to present the ways she lives "green." According to Haim, the fair was designed to give the roughly 500 visitors a sense of empowerment so that they believe their actions can make a difference.

"It's a sense of no one can do everything, but everyone can do something" said Haim.

(Amanda Sohaney/KOMU)