Boonville farm opens for tours

The Folarons acquired a herd of alpaca including some pregnant alpaca whose babies — called cria — were born at Purple Alpaca Farms.

Lisa Michals | The Tribune

BOONVILLE — Purple Alpaca Farms on N.C. 67, with its whimsical sign, funny-looking inhabitants and jam-packed parking area, is a product of the pandemic that was named by a 4-year-old.

The 33-acre farm is home to Gloria and Marcel Folaron and their two young daughters, more than 20 alpaca, some pullets, and an assortment of ducks from the neighborhood who just moved in when the barn started looking so cozy back in October when the Folarons arrived from California. Their youngest daughter’s favorite color is purple.

”Before we moved, we spent about two weeks going back and forth with names,” said Gloria Folaron, who hoped helping name the farm would ease some of the challenge of moving on the young girls. “One day, we were bouncing names around and we stopped and asked Amelie (then 4 years old) what she thought. She suggested Purple Alpaca. Purple is her favorite color. While not a natural color for an alpaca, it fit the art we were also planning to make here. It stuck.”

During the pandemic, Gloria Folaron — avid in the “baby wearing community” of parents who keep their youngsters close using wraps and slings — dabbled in making wraps to hold her children. Then she acquired a loom and made the materials she used to sew her baby carriers. Sourcing the fibers to weave on her loom was a natural next step.

Always interested in sustainability and living in harmony with nature, the Folarons are among the Silicon Valley tech community set free from the Bay Area with the rise of telecommuting. Marcel Folaron, a developer with Google, could now work from anywhere. The real estate search began, with a climate for a fruit orchard and at least 20 acres topping the must-have list. On the business plan were agritourism and an event venue, so the new farm’s location needed to be within a day’s travel distance to cities. Boonville’s proximity to Winston-Salem and Charlotte — as well as being amidst the already burgeoning Yadkin Valley wine industry — fit the requirements.

Prior to acquiring a herd of more than 20 alpaca — including pregnant alpaca about to give birth — the Folarons had grown a backyard vegetable garden in the San Francisco area and once visited an alpaca farm in California.

This fledgling farm in Boonville may sound like city slickers playing homestead, but that’s a deceptive facade. The Folarons have an impressive resume of trying new things and succeeding. They also have a cadre of business savvy — the kind honed solid yet flexible from a balanced mixture of success, failure, and what they like to call “pivoting.” They said the biggest lesson they’ve learned in running businesses is to identify problems early and adjust or pivot as quickly as possible to address the challenge.

“Starting a farm is like raising a child,” Marcel Folaron said. “You’re as comfortable as you can be.”

Their work ethic is unmistakable. Marcel drove hundreds of T-posts by hand within weeks of moving in to create separate pastures. Gloria jokes that he no longer has “beautiful programmer hands.”

Their plans are ambitious: tours and classes, hosting birthdays and weddings, a vegetable garden that from an overhead photo will resemble a rainbow, an apple orchard with cider and fruit winemaking, as well as breeding the alpaca. The first two were born at the farm in December.

The Folarons homeschool their children, and have accessed the local homeschool community for a soft launch of their farm tours. Gloria, toting her youngest close to her body in a baby carrier, explains to parents and their children on a Friday morning that Alpaca only have lower teeth “so you don’t have to worry about getting bit.” Their fiber is naturally flame retardant and different than wool because it has no lanolin oil, which can be irritating to some people’s skin.

Lori Godaire, of Lexington, brought her daughters Brailyn, 15, and Ashlei Kate, 8, for a tour last week. Godaire heard about Purple Alpaca through the homeschool community.

“It’ll be neat to see how it grows,” said Godaire, as she watched her youngest hold a young chicken. “I think it will do really well.”

Meanwhile, Gloria Folaron was telling the tour-goers, “we believe our nature is a balance,” adding that alpaca keep the chickens safe because they are naturally curious and protective. The chickens, in turn, will help to keep pests at bay by eating bugs around the farm and in the garden.

Gloria Folaron is currently trying to decide whether to fence her vegetable garden to limit the chickens’ access. She wants them to help keep pests out but does not want them to eat her vegetables. It’s the current topic of debate with her newly hired staff horticulturist, Hannah Florence. That’s this week’s debate. Next week will be another idea to finesse and then implement.

“Every day, there is a new thing. That’s why this isn’t a typical farm,” said Florence, adding that the Folarons’ Silicon Valley experience, Gloria’s MBA and business acumen make working at Purple Alpaca the ultimate learning curve.

Florence recently graduated from N.C. State University with a degree in horticulture. Finishing school in the middle of a pandemic left her with bleak job prospects, and she had just taken a job at Food Lion and was resorting to non-traditional job searching. She called the local state extension office asking if any area farms needed help, even without pay.

“They said no,” Florence recalled. “And three days later, Marcel emailed me.”

In the coming weeks, solar panels will be installed to power the house and farm. An Easter egg hunt is planned for April 4. They are exploring the licensing requirements for serving their cider and fruit wine. The apple orchard will be planted this year. Marcel, originally from Germany, is an avid home winemaker.

“I know apple wine,” he said. “It’s very popular in Germany.”

Gloria foresees weekdays with homeschool children learning about animals, science and fiber arts. It’s about to be a reality — she just published Purple Alpaca’s first class schedule and added an education and events coordinator to the payroll. During the classes, parents might attend an adults’ yoga class and sip tea on the deck afterward overlooking the rolling pastures dotted with alpaca. On the weekends, farm tours and wine tastings, with the occasional wedding or birthday party. The to-do list includes renovating a structure on the farm for a bridal preparation suite.

For now, it’s 5 a.m. farm mornings, with Marcel’s Nikes covered in mud, his programmer hands battling blisters and Gloria’s passionate attention to detail fueling each piece of the business plan to become a reality one determined day at a time.

Lisa Michals may be reached at 336-448-4968 or follow her on Twitter @lisamichals3.

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