If you are feeling sappy, just dial 1-877-45-SYRUP. Thanks to such innovations as the Sweet Brooks Farm maple syrup hotline, those of us tucked away in Berkshire backcountry still have access to the essentials. Providing sugary provisions to the greater Williamstown area since 2010, however, is not only what makes Sweet Brooks Farm such a cherished place to in-the-know Ephs.
Nestled in a bucolic valley beneath Mount Greylock, Sweet Brooks Farm is home to a herd of fuzzy, friendly alpacas and one big, mean-mugging, mama llama, who goes by the name of Zaboo. This past Saturday and Sunday marked the seventh year Sweet Brooks Farms has participated in the annual National Alpaca Farm Days. During the last weekend of September every year, visitors of all ages are welcomed to alpaca farms and ranches across America to meet the friendly animals and “learn about the alpaca lifestyle,” according to the Alpaca Owners and Breeders Association (AOBA). The exhilarating 2014 Sweet Brooks Farm Alpaca Festival not only boded well for the future prospects of a struggling alpaca farming industry, but also was a fun-filled way to usher in what will be a gorgeous fall in Williamstown.
My fellow camelid enthusiasts and I rolled up to the alpaca haven. Since we decided to throw my friend a surprise 19th birthday at the festival, we came to Sweet Brooks Farm in the full regalia of two-fold celebration – confetti gun, party hats, balloons, streamers and a delicious, finely frosted chocolate cake that doubled quite well as alpaca feed. Alpacas are quite partial to chocolate, or for that matter, anything remotely edible.
Upon arriving, we were immediately welcomed warmly by the Phelps couple, whose long-held dream of opening and operating a family-owned alpaca farm and yarn shop finally materialized after 20 years of hard work in 2007. They ushered our party into the alpaca pen, where we were given grass feed and instructed by Pete “not to stand too close to or provoke the animals. They spit.”
The alpacas all had vastly different personalities. The farm’s owners, Beth and Pete Phelps, helped us gain a further understanding of the behind-the-scenes lives of the Alpaca Festival’s starlets. First, there was Mimi, the dark fawn alpaca and multiple-time champion with “the sweetest disposition and the most scrumptious fur.” Nonetheless, her first daughter, or cria as alpaca offspring are called, Trixie, is a troublemaker despite her excellent lineage. Trixie is a multiple time champion of many alpaca contests and shows as well, no doubt to due to her cottony, dense coat. Yet, Trixie is rowdy and never one to hold back from shoving a fellow four-legged friend out of the way for feed or from spitting upon visitors. (Note: Alpaca spit is viscous, unpleasant smelling and not easy to get out of clothes.) On the other side of the pen is Lucy, a dark brown fawn, who rocks a savage underbite. While this awe-inspiring underbite would probably scare away most children, this writer hopes College students will be kinder, hopefully recognizing that Lucy was most likely bullied for it as a cria. Take pity on her and perhaps even consider giving her an extra helping of grass. Finally, there is Julia, Hope, Queenie, Dottie and baby Preston to round out the rest of the gang.
The alpacas frolicked about the pen, dipping their heads into the feeders we held out and hopping up and down. Yes, alpacas hop. No, it is not graceful. Zaboo meanwhile was chilling solemnly and probably resentfully in a sequestered pen by herself. The only thing missing from the experience was the ability to pet the sociable creatures. While they are not wild beasts, they are not entirely domesticated pets either and don’t take well to bear hugs. Also, the alpaca’s long neck can make even the most casual head swivel appear to be a head rearing back in preparation to spit, which meant we had to take the precaution of jumping back to a safe distance out of the splash zone constantly.
But back to the festivities! The rustic soirée was the first birthday party Sweet Brooks Farms has ever hosted, but assuredly won’t be the last. For a very generous price, Dave Larabee and his team of Belgian horses, Bob and Bud, in cooperation with Sweet Brooks also offer hayrides during the spring and sleigh rides during the winter months to tour the beautiful farm. At this perfect juncture of seasons, it was possible to enjoy the picturesque foliage of the surrounding mountain range and the warm temperatures of late summer.
A visit to the Sweet Brooks Alpaca Festival should be on every true Eph’s bucket list. But even more than that, bringing about a larger alpaca presence on campus should not be taken lightly going forward. Alpacas not only make excellent wool, but also make excellent pets! After close observation, our party found alpacas to be extraordinarily entertaining and, equally importantly, clean animals. The adorable beasts would roll around in the dirt, creating a miniature dust cloud around them, to rinse off their coat if it got mangy. If you know where to look, the going price on the Internet’s used alpaca market is approximately 300 dollars, which (hint, hint) is totally within the budget of many student organizations on campus, including within entry fund budgets. Anyone on campus seeking the protection and feeling of security a guard dog brings should consider investing in a guard alpaca, which is arguably the more intimidating of the two.
So before the Alpacalypse hits, grab your friends, go to a Sweet Brooks shearing, feeding or just a plain visit and enjoy the company of the wondrous creatures that could be man’s best friend if we just gave them a chance.