woman hugging a llama
Pamela Campbell

Pamela Campbell spent most of her life traveling the country as a live car model and running her beauty salon in Marco Island, Florida. Nowadays, she’s delivering baby llamas. 

Well, that’s just one of the jobs she has on her 80-acre farm in Pennsylvania, called Spooky Nook, where she owns more than 35 llamas and alpacas and a handful of sheep. Campbell also offers 45-minute llama guided treks, often leading 50 to 100 people a week around her farm for $50 a head. It’s a lifestyle she picked up in her 60s and a passion she never knew she had. She’s joining a growing number of people in the farm tour business — the agri-tourism market is set to grow more than 10% a year, according to one market report.

Back in Marco Island in 2017, she was dating her now-husband Michael Scornavacchi. Scornavacchi already owned the farm in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, though he only visited it in the summer (“it was like a gentleman’s farm,” Campbell told me on the phone last month). After Campbell sold her salon, the two moved into the centuries-old farmhouse about three hours from Pittsburgh.

Campbell’s always been an animal lover — she used to own horses. So once the two were settled in the house, she wanted to bring some animals to the farm. They thought about a dog rescue or a horse farm. Then, the two saw baby alpacas on a visit to a local fair.  Scornavacchi was the owner of Lift Inc., a material handling company, before he retired, Campbell said.

They thought they’d start small, but a visit to purchase two alpacas ended with the couple bringing home eight. Campbell didn’t know much about the animal yet, and jumped to the conclusion that their cute and fluffy appearance matched their personality. “I thought they were gonna all be cute and friendly and lovey — because I’m a huggy kind of person, and I wanted something to love on,” she said.

But turns out that’s not the case. “We got them home, and they were none of the above. They were spitty, they wouldn’t come near me. They weren’t friendly, and I was so disappointed.”

Alpacas are not that Friendly

But she was committed to her new animals and took her time to earn their trust. She reached out to Alpaca farmers and formed mentorship relationships with several to learn more about caring for them. She went to llama and alpaca conventions, too.

That’s where Campbell met her first llama. Unlike her alpacas, they were sweet and cuddly like Campbell had dreamed. “I was like, I have met my spirit animal. This was the next best thing to a unicorn,” she said.

“I came home from that, and I told my husband, we need llamas.”

One thing led to another and her pack grew. She learned simple veterinary procedures, like giving shots and dewormer to her animals and even how to help them give birth. She began to breed her llamas and alpacas and walk them in shows. She hired two part-time workers to help with farm chores. 

People wanted to come visit the farm and the animals. “I was surprised,” Campbell said. “I thought you know, like, I’m the only one that loves llamas.”

At a convention, she heard about llama owners who offered tours and education on their farms. She thought back to her traveling model days, when she educated people on Oldsmobile cars. “I figured if I could do that, I could certainly talk about my animals.”

Three years ago, the couple launched the business, offering tours and visits to the community. People can visit her farm to pet, hug and walk her llamas in a guided tour of the farm. Along the way they learn about the animals Campbell adores so much. The farm also has a store for people to buy llama and alpaca-themed gear.

For Campbell, it’s not about profitability. Right now the farm has about $60,000 in annual revenue, and she said just about breaks even on the current cost to run the property. It’s a retirement job that takes her 30-40 hours a week during the summer and fall. It makes her happy. 

“Your work doesn’t define you,” she said. “I was in the beauty business — I was a professional model, I was a makeup artist, I was a medical esthetician, an account executive for major cosmetic companies, I was the director of the Estee Lauder spas, and here I am delivering llama babies.

“You just have to be open to the different chapters in your life and I think that’s a lesson that everybody needs to know.”

Lessons Learned

It’s never too late to start a new venture. Campbell started Spooky Nook Farm and completely pivoted her life in her 60s. “If there’s one thing for sure, your life is gonna change.”

Sometimes smaller is better Trusting everyone around you is incredibly important. For Campbell, the women who work part time for her love her animals, and she knows they care about her farm as much as she does. “Even if they’re cleaning up poop, they love being here,” she said. 

Visit your peers. “Go to somebody that’s doing what you want to do. Visit their business, find out about hidden costs, find out about liability, insurance, and decide how you’re going to do it,” Campbell said. Sometimes the more expensive option is actually better for a business — such as expensive fence boards that will last years longer than cheap ones — but sometimes it’s not.

And, here’s a list of resources if you’re interested in starting a farming business: https://www.nal.usda.gov/afsic/agritourism-and-farm-tours

This story has been updated to reflect that Campbell raises sheep, not goats, and the correct spelling of Marco Island.

This story and others on New Builders Dispatch are made possible by a sponsorship from the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation. The Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation is a private, nonpartisan foundation that provides access to opportunities that help people achieve financial stability, upward mobility, and economic prosperity – regardless of race, gender, or geography. The Kansas City, Mo.-based foundation uses its grantmaking, research, programs, and initiatives to support the start and growth of new businesses, a more prepared workforce, and stronger communities. For more information, visit www.kauffman.org and connect with www.twitter.com/kauffmanfdn and www.facebook.com/kauffmanfdn.