Sycamore Creek Farm is located Northwest of Columbia, Missouri on six acres. It is a small family farm that has a breeding herd of thirteen alpacas. Much of the fiber, produced by the herd, is processed on the farm, the remaining fiber is sent to a mill. The alpaca waste is used in the farm’s gardens and shared with visitors and neighbors of the farm. Previous to this project, the farm gave farm tours to groups.
PROJECT DISCRIPTION AND RESULTS
Goals: The project will develop three annual weekly day camps for children ages 8-12 and weekend adult workshops that will provide instruction on management of fiber producing animals (alpacas), fiber production and development for use in value-added products, herd health, animal security, environmental concerns of farm management and the economic importance of fiber producing animals. Instruction will include farm and herd management, fiber finishing (spinning and weaving) and product development and construction.
Setting up the camps required us to get a conditional use permit from our county. We were surprised that we were required to contact all landowners within 1,000 feet of our property; we were required to widen the entrance to our drive, per county code, which we contracted to have done at a farm cost of over $2,500.
After the meeting with the County Zoning and Planning, we were contacted by the news media about the camp. This was a bit before we were ready to advertise, but we were not going to turn down free publicity.
We put up a Tuff-Shed building to be used as the farm Fiber Cottage and to serve as a classroom building for the camp sessions and seminars. The money for this building was a personal farm expense.
Discovering that our farm insurance company would not insure our camp, we contracted with a special event insurance company to cover all events. This needed to be done for each year.
After choosing the staff to assist me with the camp, curriculum was set. This involved many sessions of exploring the purpose, facilities and the potential campers.
Using the grant money, we were able to purchase spinning wheels, looms and spinning and weaving supplies. Grant money paid for 3-ring binders for each camper, plastic sleeves and numerous pages of information and pictures for the student binders. Other miscellaneous supplies were also purchased.
Newspaper advertising was set and flyers were mailed and distributed to potential camper’s families and posted in conspicuous places. When an inquiry arrived they were sent a packet about the program.
Don Day from the Boone County Extension office helped us get the grant by writing a letter of recommendation. He presented at a farm seminar for producers. He made a very meaningful presentation called Walking the Farm. Since our seminar was aimed at new and potential breeders it was especially meaningful. Don has been extremely useful to us as we set up our farm.
Dr. Dusty Nagy, from the MCI Veterinary Hospital, has been our primary resource on health care for our farm. She has exceptional knowledge about alpacas and has a personality that puts newcomers to this industry at ease. She was asked to present at the seminar with Don Day. Later at one of our camp sessions, she and three vet students came and spoke to our campers about caring for alpacas.
Carol Arnold was hired to be a camp counselor. She was chosen because I knew her and had worked with her on a previous outdoor project. Her skills as an artist, native plant resource, ability to work with children, artistic abilities and fiber experience made her an easy choice for a counselor at this camp.
Jacob Stickann was chosen as the photographer to help us document the camp activities. He has a degree in photography and is a skilled photographer.
The results from having this camp were more than we expected. Our success was measured in several ways. Camper evaluations: at the end of each camp session, the camper’s were asked to evaluate the experience by checking the things they liked/disliked. Younger campers were helped with the reading and writing. Campers were asked if they would recommend the camp to their friends; return to a future session and what they enjoyed the most. All campers have returned to one more session. In many cases they have brought with them a friend or family member.
Parents were given evaluation forms about their child’s experience and their own experience with the camp. A SSAE (stamped self-addressed envelope) was provided. The parents were very positive about the camp, felt it was a good value and signed their child up for more sessions. There were very few comments about changing the program.
Several returning campers attended private spinning classes on the farm as a result of their camping experience. Campers and their families stop by the farm to see the alpacas, and I believe, us.
The open house was fairly successful. We had campers and their family drop by, we had several families come by to hear about the Summer Day Camp. As a result we signed up several new campers. Our Parent/Child Morning on the Farm was not well received, as we only had one family sign up.
I learned so much from this program. It was a new experience for me working with a County Zoning Board. They made us widen our driveway, which cost us over $2000. In addition they made us obtain a conditional use permit for our property, which we did. I learned that activities such as these required additional insurance, which we obtained. They day camps were so well received that we were able to greatly reduce the amount of advertising for the second year.
Our young campers were not the only ones receiving education about alpacas, they spread the word to their families, places of worship, schools and with anyone they had contact. That was our goal, to educate people about alpacas and their fiber. One of our campers wrote about our camp in her school newspaper.
For Sycamore Creek Farm, the Alpaca and Nature Day Camp added more visitors and more income. Several campers became regular spinning students. Other farms that wish to educate about their breed might consider adding a day-camp type program.
In October 2007, I was privileged to speak at the Women’s and Minority Farmer Workshop put on by the University of Missouri Extension in front of 35 participants. After the presentations I fielded several questions about the program.
In November, 2007 & 2008 I spoke at the Farmer’s Forum at the National Small Farm Trade Show and Conference. In 2007 there were about ten participants in the audience; fifteen were in the 2008 audience. At the 2008 conference, after my presentation, several of the campers came to show hands-on spinning, weaving and display their projects in a booth provided by the conference. I am not sure how many people stopped to talk to me about the program, but I talked to many. It was a wonderful experience. Many of our campers came to spin and weave in the booth.
In March 2008, I presented a PowerPoint about the camp at the Midwest Invitational Alpaca Show (MIAS). There were around ten attendees. Each attendee received a CD of our PowerPoint presentation. We had a booth at this show and we talked to many people and gave out several of our CD’s.
In June 2008, a journalism student from the University of Missouri Journalism School came and interviewed our campers for a small radio documentary on KBIA. The spot aired on the fourth of July. It was a three to five minute report!
We advertise about the Alpaca and Nature Day Camp and educational offering at Sycamore Creek Farm on the farm’s web page on Alpacanation. See: www.alpacanation.com/sycamorecreekfarm.asp
In 2008, alone we had 207 hits on the day camp. Already as of January 12, 2009, we have had twelve hits on the day camp and seven hits each for the new adult camp weekends. Over the last two years we have received over $4000 of free newspaper coverage. Having a major journalism school nearby has helped us get this coverage.