Local alpaca farm celebrates 20 years of business


Samuel Cooke

Brianne Harris, Ayla Albert and Claudia Holman pose for a portrait at Apple Hill Farm.

Kayla Masterman, Distribution Manager

The rolling countryside, the personable farm animals, the sounds of the birds and the soft whispering wind greets visitors at Apple Hill Farm.

Located on Apple Hill Road in Banner Elk, Apple Hill Farm is a local fiber farm where “animals talk and people listen,” according to their website. Fiber farms raise livestock and harvest their fleece.

Ayla Albert feeds an alpaca at Apple Hill Farm. (Samuel Cooke)

According to Apple Hill Farm’s mission, the notable alpacas on the farm provide people with the chance “to get back in touch with what’s real.” Founder and owner Jane Lee Rankin said she “once met an alpaca and fell in love and decided that working with alpacas” is what she wanted to do. 

The farm is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year and is continuing to grow. 

“We started with animals in 2003 and were open to the public in 2006. We have introduced so many people to alpacas,” Lee Rankin said. “We have given people an experience they have never had before. We had over 80,000 people come to the farm last year.”

The farm’s mission is to provide the public with special encounters with the animals and the farm’s long-range mountain views. They aim to help guests “disconnect with the noise and chaos of daily life and, instead, find a connection with the animals and natural environment here on the farm,” said Ayla Albert, the assistant farm manager at Apple Hill Farm.

Visitors are able to form connections with the animals and scenery around them by experiencing the daily farm tours. The walking tours last about 45-60 minutes and offer guests the opportunity to interact with the animals and learn about the logistics of fiber farms.

General manager Brianne Harris has been working with the farm for 11 years and enjoys sharing the meaning behind their year-round farm tours.

Apple Hill Farm is home to a variety of animals including alpacas, chickens, dogs, horses, pigs and more. Pictured is the chicken coup at Apple Hill Farm. (Samuel Cooke)

“We love giving people the chance to experience the mountains, listen to the birds, watch the animals and be with themselves and their families in a more intentional way,” Harris said. 

Even though it is essential to the team the public enjoys the presence of the animals, the farm is not a petting zoo. 

 “We make sure that as we are raising them it is their choice whether they get touched or not,” Harris said. “The only time we force an interaction with an animal is for medical care.”

The farm has many animals such as, “alpacas, llamas, horses, donkeys, chickens, two miniature pigs, one miniature cow, regular cows, angora goats, farm dogs and one guinea,” Harris said. 

The farm provides the public with various exhibits. The most popular attractions are between the alpacas and the angora goats, Harris said.

“The alpacas are really unique, they have this presence and energy. The angora goats are just like poodles with horns and you get to feed them and they are really social,” Harris said. 

Albert said the farm can have special impacts on others. 

Watching a kid see an alpaca for the first time and realizing each time just how special this farm is can’t be beat,” Albert said. “Every day is a new experience for us and our guests … so there’s never a dull moment.” 

Aside from tours, they conduct several different events year-round.

On the farm we offer knitting with the alpacas classes, photography tours and, during the summer, baby goat yoga,” Albert said. “We also open the farm during the shearing of the alpacas every June to allow the public to experience this side of animal care.”

The farm participates in several events in the area such as craft fairs at Sugar Mountain and the Valle Country Fair, Albert said.

The guard dogs at Apple Hill Farms serve an important role as protectors from the natural predators in the surrounding area including coyotes, bobcats, black bears and mountain lions. (Samuel Cooke)

Apple Hill Farm is about eight miles away from campus and many students are employed at the farm. 

“One of our goals is to be a really good employer and to train and inspire employees,” Lee Rankin said. “Many people who come to work for us are App State students so we really focus on the soft skills and giving people the chance to learn how to work on a farm, with animals and with the public.” 

Albert said she started out as a biology student and was looking for a job involving animals; consequently she started working at the farm as a tour guide in 2020, and then advanced to assistant farm manager in October 2021.  

Harris described the farm as a peaceful getaway. 

“We have a lot of college students who come during exam time, just so they can get away for a little bit,” Harris said. 

The Apple Hill Farm Store is open from noon-4 p.m. on Wednesday-Friday and 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Saturdays. From socks to yarn to stuffed animals, all of the gifts at Apple Hill Farm are made from alpaca fiber.

“Almost everything that we sell in our store is made from alpaca fiber,” Harris said. “It’s either from our animals or fair trade from Peru or the U.S. made. Everything in our store is ethically sourced.” 

An alpaca from the farm. (Samuel Cooke)