Farm to Finery 9

Eco-Friendly Alpacas at Good Karma Ranch

We’re all familiar with the idea of farm to table—but what about farm to finery?

In an era when sourcing locally and sustainably is a cultural and culinary bulwark, what does that mean for other industries sourced from things grown in our rich Carolina soils or grazed on our grasses? For Mike and Shelly Walsh, it means a lot.

The New York natives aren’t part of a multigenerational lineage of farmers; before they purchased their 12 acres in Iron Station over a decade ago, they’d barely dipped their toe—or rather, finger—into our lands. “I didn’t even grow up with pets,” Shelly says with a laugh—let alone shearing alpacas. But that’s what she and her family—and the crowds who gather to watch them—do once annually.

That’s because the Walshes are the proprietors of Good Karma Ranch, an eco-friendly, solar-powered alpaca farm that breeds top-notch Huacaya alpacas, shearing their soft, wooly coats every year to create sustainable fiber.

It wasn’t alpacas that inspired Shelly and Mike to farm, but rather sustainable farming that brought the family to alpacas. “We basically were living in Huntersville for a long time and felt like we needed to get out and have more space around us,” Shelly explains. “So we bought this farm owning no animals. We weren’t sure about the direction we wanted to go in, but knew we wanted to be here.”

They first adopted llamas to learn how to care for animals, then rescued horses. But the duo wanted to invest in livestock—and, hopefully, a career—that was easy on the land (horses’ hard hooves and hungry mouths turn pastures to mud holes) and that fit into their eco-friendly farming practices. Those desires brought them to alpacas.

Good Karma Ranch’s business is threefold: breeding with other ranchers, producing the sustainable specialty fiber, and agritourism.

Finding sustainable, USA-made fabrics and fashion is nigh-on impossible, which is what makes Good Karma so special. Products made from alpaca fleece, like gloves, socks, pashminas and throw blankets, are sold in the farm store. After the annual shearing, the wool is sent to a co-op that gathers other alpaca fiber from around the country, made into products, and sent back to the Walshes. “It’s hypoallergenic, so it’s not itchy,” Shelly notes. “It’s more like a cashmere with the warming properties of wool, and items tend to be really thin.” Add to those qualities the fact that alpacas are so eco-friendly (see sidebar), and you’ve got the perfect fabric.
That’s why Shelly is equally passionate about the agritourism side of the business. “Sustainability is really important to us,” she says. “We run our farm on solar as well, and our entire farm business on solar energy. Alpacas, we see them as a sustainable, renewable resource.” She pauses. “It’s just the way that things are supposed to be.”