Alpacas at White Violet Center

A herd of 36 alpacas live at the White Violet Center for Eco-Justice.

WEST TERRE HAUTE, Ind. (AP) — A herd of 36 alpacas, including a newborn, was a big hit during a tour of an organic farm at the White Violet Center for Eco-Justice.

“I definitely want an alpaca now,” Terre Haute resident Jeff Dierks said after a close inspection of the animals. “We saw a TV show on them and then I read about (the tour) in the paper. We had the afternoon free so Angie and I came out, and it’s been fun. I think they just look cool. I don’t think they’ll trample you. They seem peaceful.”

Angie Dierks said the couple has had other animals, including horses and goats, but “we’ve never had an alpaca.”

The White Violet Center, a mission of the Sisters of Providence of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods, selected alpacas because they are raised for their fleece rather than meat. They are thus a “no-kill” animal, said Lorrie Heber, the center’s director.

“That appeals to the sisters’ sense of non-violence,” Heber said. “(Alpacas) have toes instead of hooves so they’re easy on the pasture and they nibble instead of yank so it’s easier to sustain the pasture.”

The newest member of the herd is a female cria — term for a baby alpaca — delivered May 7 via cesarean section. All of the farm’s alpacas have names. The arrival of Providence Jean Raphael was the first successful C-section delivery, Heber said.

Providence Jean weighed 15 pounds at birth but has already grown to 20 pounds. Her name was chosen to honor Sister Jean Fuqua, who has served the White Violet Center since its founding in 1996.

Three more cria are due in upcoming weeks; six additional females will be bred this year.

The two-hour tour demonstrated there’s much more to the center’s 7-acre farm. Some 35 vegetables and 10 herbs are raised, Heber said.

Fruit from a small orchard is used to produce cider. The avoidance of chemicals means its apples lack the smooth bright-red texture Americans have come to expect. The farm has a flock of 160 pasture-raised laying hens. And it’s home to beehives operated by members of the Wabash Valley Bee Club.

Many crops are grown, or at least started, in greenhouses and high tunnels. Some produce can be grown year-round in both, Heber said, because of the solar energy of translucent plastic roofs.

Products are sold at the center’s farm store. Area residents can subscribe to weekly farm-share and egg-share programs in which products can be picked up weekly at the store or at one of three locations in Terre Haute.

Students from the University of Scranton, who were doing a week of service learning at the farm, said they were impressed by what they saw and what they learned about the operation.

“It’s really beautiful,” said Sarah Lajeunesse, a math and philosophy major at the Jesuit school. “I was quite surprised at how much they have. I didn’t really expect it to be this big.”

Pointing to a pile of tomato cages, Heber told the students they would soon become quite familiar with the rusted-wire structures. And that was just fine with Lajeunesse.

“I love this kind of stuff,” she said. “My dream is to have a little garden and maybe a home of my own.”

Brian Martin, who is majoring in biology and philosophy, said, “I knew coming in that they had an alpaca farm but I really didn’t know how extensive it was ... I can’t believe all the things they do, especially for the community. I didn’t know about the farm-sharing program at all. It’s phenomenal what they do here.”