About the Farms in the Lens series: Much of what we write within these pages is focused on the restaurants of Minneapolis and St. Paul. But much of what we eat at those tables comes from farms around the state. With underwriting from Clancey’s Meats and Fish, we’ve set out to document a half dozen of these farms, focusing on the relationship between humans and animals. Check out our complete Farms in the Lens series, including: Wild Acres, Hidden Stream, Shepherd’s Way, Redhead Creamery, Twisted Suri Alpaca Ranch, and Paradox Farm.
In early 2011, Roger Welck saw a string of comments like this on the Facebook page for his Twisted Suri Alpaca Ranch:
“We don’t eat our alpacas here in the Civilized World.”
“This is simply appalling … ALPACAS ARE FIBER ANIMALS!”
“Greed caused this. Why not have the vet euthanize them instead of eat[ing] [al]paca burgers?”
“Do you slit their throats and hang them upside down to bleed out? I asked 10 times? Shoot them? Hit them with a hammar [sic]?”
Welck had just come back from a meeting of the Upper Midwest Alpaca Association and word was spreading that he was developing a terminal market for alpacas. In other words, he was harvesting and processing them. In other words, he was eating them. And packaging their meat to sell to retailers and chefs.
Some of the commenters — all alpaca owners themselves — acted as if he were eating his own family members, Welck remembers. But a good number of others wrote some version of: “Thank you. It’s about time.”
Roger Welck got into alpaca farming for the same reasons that most other people do. Neither he nor his wife had a background in farming, but after 14 years in receiving at Frito-Lay in the Twin Cities, he was ready to leave city life behind, to move the kids out to the country, to set his own hours, and to do something more hands-on than the modern-day paper pushing that occupies most of us all day. As farm animals go, alpacas are famously adorable and even-tempered. Welck remembers that when it came time to decide which breed to focus on, he chose Suris over Huacayas in part because of how cute they look when they bound across a field. That was in 2007.
In Brooklyn Park, Welck had kept an award-winning yard and garden, and the original plan was for him to raise perennials for sale at the farm in Princeton, Minn., and keep the alpacas as a kind of tourist attraction, selling fiber, hats and mittens as a way of maintaining customer traffic year round. But, as alpacas tend to do, they had soon taken over his business and his heart.
By 2010, Welck had 80 alpacas in his fields and barns. And, like a lot of alpaca farmers around that time, he started doing the math.