MAY 30 FEATURE VENDOR – ALMOSTA RANCH
A Yarn about Almosta Ranch
by Denise Gierula, Market Committee Member
In the old country, my great grandfather was a shepherd of sheep and I have often wondered if that left me genetically predisposed for my love of all things woolen. Anyone who knows me can tell you my favorite hobbies revolve around fiber arts such as knitting, spinning and hooking. (Hooking rugs, that is!) And so, when we – the fabulous four – started our quest to find farmers, artists and food for the market, all I could think about was securing a yarn vendor to help satisfy my own personal yarn addiction. Kathy Kenworthy from Almosta Ranch, registered PA Preferred, was the first of the many alpaca farms to answer our call.
Last weekend, I stopped by Almosta Ranch in Mohrsville where Kathy was gracious enough to let me tag along as she fed and cared for her amazing menagerie of animals. It turns out that Kathy, who was born and raised in Easton, Pennsylvania, has always desired to live on a farm in the country. “I used to visit a friend whose family had a small dairy farm in Northampton County when I was growing up. I spent a lot of time in the barn with her brothers while they were milking. I’d grab a brush and brush the cows while they stood there eating with the old fashioned milkers on them,” Kathy remembers.
However, life got in the way as it so often does, and after earning her degree from Reading Hospital School of Nursing, she worked as a nurse at St. Luke’s Hospital in Bethlehem. She married her husband who was in the Army, which led her to live in various places, but she eventually returned home to Pennsylvania in 1985 to be close to family with 2 children in tow after a divorce.
In 2014, Kathy decided to retire after 42 years of nursing. She has happily fulfilled her lifelong dream of living on a farm where she has resided for the past 13 years with her sweetie, Gary Shollenberger. Located in Berks County, Almosta Ranch is comprised of 6 beautiful acres of rolling hillside and pastures. Her list of farm animals at the moment includes 25 alpacas, 4 llamas, 2 Finn sheep, 2 Wensleydale/Leister Longwool crossbred sheep, 16 chickens and French and Satin Angora rabbits although, Kathy admits, these numbers change constantly.
Kathy loves being her own boss but she admits it is a never-ending 24/7 job. “There is always something to do but the rewards are wonderful. I love seeing the results of waiting a year for a cria (baby alpaca or llama) to be born. After making a responsible breeding decision to improve the quality and quantity of fiber produced on the farm, it is wonderful to see it turn out as I had planned. I absolutely love working with all the fiber produced on the farm. It is like Christmas after shearing day when the garage is full of all the fiber that grew for a year. Putting together a plan on how to blend and process it for a beautiful end product can be a challenge as well but it’s always fun to see how it turns out.”
As I never met an alpaca before, Kathy helped me with a bit of research. It turns out alpacas are intelligent, curious creatures who are gentle and cooperative with humans. And indeed they were! The alpacas came running to Kathy as she called them by name and I swear they were smiling. Did you know that alpacas are easy to clean up after since they consolidate their waste materials in one area of their paddock? Next time you see Kathy at our market, ask her about alpaca “beans” as their manure is called. Gardeners prize it because it can be used straight from the paddock to nourish plants without burning or the need for composting.
I purchased two skeins of alpaca yarn mixed with Merino, which Kathy had hand dyed using Wilton Cake Dye. The extraordinary black and purple color shimmers in the sunlight and I can confirm that every moment spent knitting with it is pure joy. Alpaca fiber is classified as a rare specialty fiber. Due to its hollow nature and insulating properties, the fiber is said to be warmer than sheep wool, stronger then mohair, every bit as luxurious as cashmere, smoother than silk, softer then cotton and better breathing than thermal knits. Kathy stated, “I think it is important to diversify. I have changed the focus of the fiber end of my farm to include all natural fibers, not just the alpaca.” Besides being a weekly vendor at our market, she also sells and demonstrates with her beautiful fiber products at numerous festivals, local yarn shops and alpaca shows throughout the year. Tammy Orischak, who owns The Alpaca Cottage in Reading, helps Kathy at our market. Kathy says, “We met when she was researching alpacas and we have been friends ever since. Along with another local farm, we have a great support system.”
I asked Kathy if she had any advice for young people thinking of leaving their day job to move to the county. “It is what you make it. It is not a get rich quick job by any means. Do the best you can and be proud of a quality product to offer your customers.”
Kathy has a charming, well-stocked store located on her farm that can be visited by appointment only. Besides a stunning array of yarn, Almosta Ranch is proud to be able to offer alpaca apparel, a full line of hats, gloves, mittens, scarves, sweaters, capes, ruana ponchos, and socks. In addition, if you are looking for a gift for the person who has everything, ask Kathy about her “Rent an Alpaca Program” which would indeed be a one of a kind gift. You can find her every Saturday, under the shade of maple trees, at the Antietam Valley Farmers’ and Artists’ Market.