Ards aiming to milk agri-tourism trend

Published 6:00 pm Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Area residents and those on school trips are all too familiarwith corn mazes and pumpkin patches in fields across LincolnCounty, but Ard’s Dairy provides a fresh venture into the area’sagri-tourism development.

Pat and his daughter, Julie Ard-James, began giving tours of thefamily’s dairy farm, which is located in Ruth and contains 200 milkcows, in April. They have since given four tours and are looking toexpand their current operations.

“I think we’re doing a good thing,” said Ard. “I’m lookingforward to a lot more tours and a lot more people coming throughhere.”

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District 39 Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith, who serves as chairman on theSenate Agriculture Committee, said agri-tourism is thefastest-growing form of tourism in the United States.

“Most people find it very interesting, and there are so manyways we can capitalize and accent on farmers’ daily (lives),” saidHyde-Smith.

While green acres may not be the place for everyone, theactivities of farming life can sprout curiosity in anyone – nomatter what part of the country or city they may come from.

“Many people, especially children, don’t know where their foodcomes from,” said Lincoln County Mississippi State UniversityExtension Service Director Rebecca Bates. “It’s a great opportunityto get kids out in the country and let them interact with farmersand learn where their food comes from, whether it is a dairy touror just a regular farm tour.”

With James acting as the primary tour guide, the dairy tourbegins where the Ards’ dairy farm began many years ago. From theroots of the farm, tourists are shown the feed house, get to bottlefeed a calf, feed the fish in the farm’s pond, enjoy a wagon rideand are shown the milk parlor.

“Most kids come in holding their nose,” Ard said while showingoff the milk parlor. “We tell them to a farmer that smells likemoney.”

As spectators continue to visit the dairy, plans are being madeto milk the farm for all it’s worth and expand the activitiesoffered through the tour.

Ard said they are working on bringing in a petting zoo, pigrace, corn maze, playground area, mobile concession stand and areremodeling a house to allow visitors to get an extended stay on thefarm.

“We’re hoping people will choose Ard’s Dairy farm for a schooltour or whatever the outing might be,” said Ard.

While agritourism has allowed the Ards to get an extra value outof their farm, the tours have given Ard the opportunity to get hiswhole family back involved with the family business.

“It’s something that’s in our blood and a part of who we are,”said James.

The large property the farm rests on has been in Ard familysince 1894 and was originally a cotton farm. It was not until the1940s when the family began milking cows and in January of 1950started selling Grade A milk.

“You don’t really, necessarily, always think about your everydaythings as blessings,” said James.