Building a farm for the community through love, loss and joy

by | Nov 23, 2023

#EscapeWithNCAg is a year-long series that will focus on agritourism across North Carolina. Many farms, wineries and other agricultural businesses in our state offer events such as tours, yoga, educational classes, pick-your-own events and festivals, to entertain the public and teach them about our state’s number one industry. Each Thursday, we will feature a new site for you to visit with friends or family. Stay tuned and learn how to escape the stresses of life by diving into agriculture! 

Falling in love is a beautiful thing, both between people and animals. Lee Rankin, owner of Apple Hill Farm in Banner Elk, started her farming business on love and a dream. “We started Apple Hill Farm in 2003 with chickens and alpacas,” she said. “A few years prior, I connected with my first alpaca while attending a county fair. I looked into the eyes of that animal and completely fell in love with its being, nature, and spirituality. From that moment on, I knew that I wanted to farm and raise alpacas.” Lee and her son Will worked the farm together for many years before he went off to college. Today, Lee continues to raise alpacas, chickens, angora goats, donkeys and Randall Lineback cows on her beautiful property in the middle of the N.C. mountains.

In 2004, Lee and her family were faced with a farming tragedy that forever changed their vision for Apple Hill Farm. “A year after the farm opened, our alpacas were attacked by a mountain lion, taking the lives of most of our herd,” Lee said. “We knew that we weren’t going to give up on the farm, so while this attack was devastating, it gave us a way to start over.” Directly following the attack, Apple Hill Farm became the talk of the town. The story of the farm that survived a mountain lion attack influenced people to drive for miles to meet Lee, Will and see the farm. “Our original intentions with the farm were to raise, breed, sell and show alpacas,” Lee said. “However, when people began to come by and ask to see the farm, we would spend hours talking with them and touring them around, sharing our story. That prompted us to venture into agritourism and, ultimately, was the steppingstone that led us to where we are today as a farm.”

Today, Apple Hill Farm hosts a variety of agritourism events throughout the year, including public and private tours, a Christmas Celebration, Angora Goat Yoga, barn quilt painting classes, knitting with the alpacas and more! In addition to hosting events on-site at the farm, they also travel to about six or seven craft shows throughout the state and showcase their fiber products for interested customers.

The Christmas Celebration at Apple Hill Farm is a big hit for people across the state. It is a time for families to come together, see the farm decked out for Christmas, meet the animals and learn about their purpose and life on the farm, and shop for all the people on their Christmas list in the farm store. “We decorate the barn with stockings for all of our animals during the Christmas celebration,” Lee said. “Every person who visits us will receive an educational tour of the farm where they can meet the animals and learn about their job within the agriculture industry. Each tour will end at the Apple Hill Farm Store, where people can stock up on all of our amazing fiber products for their loved ones, including yarn, socks, vests, gloves, stuffed animals, blankets and more!” Apple Hill Farm has been hosting this event for many years, as long as Lee can remember. They also partner with a local Christmas tree farm so that families can choose the tree for their home that was grown and raised right in the heart of the North Carolina mountains. Taking place from November 19th through January 3rd, the Christmas Celebration will cost $17 for adults (ages 11-54), $15 for seniors and military, $12 for children (ages 4-10) and $3 for infants (3 and under). Prices may increase on busy weekends. Tickets should be purchased online in advance through their website.

Apple Hill Farm also offers a unique package for repeat visitors that will save them money throughout the year. “Our Farm Family Membership program allows families to come back multiple times during the year either for events or tours,” Lee said. “It not only is a cheaper way to come back month to month, but it also provides a discount for guests as well as in the farm store.” Season passes are currently available for individuals, pairs and families or groups of four. Learn more and purchase a season pass on their website.

By attending events at Apple Hill Farm, visitors can experience farming and agriculture in a new way. “Many individuals today did not grow up on a farm and many have never experienced one in person,” Lee said. “So, we not only aim to teach visitors about the alpacas and their job producing fiber for the industry, but we also educate on farming in general, how it works and what it is.” In addition to alpacas, Lee and her staff also have a variety of other farm animals that they are able to educate the public with, and a beehive to talk about the importance of pollination. They also offer tickets for shearing day, which happens three times a year on the farm, so that people can come and see how the process of gaining fiber from these animals is accomplished as well as touch the fiber for themselves.

“I love seeing people out in nature and connecting with the alpacas on our farm,” Lee said. “I know that we are changing people’s lives on the farm and impacting them through the work that we do here. It keeps us alive to see the joy in other people’s faces when they visit. It generates a sense of pride, joy and inspiration for what we do.” Get your tickets online now for the Christmas Celebration and start planning your visit to Apple Hill Farm. We are so proud of the work that they do for our state’s number one industry and can’t wait to see how they will continue to grow through the years!