“Not Retirement- Redirection”

JUSTIN SORENSEN / NNY BUSINESS
Gail and Daryl Marsh spend some time with their alpacas at Home Again Farm in Theresa.

By: Ali Townsend

For Gail and Daryl Marsh, raising and breeding alpacas is the best of both worlds. The couple was able to return to Gail’s family farm in Theresa as sixth-generation owners. In addition to continuing the close-to-home tradition, they have turned the farm into a prosperous business.

   After living and working in New Jersey for 30 years, the Marshes made a decision that has provided nothing but unique experiences and happiness for the pair. Daryl remembers the infamous events of 9/11, having actually witnessed the second plane crash into a building he had been working in just three months prior. Following a whirlwind train ride home – learning the facts and details behind the attacks – the two city dwellers made plans to relocate to upstate New York as soon as they were eligible for retirement. Laughing, Daryl points out that their new lifestyle is not retirement, but simply a new direction.

Home Again

   The Marshes have put their own twist on the original Theresa farm, replacing a single milk cow and team of horses with 21 fuzzy friends. They transformed the small dairy farm into a home for Huacaya alpacas, which they describe as “teddy-bear like in appearance.” In 1831, Gail’s family established the dairy farm on Schell Road, paving the way for the current business. Uninterested in “milking cows and feeding horses,” alpacas seemed like the perfect fit. Their appeal was obvious to both Gail and Daryl (and to anyone who has visited their farm). Cuteness, intrigue and low maintenance enticed the couple enough to purchase five alpacas in February of 2006 and pursue this special livelihood.

   Enjoyable and simple care are not understatements when it comes to describing alpaca maintenance. A typical day on the Home Again Farm does not begin until the animals are ready to see their owners, typically after 9 a.m. Looking into the wide, long-lashed eyes of their residents, Gail and Daryl practice a daily checkup. They inspect their physical and personality behavior, ensuring the alpacas are still happy and healthy. Described as “efficient eaters,” ten alpacas are sustained on a single shared bale of hay a day. The need to feed lessens in the spring and summer months as the animals are mostly consuming fresh grass.

   The more they learned, the more interested they grew. The Marshes saw an opportunity for business and chased it. Gail claims she had no intention of returning to the farm, but has no regrets in doing so.

JUSTIN SORENSEN / NNY BUSINESS
Alpacas at Home Again Farm in Theresa.

Learning the Business

   Raising and expanding the farm, however, is nothing short of an impressive feat. To understand the process of breeding, Gail and Daryl worked a yearlong internship at Tucillo Farm in New Jersey. The experience furthered their love for the gentle creatures. Gail remembers spending every day surrounded by the herd, cleaning, feeding and cutting their nails. It was from this farm that the pair purchased their first alpacas and planted their roots in Theresa, establishing Home Again Farm. The bond between owner and animal is still clear today, as the alpacas crane their long necks to get closer to Gail and Daryl, an obvious gesture of affection.

   Today, the education comes full circle as Home Again Farm opens its doors to anyone interested in learning more about their business. Free tours are provided and explanations of the uncommon process are given to visitors who happen to stop by when the Marshes are home.  Education is taken a step further through Jefferson Community College’s agricultural technology branch. With this program, Gail and Daryl are able to reverse their previous roles and become the teachers of everything alpaca. The farm gets its own share of the 700 tech students, as interns have come to learn about the raising and breeding system.

North Country Ties

   Due to the friendly north country culture and the benefits that come from a close-knit community, Home Again Farm has thrived for the past 12 years. As a whole, the Marshes noticed that as they were getting ready to move, many members of their age group were moving from the cities, making a return to more rural lifestyles. This common migration benefited Gail and Daryl well as some of their old friends ended up moving close enough to work together.

   The Marshes understand and take advantage of one of Northern New York’s largest industries – agritourism. People from all over flock to the top of the state to taste, touch and see what this small part of the country has to offer.

    Similar to most aspects of the business, marketing is done in unique ways. While Home Again Farm maintains an online and local publication presence, most of its advertising is done through personal interactions. The farm attends parades around the area, displaying their quality products as their alpacas cruise through streets and sport their brown, black and white fuzz.

   Festivals and fairs are major forms of marketing for Home Again Farm. One of its favorite and most profitable is Mare’s Wares Art Fest in Ogdensburg. Every July 1st, Gail and Daryl travel to this annual Canada Day celebration with their alpacas and products. Gail describes this as a beneficial location where “advertising, marketing and sales take place all at the same time.” The artisanal craft fair is an ideal venue to spread information and news on what’s available in the alpaca market.  Festivals such as this provide the Marshes with a platform to reach all kinds of people and display their unique trade. As Daryl says, “You never know who’s going to be interested.”

   This genuine approach is what has earned Home Again Farm its loyal and repeated customers. However, this is not to take away from the consistent influx of new clientele. With a prime location along the Seaway Wine Trail, the farm gets a steady flow of new visitors, interested in the “Home Again” sign sporting a curious alpaca silhouette.

The Final Product

   The financial end of the farm lies in its store. The products created and sold from Home Again Farm are of high quality and unique style. If you have never felt alpaca fur, you are missing out on one of the softest tactile experiences. Putting your hands inside one of these mittens or placing one of their fur hats on your head is a must. The light, yet warm fur will astound and comfort you…all at the same time.

   The profits from their home-attached store provide the funds necessary to upkeep the farm year-round. Here, the Marshes sell everything from yarn to stuffed alpacas to winter boot liners. While some of the products are combined with other materials, such as silk, everything sold here contains their homegrown alpaca fibers – three times warmer than sheep’s wool, without the scratchiness and coarseness. The owners take pride in what they sell as Daryl states, “it’s more expensive than your average cotton products, but you’re getting quality.” Although the Marshes tell every customer to return items if they are uncomfortable or problematic in any way, not a single product has ever been brought back.

   Once a year, a sheering team comes to cool off the alpacas for summer, removing about three inches of fur. The Marshes then collect the fur and place all of the fibers in bags labeled with the animal’s names – two bags each. The properties and qualities of the fibers are primarily hereditary and can easily be seen when the pair begins to skirt and separate all of the fibers. The bags are then divided up and some are sent to their co-op in Massachusetts. Most alpaca farms do not yield enough fur to create their own merchandise, so they utilize co-ops to combine their fibers with other farms. Therefore, a majority of the products in the store are a conglomeration of fur from all over the country. This isn’t true for every item, as the yarn is entirely their own. A fiber mill in Syracuse uses strictly Home Again’s product to create and send back yarn that consists of only Theresa’s own alpacas.

   Pulling into the farm and watching over 20 furry heads turn, it is quite clear how Home Again has been both an enjoyable experience and successful business. Gail and Daryl Marsh have invested their efforts in a business that is equally as gratifying as it is profitable. Visit www.homeagainfarmalpacas to learn more about this special place.