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May 01, 2017

By: Monica Kline

William's Friendly Spirit Thrives with Pennsylvania Alpaca Farmers


I am quite sure that William Penn would've been an alpaca farmer. I am sure of this because, the more Pennsylvania alpaca farmers I meet, the more I realize that William Penn's "Holy Experiment" is alive and well nearly 326 years after the Charter of Pennsylvania was written. Let me explain ... first about Penn and then about the alpacas.

William Penn was a member of the Society of Friends, otherwise referred to as the Quakers. To put it mildly and meaning no offense, Willy and his Friends marched to the beat of a different drummer. In the 17th Century, the Society of Friends faced severe persecution because they dressed and spoke plainly and they openly opposed war. The Friends rejected living their lives governed by strict creeds. Instead, they preferred to live by simple, personal tenets -- a belief in God and a willingness to let others practice their religion without persecution.

These ideas of peaceful living with a conscientious respect for the environment and an acceptance of others rights to worship as they saw fit were considered radical in Penn's time. But when Penn was granted the huge chunk of ground that we now call Pennsylvania, he put his Quaker beliefs into practice. Penn created what he referred to as a "Holy Experiment," a place where people were able to come and live free of persecution for their beliefs. It was a society where friends worked together for their common good, even if they had differing opinions sometimes.

I am constantly reminded of the spirit of Penn's experiment just about every time I encounter a Pennsylvania alpaca farmer. They don't give me a hard time because I breed Suri and they breed Huacaya. They don't criticize my herd in an effort to sell their own alpacas. No, for the most part, the alpaca breeders I know realize the market is quite strong – strong enough to support all of us. And they seem to realize that a negative attitude reflects badly on all of us, the entire society of alpaca friends, if you will. So, most Pennsylvania alpaca breeders I know choose to be positive and friendly.

Back in October, I received a late night emergency call from the local Humane Society about some llamas that were going to be rescued the next day because of severe neglect. The local shelter had no one with camelid experience and they wanted to know if I could help. I was unable to meet them at the appointed time, so I started working the phones calling fellow PAOBA members in the area for help. You can imagine my relief when my friend and fellow alpaca breeder, Deb Potts-Reagan agreed to provide safe haven for these desperate creatures.

But this alpaca friend of mine went beyond the call of duty. Not only did Deb help to capture the llamas, but she and her Mom helped the Humane Society staff for nearly six hours that day, gathering sick and malnourished horses, goats, pigs, whatever from absolute squalor. That rescue operation made front page news in every paper in central Pennsylvania. So the next time you see our friend Deb, thank her.

Another example of the alpaca friends network in action occurred recently when my husband's mother passed away. Dennis and I were truly stunned by the number of phone calls we received from local alpaca farmers and friends wanting to help. Yes, there were kind words of condolence and those were truly appreciated. But the part that really floored us was the number of people who were going to physically drive to our farm and help to take care of our alpacas while we attended the services in Illinois! When I'd tell these folks thanks but our nephew was coming to stay at our place, every single one of them asked to be put on a 'Call in Emergency' list. Truly, the spirit of friendship was palpable during those emails and calls.

The most poignant modern day explanation of Penn's experiment came last fall during a simple conversation in our barn. A friend, and fellow alpaca breeder, Ross Noble, stopped by our farm to drop off an alpaca he'd hauled for another friend and alpaca breeder, Kristie Smoker. Ross had picked up his own alpaca along with Kristie's dam after breeding at a farm in a state west of Pennsylvania.

Ross recounted that while he was at the other farm, he was asked the following, "Well, aren't you worried? It seems like you guys are getting a lot of competition out there in Pennsylvania with all the alpaca farms starting." And our friend Ross replied with what Dennis and I think is one of the most brilliant comebacks we've heard ... he said, "Our competition isn't our fellow alpaca farmers, our competition are the guys selling other investment products – CDs, IRAs, mutual funds, and stuff like that."

Ross's words hit us like a bolt of lightning ... I know, I know it was another famous Pennsylvanian, Ben Franklin, who played with lightning. But it was in fact Franklin who put Penn's friendly living ideals into words during the framing of our nation's constitution ... but I digress.

Back on point, it is in reflecting on these recent events and words that I have come to the humble conclusion that William Penn himself would've wanted to be an alpaca farmer. And I'm pretty certain that he would have been a member of our society of alpaca friends – the Pennsylvania Alpaca Owners and Breeders Association.

This article was written by Monica Kline and appeared in a 2007 edition of the PAOBA Planet.