interview by Daniella Zelikman
LIFL: What inspired you to start Lazy Acre Alpacas?
Mark Gilbride: I had a small farm over in Victor and wasn’t doing anything with it. I ended up buying a tractor and a Bush Hog to mow it. After an afternoon of mowing the grass, I came to my wife, Sharon, and said, “It’d be nice if we could find something to eat the grass down.” That’s really how it started. I have no livestock experience as I grew up in the city of Rochester. My parents moved out to Bloomfield when I was 16. I finished my junior and senior year at Bloomfield Central and I married my high school sweetheart. I had been in business myself at that point for 18 years. We had this little farm and thought it would be nice to grow something or raise something.
My wife is a dairy farmer’s daughter and knew there was no chance to get away on vacation. Who’s going to milk 58 cows twice a day? She was very opposed to the idea. When I started researching livestock, I didn’t have a preference. I didn’t know what an alpaca was at the time. Cows were already out of the picture. Horses are beautiful. We’re close to the Finger Lakes Racetrack so there was the option of boarding thoroughbred racehorses, but they’re a lot of work. You need a farrier to come every six weeks to trim their hooves and when they step on your foot, they break bones. When an alpaca steps on your foot, you say, “Excuse me, you’re on my foot,” and life goes on.
What do you enjoy most about the Finger Lakes region?
It wasn’t until I joined the Canandaigua Chamber of Commerce that I realized how much we have to offer people from outside the region. We take for granted so much stuff here. The waterfalls. The lakes. I’m 20 minutes from three different lakes. There are places in Texas where you could drive five hours before you see a body of water. We’re just so fortunate here.
What’s your favorite story about someone visiting the alpacas?
Our most recent AirBNB customers were a couple from the Boston area. They owned their own business and for the last three years, were totally engulfed in that. Then COVID came along so they didn’t get out at all and their business continued to grow. They finally decided to get away and come to our farm for a 12-day stay. During those 12 days, we had a lot of heavy rainstorms. At the end of their stay, I thought they might say, “The weather was terrible and we made do,” but they just loved every day they were here. Her hobby was photography and I caught her half a dozen times walking around the alpacas, trying to get the perfect shot. Her main subject is waterfalls and she was able to visit and get a lot of shots.
What kinds of activities are available to visitors at the farm?
We do have an AirBNB. You wake up, pull the shades up, and get to see alpacas outside your window. That’s quite an unusual scene for most people. We offer tours of the farm. It was probably 12 years ago that I joined the Chamber of Commerce in Canandaigua and was promoting ag tourism. The original idea of getting in the alpaca business was breeding and selling offspring. That wasn’t really paying the bills and I had to rediscover myself. We had this old 190-year-old farm and the buildings are in immaculate shape.
We put names on the buildings so we had a nursery, a maternity ward, a medical area, a fiber shed, and we started charging for tours. For an hour, you get to travel through our vintage barns and see the construction that happened when Lincoln was president. Then we watch a video on the shearing process as well as the processing of raw fiber into a workable yarn product, then we go out and see and feed the alpacas. The alpacas are very gentle and docile, and very non-aggressive. People really like going out there and taking pictures with their kids and feeding the alpacas. After the tour, we have a beautiful two-story gift shop in an old barn that’s been updated and cleaned. We have products as small as a bathmat up to a full area rug to gloves, hats, mittens, and socks, and beautiful fur stoles. There’s lots to see and do here.