On this episode of Homesteady, we meet Elaine Vandiver of Old Homestead Alpacas. Elaine’s journey to her purpose began on 9/11. A college student at the time, She felt the right thing for her to do was the join the army and serve her country.
Now, she’s an alpaca farmer.
Wait, what? Let’s back up.
We met Elaine in the Homesteady Launchpad business course hosted by Aust and Accountant Mike. Elaine is currently finding success in agrotourism– giving tourists an “on-farm” experience that is projected to net $11,000 this year.
Elaine isn’t from Walla Walla Washington. Originally from Indiana, Elaine completed a successful military career and followed her then boyfriend (now husband) to Washington State. Falling in love with the beautiful landscape, they put down their roots. Elaine credits her time in the military for giving her invaluable perspective, and assisting her success in homesteading.
Elaine felt that the time she spent as a solider helped her become a stronger person and put hardship in perspective.
It was after her military experience however, that Elaine met what was to be a true test of her strength: her desire to have a family and her journey through infertility. After seven years of exhaustive medical intervention and ongoing mental stress and disappointment, Elaine and her husband found themselves choosing the end their journey to become pregnant and take a different path. This led them to selling their family-ready home and moving to the country.
“Undervalued” was the word Elaine and her husband had in mind when searching for their property- looking for a “country fabulous” property they could bring to its full potential.
They found their “gem” of a fixer upper, and the work the property needed was the perfect project to distract the Vandivers from their previous seven years of heartbreak. The property also came with a few surprises- in-tact perimeter fencing, a history of a previous homestead, 3 pastures- and two llamas, Leroy and Loretta.
If Elaine was going to have her country home, she was going to have to take in the llamas.
Googling the care of llamas, Elaine took her new (pets? livestock?) day by day. In her research, she came upon alpacas. They were softer! Cuter! Nicer! When spring came, Elaine purchased a couple to take care of the pastures full of grass on her property. When a connection with a local alpaca farmer was made, the alpacas increased from 2 to 41. In exchange for taking care of the alpaca heard she had acquired, she could keep their product. Through happenstance, Elaine became an alpaca farmer, and began her unplanned, unexpected journey to being a homestead business owner.
Things began to fall together so nicely; Elaine wasn’t going to stand in the way. Cementing her path was a manila envelope with the original paperwork detailing her property’s history as a parcel from the Homestead Act of 1862.
Deciding to go all-in, Elaine went step by step to become a legitimate business, following the appropriate protocol to ensure the growth and success of her alpaca farm. It is important to note, however, that the alpaca farm is Elaine’s side hustle- she is a “cubicle dwelling bureaucrat” by day. She credits her job with working one side of her brain, and her farm working the entire other side- creativity, problem solving, and passion.
However -what about the alpaca fiber- is this really a valuable product? How do we make it that way?
Turns out, it is a “diamond in the rough” type product, requiring many steps to become useful and beautiful. Two years, actually, from start to finish. Elaine realized that with such a long turn around time, she needed to re-think how to utilize the value in her property.
Turns out, the BEAUTY of the farm could be capitalized on. Check out Elaine on Instagram (and her cut flowers account Gholsons Gardens here) to see the gorgeous vistas of her farm. If you find a photo of Elaine and an alpaca on the back of a Volkswagon bus, follow her feed, leave a comment identifying yourself as a Homesteady listener, one of those comments will be randomly selected for a FREE month of a Homesteady Pioneer Membership!
Elaine started giving tours and opened a little gift shop. More on-farm events have followed: alpaca yoga, a farm to needle workshop series on alpaca fiber, (check out the upcoming sunset yoga and wine tasting!) and then: Airbnb. For her Airbnb, the guest received a port-a-potty and land to put up a tent or camper. For $50 per night, Elaine’s farm was extremely popular.
Would Elaine’s business come out as profitable according to Accountant Mike’s standards? No, not yet. But in terms of the added value of happiness- Elaine puts it best:
There is a difference between making money, and making a life. Is the juice worth the squeeze? Hells yeah, because I had a BLAST doing it.
We have a new partner! Aust is so pleased to partner with Wildcat Outdoor Gear as they premier their collection of tents designed by and for “Outdoorsy Dads.” Watch a great video of Aust, Kendra and the kids enjoying their tent here. Enter coupon code Homesteady at check-out for a discount!
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We have a new addition to the Pioneer Program: A PIONEER ONLY FORUM! Learn from one another and get to talk with Accountant Mike, The Foraging Beard, Dave from Northeast Edible, Alexia The Suburban Escapee, and Allyson, our producer. Our podcast guests will also be in the forums! Ask Elaine any questions you may have in our forum. Not a Pioneer? Join today!
The wait will be shorter than ever for the next episode, as Aust is now creating Homesteady Content FULL TIME. What does that mean? A daily YouTube Video and a NEW podcast every two weeks. We will also