he Halls have never been to Peru, where 3.5 million alpacas live. And neither Cindy Hall nor her husband, Randy, is a knitter.
The couple's acquisition of an alpaca herd on their large lot on a suburban cul-de-sac was more of a process of elimination than a longtime affinity for the smaller cousin of the llama.
They wanted livestock because their son Kurt, 27, has autism that prevents him from living independently. Since he was first diagnosed, Cindy said, they've known they had to think of what would happen to him after they're gone.
So they founded a nonprofit called Creative Living Community of Connecticut, whose goal is to found a rural co-living farm, similar to Camphill Village in upstate New York or Heartbeet Village in Vermont.
"We looked at sheep, we looked at goats, we looked at cows," said Randy Hall.
They didn't have enough land for a cow. Goats were too spirited for their Kurt. Sheep would be too noisy, they decided.
Alpaca, however, were very quiet, he said. "We fell in love with them when we saw them," Cindy said.
Six years ago, the couple bought four alpacas. The second year, they started shearing their animals, and taking the wool to a mill in Eastford. Now they have 23 in the herd, which they run as a business, Round Hill Alpacas.
Co-living communities are different from group homes, in that it's not a traditional paid staff working with developmentally disabled adults, but rather adults who choose to live with and help special needs adults in the same household. In exchange for room and board and a stipend, they work on the land or in small businesses with the disabled adults on the farm.
The non-disabled adults will typically live in the community for a year to five years. Government support would cover part of the cost, but private fundraising would be needed to keep it going, as, generally, the micro-businesses would not be profitable enough to cover the rest of the costs.
Creative Living Community of Connecticut has not yet identified property for the farm, but has started a greenhouse vocational day program that sells greens at farmer's markets and restaurants. Round Hill, which is not yet profitable, remains separate.
"It's fun to show people different pieces of the vision," said Cindy Hall, who works for a church in Manchester.
"The alpacas connected us to a lot of people," said Randy, a manager at a company that repairs and maintains industrial cleaning equipment. When people who stop by the Round Hill Alpacas booth at a farmer's market or event, and ask why they own alpacas, they tell the story of CLCC.
Those customers have ended up donating thousands of dollars over the years to the charity, which now has a part-time executive director.
Randy Hall brings two animals whe he attends markets. He lets visitors give the alpacas a treat, and explains how the sheared wool ends up as yarn, socks, hats and gloves. Each skein, which costs $29, has a picture and name of the animal it came from.
"People love seeing the little picture of the animal on there," Cindy said.
The charm of the alpacas also led to another aspect of the business — the Halls lease alpacas to children in the 4-H program for $25 a month, the cost to feed them. The alpacas are still boarded at their Coventry home, but the children come and learn how to halter lead them and groom them so they can be shown at agricultural fairs.
Beth Fiddler of Tolland, a co-leader of the "Paca Pals" club, said her older daughter Gillian fell in love with alpacas after seeing one of the Halls' animals four years ago.
In addition to the lease fees, Fiddler has bought yarn for her girls to knit and loom, as well as sweaters, scarves, socks, mittens, etc. The Halls sell socks, gloves and hats knit by a cooperative in New England which receives yarn from their animals for free, and the members then sell the products to the couple at wholesale prices.
The Halls also buy fair trade alpaca sweaters and puppets from Peru, which they resell.
"The merchandise is wonderful," Fiddler said. "Everything I've bought I've loved, I've never been sorry. I buy tons just for Christmas. A coat, mittens, sweaters, scarves, many socks, you name it, I think I've purchased almost everything."
The Round Hill herd has grown as large as 28 animals at one point. The Halls frequently sell animals for pets, though they also still buy animals to try to expand the colors in the herd.