Wednesday Work Day is a series started by editor Hillary Leftwich to showcase and support creatives who offer services, both in-person or online, and are impacted by the pandemic and the shutdowns both statewide as well as in other countries. The series will showcase one business or individual that is still able to provide a service during the shutdown, whether via remote service or some other way. The hope is to overcome the struggle creatives are enduring through these times and have you, dear reader, get to know some folks who might be able to help you or someone you know with their services. Read a conversation with Tenacious Unicorn Ranch CEO Penny Lounge below.
The Tenacious Unicorn Ranch is a transgender owned and operated alpaca ranch in southern Colorado. They process Alpaca fiber into yarn, sell chicken and duck eggs, and exist to provide a haven for queer folk and for queer folk to thrive.
Hillary Leftwich: I met you at a reading in Longmont at Still Cellars, a local distillery and arthouse. You are a fantastic performer and writer, and what struck me was your ability to freestyle during readings. No preparation. I imagine approaching the idea of starting a ranch is intimidating as well as complicated. Can you tell us how your process went as far as securing a loan for a transgender, LGBTQ run ranch and how you were able to accomplish such a huge obstacle?
Penny Lounge: It was a big decision. I had been looking for some way to be a part of moving the trans community forward using the skills I have developed in life. One of my personal goals has been to set up an alpaca ranch and live off the grid. A plot of land with a house and barn suddenly became available, and me and my girlfriends decided to just go for it. The idea of the ranch had long been on the drafting table, and a lot of it was just a “learn as you go,” in addition to depending on the kindness of people. It was incredibly scary! I sold my house and used the money from the sale as our startup. It was enough to get us going, but we still needed to find initial funding to get off the ground. We attempted to get several startup loans, and I knew my schooling was in finance and was aware of what banks expected and needed. Still, we were rejected from several loans even before submitting paperwork. One bank flat refused to help us, (being trans in the business world adds a layer of difficulty), which in turn makes everything a bit more expensive. We persisted, and after four separate attempts, we found a loan company that agreed to finance us but only for 1/3 of what we needed. We adjusted our plans and plowed forward. We are Tenacious, after all.
HL: Such a great example of overcoming adversary! I’m curious, what made you want to start the Tenacious Unicorn Ranch? What do you do there and what products do you offer? Tell us about all the animals you care for!
PL: I grew up on a farm and have always loved animals. I’ve never felt more peaceful and whole than when I’m working on the ranch, and I wanted to share that with Queer folk. We don’t get peace very often in life, so I wanted to offer a place that was accepting and fulfilling, a place where trans folk could be truly safe and content. A place where we could go out into the world on our terms, confident that we had a family behind us. I started the ranch for all Queer folk, and I run the day to day operations, take care of the animals, and do public relations.
I run the entry and housing for the ranch. We offer a full range of alpaca products, and this year we will have yarn, felt, and dryer balls. We are adding sheep in June and will also be offering wool yarn and alpaca/wool mixed yarn this year. We have chickens and ducks and sell eggs from all our birds.
We have so many great animals! Our alpaca herd is at 80 head right now. We are an alpaca rescue, so we do get more every year. We aren’t breeding alpaca yet, but we hope to start next year.
Our duck flock is 40 right now, they are super lively and loud, and a ton of fun. We will have 55 chickens coming in mid-August and will be raising them from chicks so that eggs will start next year. Also, we are getting 23 sheep next week! We will have three rams and 20 good sheep. We’ll shear them for wool and sell lambs to market. We also have three ranch dogs and six indoor cats! Never a dull moment.
HL: It sounds like a lot of work, Penny, but also a lot of fun (and crazy antics, I’m sure). You recently moved from the north to the southeast. How did a move during a global pandemic impact you and your fellow workers as well as your animals?
PL: We would have done anything in our power to avoid having to move when we did. It was scary and a level ten difficult getting the move done during the lock down. We had a lot of trouble getting trailers for the animals, and with a 10-hour round trip, the days got long. We also had to fence the new place entirely before we could move the animals, (the pandemic made every step two times longer and more complicated), but we just tucked our heads into the wind and pushed forward. It feels good to be done. The new place has so much more potential and room to grow, and the animals are much happier here.
HL: It’s inspiring to hear about how you all persevered and pushed forward during such a challenging time, both personally as well as what is happening globally. It doesn’t surprise me to know you accomplished your goal and succeeded. I know you, but for those out there that don’t, tell us about you. How do you manage to keep pushing forward despite such tremendous obstacles?
PL: I have been many things in my life, most important is I’m a mother to two boys, they make my life better and give me the strength to do anything. I was a soldier for six years overseas. After my service, I worked in tech and managed some coffee shops, put myself through school and became a broker, I even started a scrapping business and ran that for a few years before I transitioned. Transitioning changed a lot of stuff. I had to move out of my house and find a different kind of work, and then I started the ranch.
I think we all develop different skills in life. I have a lot of stamina for things that stress most folks out. I’m annoyingly positive about possibilities even against long odds, that combined with some tenacity and amazing friends is how we make this ranch work every day.
HL: This is precisely why not everyone can do what you’ve accomplished! Tell us, what’s in the future for Tenacious Unicorn Ranch and how can the community help you achieve the difficult task of caring for the animals as well as offering a safe space for your LGBTQ staff?
PL: The future is bright! We are looking into a loan to allow us to expand our housing. We get requests every day from folks that desperately need a place to live. We can handle about ten folks currently and we are full, with a waiting list of 27, so housing is our next goal. We are also going to expand our animals to include bees and cashmere goats, and we hope to have our own milling facilities up by 2023 to save us a tremendous amount of money by doing it in house.
We hope to have 15 full time positions giving trans folk employment by the end of this year. We are always looking for folks who want to donate to our project, whether it’s animals, money, or time, we absolutely depend on community support. The more folks we can get here, the better. We stand as a beacon of hope in a world that is trying to sweep trans folk under the rug.
Follow Penny and the Tenacious Unicorn Ranch on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook, as well as their Patreon page. They have Alpaca yarn for sale, and any level of support you can give will go toward keeping them operating and caring for these adorable animals.
Hillary Leftwich earned her MFA in fiction and poetry from the Mile High MFA at Regis University in Denver. She is co-host for At the Inkwell Denver, a monthly reading series. Her writing can be found in print and online in such journals as The Missouri Review, Hobart, SmokeLong Quarterly, Matter Press, Literary Orphans, Sundog Lit, NANO Fiction, and others. Her first book, Ghosts Are Just Strangers Who Know How to Knock, was published by Civil Coping Mechanisms in October 2019. Find her online at hillaryleftwich.com.