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Buffalo Alpaca Startup Moving into High Gear with Help from The Foundry.

Anne Bouvier is a Library Scientist at UB with a dream to run a sustainable alpaca farm in the Buffalo area. She wants to produce and sell you unique alpaca fiber clothing, but also wants to rescue alpacas in dire situations and give them a safe home. This is probably not the farm story you thought you were going to read.

The couple has lived in the 5 Points area for almost ten years now, but felt it was time for a change. Anne, who is by admission a country girl raised on her family’s vineyard in Chautauqua County, sees alpaca farming as a way for her to return to her rural roots. She is even publishing a blog to detail her journey..

Alpaca-Buffalo-NY-2In 2011 Anne and her husband began researching the idea of raising alpacas, given their advantages of relatively low startup costs, low maintenance and very favorable tax incentives. Alpaca farming is still relatively new to the US, dating back to the mid-eighties, but has grown exponentially in popularity. Originally from South America, alpacas are used in their native land for the production of meat, hides, and fiber. Here in the US, however, they are raised primarily for the purpose of generating “fleece”, which is then woven into items of clothing, or to be sold as breeding stock. They are members of the camel and llama family, but are smaller and easier to handle.

A farm with just 3 alpacas is eligible for a substantial deduction under the IRS tax code, allowing accelerated depreciation and generous write-offs. Translation: you can save a lot of tax dollars by simply housing three or more alpacas on the property – which has attracted a lot of interest in farming the animals. They really don’t require much in either startup or operating costs — only a rudimentary unheated shelter is required, and the animals subsist primarily on hay and inexpensive feed. Whereas originally alpaca farming was popular among retired couples, it seems to be attracting younger participants who are looking to move away from urban life. This is exactly the motivation for Anne and her husband. Think of it as a resurgence of the family farm concept.

Alpaca-Buffalo-NY-3So why alpacas? “It’s five times warmer than wool” Anne explains. Lightweight and fine, it’s considered a luxury fiber, like cashmere. She senses a strong demand in the local market, and is planning to sell her alpaca products directly to the public through craft fairs and a specialized retail operation. While many alpaca farms start out small to supplement income, over time they can scale large enough to generate hundreds of thousands of dollars in profits, depending on whether the purpose is fiber production or breeding.

Anne wants to run an operation for fiber production only, and is not interested in the more profitable (but risky) business of breeding the animals. A key tenet of her business plan is to grow the herd exclusively through the “rescuing” of unwanted alpacas – essentially males lacking desirable breeding traits, who are usually the first to be culled in the downsizing of a herd. “What’s important to us is that Alpacas are not killed or neglected because they are not young or soft.”

The five male alpacas Anne has purchased currently reside at her family’s Starry Brook Farm out near Silver Creek, where her mother and stepfather perform the day-to-day chores. Anne and her husband come out once a week to do the “heavy lifting,” but she looks forward to the day when they can be with the herd full-time. The couple has bought a 4-acre property further out near Brocton, where they plan to move the operation in 2016. “We are looking to grow to around 20 alpacas at that point”, Anne explains.

Alpaca-Buffalo-NY-4Buffalo’s Foundry has played a pivotal role in the growing of Anne’s business. The Foundry is a small business incubator that resides in a former warehouse on the east side, and assists a number of growing enterprises. Think of it as Buffalo’s answer to Silicon Valley’s famous “Y-Combinator”.

Anne is quick to point out that the Foundry has given her much more than a place to work, and she has taken advantage of the peer-to-peer mentoring on topics such as marketing and finance for startups. The couple leases a 10’ x10’ workspace within, which is used to process the raw fleece (harvested each May) and convert it into finished clothing using specialized equipment.

Anne admits she joined the Foundry at a fortuitous time, with the recent announcement of plans to create a “Community Fiber Arts Studio” on the second floor. She loves the Buffalo startup scene, with the wealth of people willing to collaborate on projects – “I feel good about being connected to the Foundry…if you need something, chances are someone there has some experience and can help you with it”. In the spirit of giving back to community (and creating a little demand in the process), Anne plans to offer workshops on working with Alpaca fibers.

Keeping connected to Buffalo will continue to be a priority, even when the operation eventually grows and moves out of the Foundry and potentially out to the country. “We want to maintain our connection to the city,” she says, explaining her vision of bringing families and inner-city youth out to the farm to educate and inspire. She talks passionately of how both her and her husband have such deep ties to the area, and wanting to “pay it forward” in terms of helping others discover the joys of farm life and raising alpacas .

While Anne is currently performing commissioned work for clothing items, she plans to use her space in the Foundry to ramp up production and build an inventory to be marketed locally. She currently finds it a challenge to balance the demands of a day job and a growing business, but hopes things will smooth out as she develops efficiencies through systems and processes. With 2016 only a year away, she and her husband have their work cut out for them.

In the age of so many tech startups, it’s interesting to discover an initiative like Starry Brook Farms being incubated at the Foundry.

 

Written by Bruce Haydon

Bruce Haydon

Bruce Haydon is an obsessed runner and passionate writer who devotes his time to exploring and supporting his beloved Queen City. Bruce is originally from Ontario, Canada, relocating for work to both Bermuda and New York City before settling down in Buffalo in 2013. After initially suffering withdrawal from NYC life, he quickly grew to love his new home city, and has since become an ardent supporter and urbanist of all things Buffalo. Working in the financial sector by day, Bruce has been writing for Buffalo Rising since 2014, where he covers a number of topics relating to the city's ongoing evolution. With a love of the arts, culture and architecture, he devotes a considerable amount of his spare time researching the rich history of the area's illustrious past.

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