MEXICO — It all started with a single apple orchard.

After Sandy Binder read an article in 1992 about a man in Texas who started a dwarf apple orchard, she started planting apple trees, thinking it would give her something to do when she retired from being a teacher.

“She thought she was retiring, but really starting a new career is what she was doing,” her daughter-in-law, Debbie Binder, said.

Seven or eight years later, Sandy Binder added some character to her apple orchard with quite a few alpacas. For the 19 years since, it’s been called Apples and Alpacas.

“I saw my first alpaca at a farm show in Columbia,” she said. “A fellow brought him in from Washington state and I said, we’re going to have some of those one of these days.”

This weekend was the farm’s 11th annual Alpaca Farm Days, a community event Binder hosts that brings families and mid-Missourians to the farm to learn about alpacas and pick apples. This event is Sandy Binder’s last; she’s retiring this year and selling the farm and alpacas.

Binder said she has continued to host the event because she loved the family interactions with her alpacas. It’s almost like a petting zoo, Debbie Binder said.

“They’re sweet little animals; they’re gentle and they have beautiful fiber that you can make nice things with,” Sandy Binder said.

Besides listening to live music and apple picking, Sandy Binder sets up informational sessions for the young kids and families that come. Emily Bauer, a second-year student in the MU College of Veterinary Medicine, came with two fellow students to volunteer this year.

“We help out with the info sessions and teach the people about the alpacas. It’s really fun helping the little kids learn how to walk the alpacas,” Bauer said. “It’s my favorite part about this whole event.”

Joyce Loyet, who has been friends with Sandy Binder since they were 10 years old, said, “We’re getting old, but she’s been doing this as long as I can remember.”

Loyet comes each year with her daughter to enjoy the music and spin alpaca wool fibers into yarn, which she plans to use to make a sweater. Clothing made with alpaca yarn must be washed with shampoo instead of detergent to keep its softness, but isn’t itchy, she said.

“It’s a vacation, and I get to spin all the time!” Loyet said.

Sandy Binder said she’s continued to enjoy hosting the event, but it’s been harder the past few years as she’s been slowing down and getting older.

“I don’t know when it will hit me that this is the last year, but I’m moving close to my son to move out to the country and see what happens,” she said.

She’s selling all the alpacas by October to move to an art colony in Nashville, Indiana.

“I plan on spinning and weaving and seeing what else comes my way,” she said.

Supervising editor is Taylor Blatchford: news@columbiamissourian.com, 882-7884.

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