Meet Terra. Perfectly named, she’s the farm manager where I am currently WWOOFing. Rocking color-coordinated work clothes from Duluth Trading Company each day, she is a pink-hair-streaked, pierced ray of Millennial sunshine here on this alpaca farm and eco-spirituality retreat center owned and operated by the super cool Dominican Sisters of Peace, all in their 70s and 80s.
Terra majored in Environmental Science and did a research-based internship at the famous Biosphere in Tucson, Arizona, which taught her much but also made it clear to her that she wanted to be on the farm, not in the laboratory.
As native to Kansas as the dried sunflowers in the field surrounding the high tunnel vegetable garden, she knows the land and the impacts of this multiyear drought. She rotates the range land to provide enough forage for the herd, but it’s a concern. It’s not growing fast enough and her gauge has recorded only 8/10 of an inch of rain as the biggest downpour in the last year and a half.
There may be a day not long off when there simply won’t be enough grass growing to graze on. Supplemental brome hay has filled the void but it’s expensive to buy and she wishes they could grow it themselves, as they used to.
In the gardens, she’s experimenting with alpaca fleece as a sustainable weed cover in the aisles, layered “lasagna-style” between empty paper feed bags and the woody remains of the brome after the alpacas eat the green stuff. It’ll also help preserve rainwater, if it ever comes, by directing it to rows where seeds, soon to be planted, will be thirsty.
I helped her spread this the past two days, using the fleece called “thirds,” which is fleece from legs and bellies and is not commercially valuable — I know this because I was here for the annual alpaca shearing! (“Firsts” is the back fleece, called the blanket, which is the most commercially valuable and is used to make yarn for clothing — think of those super soft alpaca socks; and “seconds” is fleece from the neck, which is used to make things like insoles for footwear.)
Terra gives me hope, and I have much to learn from her. Good thing I have three more weeks here. Perhaps we’ll even see rain. Let’s say an extra prayer for it, okay?