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Alpacas draw thousands of visitors to Smith Mountain Lake Farm

June 2024

Robbin Martinelli stands with Njaro at Smith Mountain Lake Farm. (Photo courtesy Smith Mountain Lake Farm)

by Richard McDonough, Delmarva Farmer

SALISBURY, Md. — HARDY, Va. — Have you hugged an alpaca lately?

That opportunity — and many others — is available as part of the agritourism activities at Smith Mountain Lake Farm in Bedford County. The farm is owned by Jay Pratley and Robbin Martinelli. The husband and wife have been active in alpaca farming for about 25 years.They first started their ag enterprise in Connecticut.

“We did not start out wanting to be farmers,” said Robbin. “We got into farming because of the high taxes in Connecticut.”

“As I looked at establishing a farm, I knew I did not want to raise animals to be killed or animals that smelled,” she continued. “That led me to alpacas. I saw the potential for products that could be made from alpaca fiber.”

The couple moved their farming enterprise to Virginia in 2010.

“We liked the Smith Mountain Lake area,” said Robbin. “It has a hometown feel.”

Fifty-two alpacas call Smith Mountain Lake Farm home, according to Robbin. She explained that the number of alpacas living here varies at different times.

Alpacas are part of the camelid breeds that also include such animals as camels and llamas. Worldwide, alpacas are found primarily in three South American nations — Peru, Bolivia, and Chile.

The alpacas living in Virginia and in other areas of the United States are ones descended from alpacas allowed to be imported into the country for a limited amount of time in the 1980s and 1990s.

Visitors to Smith Mountain Lake Farm come from the local area as well as from some distance.

“We have thousands visit the farm each year,” said Robbin. “We have visitors from other sections of Virginia as well as from North Carolina, Tennessee, West Virginia, Maryland, and New Jersey.”

Among the visitors are a number of students.

“We have everyone from nursery school students to vet tech students,” she continued. “Vet students from Virginia Tech, Duke, and Vanderbilt have visited our farm.”

In addition to being able to hug an alpaca, visitors to Smith Mountain Lake Farm are also able to feed the alpacas as well as have photos taken with them.

The tour of the farm gives visitors the opportunity to see how alpacas live and interact with each other. During the tour, Jay and Robbin provide an educational background of alpacas and the importance of the fiber produced by the animals.

There are also special events at the farm during the year.

In early April, visitors were able to watch the shearing of alpacas. National Alpaca Farm Day is celebrated at Smith Mountain Lake Farm each September.

The family also operates Harvest Moon Marketplace in nearby Moneta.

They sell a variety of products. Among those are products produced with alpaca fiber from US Alpaca Company, a business founded by Robbin.

The couple uses the slogan of “Fiber to Fashion” to highlight the quality of the alpaca fiber used in its products.

Robbin explained that pillows are among the most popular items in demand.

She said she saw the need to develop pillows using alpaca fiber as an alternative to many other types of pillows on the market.

“Toxic foam pillows are a major problem,” she said. “I was livid as a mom that we don’t think about it or that we know that we should have to think about it.”

This article comes from The Delmarva Farmer, an agricultural newspaper for the mid-Atlantic region.