A herd of 36 alpacas, including a newborn, was a big hit Sunday 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,” he said. “I think they just look cool. I don't think they'll trample you. They seem peaceful.”

'It's phenomenal what they do here'

Tribune-Star/Austen LeakeCurious chickens: During Sunday’s tour of the White Violet Center, a group of chickens approached the fence to get a better look at the tour group.

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 and 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 (the term for a baby alpaca) delivered via cesarean section on May 7.

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 and six additional females will be bred this year.

Sunday's nearly two-hour tour demonstrated there is much more to the center's seven-acre farm. Some 35 vegetables and 10 herbs are raised, Heber said.

Fruit from a small orchard is used to produce cider because the avoidance of chemicals means its apples lack the smooth, bright red texture Americans have come to expect. The farm also has a flock of 160 pasture-raised laying hens and is 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, which are similar but don't have as much climate control. 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 and area residents can subscribe to weekly farm share and egg share programs in which products can be picked up at the store or at one of three locations in Terre Haute each Thursday.

'It's phenomenal what they do here'

Tribune-Star/Austen LeakeTuckered out: The newest White Violet Center cria Jean Raphael takes a nap after getting visited by the tour group on Sunday.

Students from the University of Scranton, who are doing a week of service learning at the farm, 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's 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.”

Dave Taylor can be reached at 812-231-4299 or dave.taylor@tribstar.com. Follow him on Twitter @TribStarDave.

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