‘I’m an alpaca farmer’

Published 12:11 am Saturday, December 31, 2016

Justin Piskorski navigates his powered wheelchair across a field as a group of alpacas and llamas closes in.

They know Justin has food. A wagon full of orchard hay is hitched to his wheelchair.

“We started this farm to have a reason and a purpose for him,” said Justin’s mother, Judy Benson.

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Justin has cerebral palsy, but the alpacas and llamas don’t know it.

More than four years ago, the Bensons, including Judy’s husband Burt, were living in Yorktown and knew they needed to find something to give Justin, now 23, purpose after he graduated from school.

They started thinking about alpacas and soon were traveling to Surry multiple times a week to learn about what it’s like to be an alpaca farmer.

“We traveled back and forth to Surry for a year to learn everything about alpacas — birth, death and everything in between,” Judy Benson said.

At that farm, they found their first alpaca, a female who came running to give Justin a kiss when she heard the click of his chair.

“She kind of chose him,” Judy Benson said.

The family then moved to Suffolk in 2012 and founded Benson Alpaca Meadows at their place on Mineral Spring Road. Justin has been involved with every step of the process, including hauling tools behind his wheelchair while Judy put up the fences.

“I’m an alpaca farmer,” Justin said.

The herd now includes about 40 alpacas and llamas, some of which were bred at the farm. A mess of goats and chickens — which control parasites and also provide fresh eggs — also live at the meadows.

Justin continues to impress with his alpaca farming skills. Not only does he help feed and water the alpacas every day with his wagon, but also he shows them at the Virginia Alpaca Owners and Breeders Association shows.

“They’re so good with him at the shows,” Judy Benson said. “They don’t give him any limits. He kind of brings everyone together.”

Justin has won ribbons in the fiber arts category at the shows. He uses a roller hooked to his wheelchair to help make rugs from the fleece of the alpacas.

Justin also participates in activities with the Suffolk Barnyard 4-H group, including the recent Holiday Parade.

“They make sure he’s involved when they have something going on,” Benson said.

Benson said Justin loves being an alpaca farmer.

“If you let him, he would sleep out here,” she said. He invites everyone he meets to the farm to see the alpacas. “He loves visitors.”

Benson said the farm continues to grow, and they hope to one day be able to offer a program for those with special needs.