Julie Ard James stays busy, like her grandfather and father before her, helping operate Ard’s Dairy Farm, the dairy farm her family has operated since 1940.
Producing milk from 250 or more Holstein cows is no small undertaking. The milk produced on their farm is used to make cheese, yogurt and ice cream, in addition to being bottled and sold for drinking.
In 2011, though, the family discovered a new direction that let them share their love of farm life with even more people by welcoming guests to the farm.
“It all started when we were celebrating my daughter’s birthday party at a friend’s pumpkin patch,” James says. “A friend said, ‘You should do something like this on your dairy farm and let people see the dairy.’ We laughed about it at first, but a lot of people don’t know how a dairy works, so we reached out to local schools and offered some field trips. People outside the schools started calling and saying they wanted to bring their kids to see what a dairy farm was like.”
Over the years since then, the Ard family has perfected the fun and interactive tour of their facilities, inviting school groups and others to visit and learn how milk is produced.
“We bring them in on a wagon ride to start,” James says. “We take them through the milk parlor and tell them how we take care of the cows. We make sure there is a lot of fun with the educational parts.”
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The fall, in particular, is a popular time for the farm. The harvest season creates a festive atmosphere, with many families coming out for the available activities but also just for some time away from the hustle and bustle of regular life.
“We create a new design for our corn maze every year,” James says. “We have a big playground with a biplane and old tractors for the children to play on. There’s food, ice cream and a ‘moochoo’ train. It’s a great place to get your family outdoors, and it’s spread out enough for kids to roam while parents enjoy the beautiful scenery.”
The days are packed with activities on the farm throughout the season. There’s a pumpkin patch where visitors can pick their own pumpkins to take home. Adventurous folks can try out the zip line, and children and adults alike love to pet the animals and learn more about their care. And on Saturday evenings, they even have a “flashlight maze” after dusk.
James has seen exactly how much people can connect with farm life through the cozy farmhouse that is available for rent on the property. Visitors who rent the house can either unplug and unwind on their own or participate in the farm activities.
“We tell them that they can build a fire and go fishing, but they can also get involved with the farm,” James says. “It’s a good, quiet place here, with not a lot of noise coming at you.”
James shared a story about an unlikely group of farm enthusiasts – a birthday party for a teenage girl.
“One mother wanted to rent the house for seven 13-year-old girls, and I thought they might stay on their cell phones the whole time,” James says. “I see those girls sometimes, and they still talk about how much fun they had that weekend, even though they are now closer to 20 years old. They went fishing, fed baby calves and enjoyed the farm – I saw no cell phones all weekend!”
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James has loved watching her own five children grow up around their grandfather, who has been farming for almost 50 years and has a lot of wisdom to share.
“My son loves working with my dad,” James says. “I love listening to all the life lessons about the farm my father has been sharing with him. He says now that when he’s older, he wants to work outside.”
While the dairy industry and agritourism can be tough work at times, it is great to be able to share the legacy of their family with others. James says she and her family feel blessed to be part of this industry.
“Growing up on a farm made us really well-rounded. My brothers and I had the opportunity to leave the farm and go to college, and I realized that growing up here prepared me for so many things, from fixing things to growing my own food in a garden,” she says.
This year’s fall season will be better than ever, with plans to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the family’s agritourism efforts. To plan your visit to the farm and keep up with details about the many attractions the farm has to offer, visit the Ard’s Dairy Farm Facebook page.
“We take such pride in what we do here because we’ve done it for so long,” James says. “It’s a great place to learn about where your food comes from.”
Editor’s note: Please check websites for the most up-to-date information on hours and operation.