Project Manager By Day, Alpaca Farmer By Night
Like many entrepreneurs, for three years now Nancy Ashbaugh has been leading a double life.
During the day, she works as a senior project manager at CUMIS, the
insurance provider and then after hours and at weekends she can be found taking care of her alpacas at Green Acres Alpaca Farm, the business she owns in Brantford, Ontario.
She truly takes multi-tasking to a whole new level! However, as she admits herself, she’s had to give up certain chores – “I don’t cook any more, and my husband is in charge of the grocery shopping.” Sounds like a good move on her part.
“For some time I felt something was missing from my life, that there was a void.” shares Nancy. It was reading books such as Simple Abundance and Excavating your Authentic Self, that helped her find her new direction.
All her fondest childhood memories growing up in Deep River were connected to nature, horses and life in the country and so it wasn’t a stretch to move her family into the country. Once there, her next goal was how to run a business so she didn’t have to commute into the city every day.
Nancy did her homework, and after a year of research, she determined alpacas were the way to go. “As soon as I visited the first alpaca farm and saw the alpacas, my decision was emotionally solidified and I knew that this was what I wanted to do.” So she had a barn built, fences erected and purchased ten alpacas and launched Green Acres Alpaca Farm.
As the retail side of her business started to expand, enter Helga Hillyard, who came on board to help Nancy market and grow the business. As long-time friends, Nancy knew she could trust Helga and she respected her marketing skills and strong sense of customer service.
Their friendship has spanned over thirty years, meeting through their boyfriends of the time, and even when they lived in different cities, they always kept in touch. Today Helga manages the retail/wholesale aspects of the Green Acres Alpaca Farm.
In the three years since starting the farm, they have grown to 30 alpacas, an online store, a comprehensive line of products and share their expertise with others through their seminars on how to start an alpaca farm.
There are a total of 118 alpaca farms in Ontario and it is a growing sector as more and more people learn about this farming niche. Creating awareness about alpacas has been an ongoing challenge and they have invested considerable time educating wholesalers and retail businesses on why the clothing and products are more expensive and what is so special and unique about the properties of alpaca fleece.
When you talk to Nancy and Helga, you can see their passion for what they are doing. They clearly enjoy each other’s company and while it is hard work, have found the business to be fun. As Nancy shares “while we both chip in and do the grunt work that has to be done, we also have our individual strengths which we recognize and leverage. I am more the strategic planner and Helga is more of the executor.”
And both have ideas galore, although Nancy is quick to tell you that she is very clear on her vision for the business, and if it doesn’t fit, she won’t go there.
So what’s in the future for Green Acres Alpaca Farm? Nancy and Helga would like to build a separate store on the property that would be open regular hours. They would also like to offer back-to-basic trips to the farm where people can learn hands-on skills such as weaving from local artisans.
As for the double life, while Nancy manages her time well, she longs for the day when she can afford to devote all her time and energy to Green Acres and with this dynamic duo, you get the sense it could be any time soon.