Farmers markets, grocery stores, hardware stores, indie book stores and other local spots are among our favorite places to go souvenir shopping when we're on the road in the Midwest.
Here's another Midwest Market Basket feature about some of our favorite Midwest products, shopping discoveries and where to find them.
I would imagine that a veterinarian in Northern Michigan would see a lot of common household pets and common farm animals, but David Nelson's animal patients at Platte Lake Veterinary Clinic also include a good number of alpacas.
That's because David and Chris Nelson also own a thriving alpaca farm!
David opened his vet clinic in 1991 in Honor, Michigan. David and his wife, Chris Nelson, love animals. The couple raised a number of animals on their farm in nearby Benzonia over the past two-dozen years, but things changed when they visited the farm of one of David's clients who had a few alpacas.
The couple fell in love with the alpacas, purchasing a few of the animals to raise them more than a dozen years ago.
The farm sits across the road from Gwen Frostic Prints, a favorite stop for me when we visit the area. I've visited Gwen's for many years, and I'd idly wondered about the alpacas I'd noticed at the farm across the road, but I never visited the farm until I noticed that a new store selling alpaca fiber, clothing and other alpaca-fiber items opened at the farm a few years ago.
The 145-acre farm is on River Road between Benzonia and Frankfort, near Lake Michigan and offering nice views of Crystal Lake.
The boutique took shape in 2012 when friends and family helped the Nelsons build the boutique by redoing an old red barn on the farm properly and using wood harvested on the property to create shelving and rustic Northwoods-style decor and display space inside of the building.
We visited the boutique on a crisp autumn day last year to check out the sweaters, toys, mittens, scarves, socks and other alpaca products.
The store sells yarn and fiber harvested from the farm's alpacas.
The typical yield from a single sheared alpaca is about 5 to 10 pounds of fiber, which might be enough to create a half dozen sweaters.
The farm's alpaca herd isn't large enough to support large-scale production, and since most alpacas (like nearly 99 percent of the animals) live in South American, Chris Nelson supplements the boutique's yarn and fiber with goods mostly purchased from Fair Trade sources in Peru, Chile or Bolivia.
People love alpaca fleece because it is warmer than wool, doesn't itch like wool and, because alpaca fibers do not contain lanolin, alpaca fleece doesn't cause allergic reactions like wool can.
The alpaca fibers have hollow pockets of air inside of them, making them lightweight while still allowing them to breathe and provide warmth. Garments made with alpaca fibers also rarely need washing because the air circulating through the fibers essentially make it so the garments clean themselves. Alpaca fleece is also extremely durable, fire retardant and water repellant.
I was sold, and ended up purchasing a pair of mittens! Good thing that I did because they kept my hands extraordinarily warm and dry when I wore them during a snowy winter week when we visited the area last winter.
Money made at the boutique helps the Nelsons buy feed for the farm's alpaca herd and make repairs at the farm.
The farm sells and breeds alpacas, and there are about 45 alpacas living at the farm this year.
Alpacas weigh about 150 pounds and have a average lifespan of 20 years. Llamas, which some folks may confuse with alpacas, are heavier (weighing closer to 400 pounds), have courser fleece than the alpacas and are more commonly known as pack animals that sometimes will spit at those who displease them.
White is the most common color of the soft alpaca fleece. There are 22 colors in all that also include brown, fawn, rose-grey, red, apricot and the rarer black or grey.
The alpacas draw a lot of interest from visitors around Michigan and neighboring states or from places Germany, Japan and Thailand. It's not unusual to see 200 visitors at the farm in the course of a single summer day, including a day last year when 700 folks arrived to check it all out!
The Nelsons like to give their alpacas some privacy by not allowing visitors to troop through the barns or pasture, but they welcome visitors to sit on a bench near the boutique and relax while watching the alpacas at the farm across the parking lot.
The boutique opens for summer and fall hours, six days a week, from sometime in May until mid-October. The boutique opens Wednesday through Saturday during November and December. Check the Web site for the exact schedule or to find out how you can shop for alpaca wear online!
Check out Gwen Frostic Prints reopens for retail business in its long-time northern Michigan home for more information about the alpaca farm's popular neighbor across the road, and check out the Frostic Web site to learn about continuing efforts to save that business' unique building.
© Dominique King 2015 All rights reserved