There’s Good Karma in alpacas and sheep at Belfast Farm

Weekly Photo by Debra Bell | Debra Bell
Posted June 12, 2013, at 8:26 a.m.
Weekly Photo by Debra Bell | Debra Bell
Weekly Photo by Debra Bell | Debra Bell
Weekly Photo by Debra Bell | Debra Bell
Weekly Photo by Debra Bell | Debra Bell

BELFAST — When you work inside of an “Alpacaquarium,” you might start to develop a complex. But that’s not the case for Good Karma Farm owners Amy and Jim Grant.

Instead, they take it in stride and they welcome you to as well.

The Alpacaquarium refers to the large glass windows that border two sides of the workspace that the Grants call an office. In fact, it used to be a milking barn. One bay window looks out on the pasture adjoining Perkins Road and the other bay window looks into a covered barn area that the alpacas, a flock of Icelandic sheep and a pair of llamas congregate in and watch the Jim and Amy show.

And what a show it is.

On their 40-acre farm, Amy and Jim shear the herd of alpacas and Icelandic sheep, take their soft, fluffy fiber and convert it (with some wool thrown in) into yarn, dye it and  spin it into skeins of yarn for fiber artists to convert to any number of soft goods.

That same fiber is used in the couples Carrabassett Soap Company’s felted soaps, also made from scratch, on site.

While the alpacas are shorn once a year, usually in May, Good Karma Farm uses only premium parts of the alpaca fiber, Amy said. An average female can five to six pounds of fiber and a well-producing male can produce 12-14 pounds of fiber. Alpacas live, on average, 15-20 years, she said. However, their herd contains 24 alpacas, including three resident studs and Gypsy and Georgia, two of the original four alpacas from Kingfield.

“Just the right amount,” Amy said.

Good Karma Farm started in 1993 in Kingfield with four alpacas and a llama.

That’s where the “farming” bug bit and it started when Jim got a horse and fell in love with the animal.

“Then one day Jim came home and had an Uncle Henry’s with an ad for free emus at a farm in Kingfield,” Amy said. “Fortunately, the emus were gone by the time he got out there, but Jim said there were alpacas.”

The couple had seen alpacas at the Common Ground Fair in Unity. Amy was passionate about knitting. And it was a match made in fiber heaven. So they got the alpacas and decided to move to Belfast to expand their farm.

“We needed a field, a barn and a space for the factory,” Amy said. “It all had to fit our budget too.”

Training occurred at a mill in Michigan on the proper way to work with animal fiber.

“Stonehedge Fiber Mill was honest with us about how hard it is and about the learning curve,” Amy said. “We were able to find the equipment we needed and then made the move from Kingfield to Belfast.”

The Grants moved it to Belfast in 2007, added Icelandic sheep, a duck and some chickens and a whole lot of love. Good Karma Farm welcomed a nine lambs this spring, including two sets of twins born on Earth Day.

Today, the Grants offer custom fiber processing and soap making to their experienced repertoire. At the entrance to the mill, visitors will find a cozy store containing skeins of fiber in a multitude of colors and textures, handmade soap, products created using Good Karma yarn, and some pottery plus little extras.

At the heart of their skein preparation area is “Edna”, a 6,000 pound spinning frame “born” on Feb. 4, 1970. They found Edna at auction and it was kismet, Jim said.

“She just started up and ran perfectly,” he said. “It feels like she has a soul. Every skein spun on her is special. We call it Edna yarn.”

In addition to Edna yarn and locally-created yarn and fiber, Good Karma Farm also boasts the Carrabassett Soap Company.

From drums of olive, palm and coconut oils, Amy mixes essential oils to create a variety of different soaps that are sold through the business. Among the nearly 15 or 16 styles of soap are Bug Dope Soap which naturally repels bugs without the use of DEET, lavender, cedar- and fir-scented, and tea tree with green tea. One day of soap making can yield approximately 500 bars. She starts in March and makes soap three times yearly.

“I started making soap when I lived in Caratunk,” she said. While her first batches didn’t work out so well, today she’s successfully making soap that is both ecologically savvy and delightful to feel and smell.

Between the yarn, the soap and the animals, the Grants have found that their true calling allows them to help people embrace an eco-friendly lifestyle, just as they have.

And the alpacas, sheep and other barnyard animals would agree. All it takes is to look into the Alpacaquarium to find artisans passionate about their work.

Learn more about Good Karma Farm at goodkarmafarm.com. Carrabassett Soap Company can be found at soapme.com. Stop in to see them or call 322-0170.

 

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