Local Alpaca Farm Celebrates 20th Anniversary – The Appalachian


The rolling countryside, friendly farm animals, the sounds of birds and the gently whispering wind greet visitors to Apple Hill Farm.

Located on Apple Hill Road in Banner Elk, Apple Hill Farm is a local fiber farm where “animals talk and people listen”. website. Fiber farms raise cattle and harvest their fleece.

Ayla Albert feeds an alpaca at Apple Hill Farm. (Samuel Cooke)

According to Apple Hill Farm’s mission, the remarkable alpacas on the farm offer people an opportunity to “reconnect with what is real.” Founder and owner Jane Lee Rankin said she “once met an alpaca and fell in love and decided that working with alpacas is what she wanted to do.

The farm is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year and is still growing.

“We started with animals in 2003 and opened to the public in 2006. We introduced so many people to alpacas,” said Lee Rankin. “We gave people an experience they’ve never had before. Last year over 80,000 people came to the farm.”

The farm’s mission is to provide the public with special encounters with the animals and the farm’s sweeping mountain views. you aim to help guests “disconnect from the noise and chaos of everyday life and instead connect with the animals and natural environment here on the farm,” said Ayla Albert, assistant farm manager at Apple Hill Farm.

Visitors can make connections with the animals and the landscape around them on daily farm tours. The tours last approximately 45-60 minutes and offer guests the opportunity to interact with the animals and learn about the logistics of fiber farms.

General Manager Brianne Harris has worked on the farm for 11 years and loves to share the importance behind her year round farm tours.

Apple Hill Farm is home to a variety of animals including alpacas, chickens, dogs, horses, pigs and more. Pictured is the chicken coup at Apple Hill Farm. (Samuel Cooke)

“We love giving people the opportunity to experience the mountains, listen to the birds, watch the animals, and be more conscious of themselves and their families,” Harris said.

While it is important to the team that the public enjoy the animals’ presence, the farm is not a petting zoo.

“We make sure it’s their choice whether or not they are touched while we tease them,” Harris said. “The only time we force an interaction with an animal is for medical care.”

The farm has many animals such as “alpacas, llamas, horses, donkeys, chickens, two miniature pigs, a miniature cow, regular cows, angora goats, farm dogs and a guinea,” Harris said.

The farm makes various exhibits available to the public. The most popular attractions fall between the alpacas and the angora goats, Harris said.

“The alpacas are really unique, they have this presence and energy. The Angora goats are like poodles with horns and you can feed them and they’re really social,” Harris said.

Albert said the farm could have a special impact on others.

To see a child see an alpaca for the first time and realize how special this farm is every time is unbeatable,” said Albert. “Every day is a new experience for us and our guests … there is never a dull moment.”

Aside from tours, they run various events throughout the year.

On the farm we offer knitting courses with the alpacas, photo tours and baby goat yoga in the summer,” said Albert. “Each June we also open the farm during alpaca shearing so the public can experience this side of animal care.”

The farm participates in several events in the area, such as Sugar Mountain craft fairs and the Valle Country Fair, Albert said.

Apple Hill Farms’ guard dogs play an important role as protectors from the natural predators in the area, including coyotes, bobcats, black bears and mountain lions. (Samuel Cooke)

Apple Hill Farm is about eight miles from campus and many students are employed on the farm.

“One of our goals is to be a really good place to work and to educate and inspire employees,” said Lee Rankin. “A lot of the people who work for us are App State students, so we really focus on the soft skills and give people the opportunity to learn how to work on a farm, with animals, and with the community.”

Albert said she started out as a biology student and was looking for a job with animals; Consequently, she started working as a tour guide on the farm in 2020 and then rose to become assistant farm manager in October 2021.

Harris described the farm as a peaceful haven.

“We have a lot of college students who come in during exam time just so they can get away for a little bit,” Harris said.

The Apple Hill Farm Store is open Wednesday through Friday from 12:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m. and Saturday from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. From socks to yarn to stuffed animals, all gifts at Apple Hill Farm are made from alpaca fiber.

“Almost everything we sell in our store is made from alpaca fiber,” Harris said. “It’s either made from our animals or fairly traded from Peru or the US. Everything in our business is ethical.”

An alpaca from the farm. (Samuel Cooke)

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