A unique endeavor: Local family to open alpaca farm and boutique

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MANISTEE COUNTY — Greg Erdman grew up on a cherry farm in Onekama; roots that he believes have never left him.

“I guess the farm is always in you,” he said, “so it’s definitely a part of me.”

His wife Debbie — also born and raised in Manistee County — jokes that she’s a “city girl” at heart.

“But I’m becoming a country girl,” she said with a laugh.

Their paths to life on a farm are slightly different, but together they’re embarking on an endeavor quite unique in their home town.

Residing on their gorgeous wooded and sprawling property near the south county line at 4796 Maple Road in Manistee are five alpacas that have truly become a part of the Erdman family. And starting in July, they plan to open their farm and accompanying “Deb’s Boutique” to the public.

“Alpacas have always been interesting to me,” Greg said of the domesticated South American camelid. “They always seemed like really cool animals and I knew their fleece was highly regarded.”

This became more than general intrigue nearly four years ago when a trip to Crystal Lake Alpaca Farm and Boutique in Benzie County convinced the Erdmans to start their own.

“Ten years ago, we never would have dreamed this is what we’d be doing,” Greg said, “but as things do in life, this idea has really evolved into something we’re pretty excited about.”

Greg smiles from ear to ear when feeding and playing with Izzo, the stunning white male alpaca that he considers the mascot of the farm.

“You can stumble into this, but you can’t stumble through it,” Greg said of learning to raise alpacas on their property. “What really sparked our interest in this was a trip to Crystal Lake Alpaca, when they held a farm day for the public about three years ago.

“We became very good friends with the Nelsons (owners of Crystal Lake Alpaca), and eventually purchased our animals from them. They’ve been great mentors to us.”

The Erdmans currently have two males and three females, all of which are pregnant.

“This started out as a hobby farm, which it basically still will be, but we plan on having anywhere from 15 to 20 alpacas total,” Greg said.

The Erdmans said their alpacas are sheered once a year — typically in mid-May — and their fleece is divided into three bundles, according to grade, which is determined by the area of the body from which it was sheered.

These bundles are sent to a fiber mill in East Jordan, where the fleece is processed into yarn.

Skeins of this yarn will be one of the items available for purchase at Deb’s Boutique, which is housed in the Erdmans’ home on the farm.

“They compare alpaca fibers to cashmere, so they’re right at the top of the line,” Greg said, adding that alpaca wool is also non-allergenic. “We knew people would be interested in buying our alpaca fibers, but somewhere along the way we decided to expand this into having an actual retail business.”

The local fibers will also be used for dryer balls to be sold at the shop, while alpaca sweaters, mittens, gloves, scarves, socks, jackets, blankets, stuffed animals — all imported from Peru — will be available as well.

“Other than products from Peru, everything is going to be made in Michigan or locally,” Greg said.

Michigan-made soaps, candles, jewelry and metal art will also be sold at Deb’s Boutique.

Once they’re up and running in July, the Erdmans plan to be open seasonally from May to October. They stress that their farm — and its featured furry residents — will be as much a destination as the boutique during open hours.

“Our vision is to have benches and places to hang by the alpacas to de-stress,” Debbie said. “They’re very calming just to sit and watch.”

“We love being part of the Manistee community, and this is pretty unique for this area,” Greg added. “We’d like to see it be a place families enjoy coming to.”

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Posted by Dylan Savela

Dylan is the county reporter for the News Advocate, he also is in charge of the Small Town Life, religion and senior pages. He can be reached at (231) 398-3111 or dsavela@pioneergroup.com.

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