Dogwood Hills Farm started with a small herd of Boer show goats.

 

ON THE FARM IN STYLE

Agritourism finds a home at Dogwood Hills

By: Kat Robinson   Photography: Kat Robinson And Grav Weldon

Ruthie Pepler isn’t trying to create agritourism on her farm in Harriet. She’s attempting to create a farm for agritourism. The Peplers—Ruthie, husband Thomas and their two daughters—came to Arkansas from New Jersey in 2007 when Thomas took a job at a girls’ residential therapeutic facility. 

“We wound up here sort of by accident,” Ruth says. “We had incorporated in New Hampshire because we really thought that was where we were going to be.” They ended up making the Natural State their home, purchasing the land that would become Dogwood Hills in 2008.

Back in New Jersey, the Peplers had started with a couple of Boer show goats and about 150 free range chickens. They brought the best of the stock with them when they came to Arkansas, along with an ancient goat called Mr. Nibbles. When they got here, a horse named Jodie was waiting on them, and they took on a border collie. They added more goats after they purchased the property in Harriet, fenced it in and began to grow. Along the way, more cows and chickens were brought on, along with ducks and horses.

From the beginning, the Peplers wanted to create a retreat for pastors and their families. It came along sooner than they expected.  

“Our idea was to have one family at a time here, with the idea that pastors need time away with their families away from public eyes, just to wind down a little bit,” Ruth says. “After we bought this place, we noticed no one was ever at the house just up the road. We found out the couple who owned it lived half the year here and half the year in Florida. I contacted the owner and we worked out a financing plan really quickly. So, we moved here in May [of 2008] and in October we bought that house. And it wasn’t long before others started asking if they could stay with us.”

Ruth soon discovered she had an opportunity.

“One morning I was milking the cow on the side of the hill, and some of our guests came up and wanted to help milk that cow. And I said no, because there are so many safety issues to consider. I found that more people wanted to be with the animals when they came to stay at the cottage. They wanted the interaction. So I put farm stays on our internet site.”

Dogwood Hills Farm now provides a quaint, rustic welcome to tourists (left). The accommodations at Dogwood Hills include a lovely deck for relaxing (middle) and well-appointed bedrooms (right).

The Peplers began building a barn with a massive upstairs recreation room, which will soon be a combination kitchen and teaching space, where Ruth will be able to provide cooking demonstrations and farm-to-table dinners. Her dream is to be able to utilize only produce, meat and dairy from Searcy County in those meals to showcase what the area has to offer. The dinners could be the culmination of a full day that would include five to eight farm visits and experiences by tour groups, culminating in a Searcy County farm dinner at Dogwood Hills.

To that end, Ruth Pepler has been hard at work, researching agritourism here and across the nation. She’s in the process of creating a statewide organization, aimed at helping other farms and destinations with obtaining insurance to cover liabilities, adapting farms for mobility and providing advice to new upstarts based on the decisions and travails the Peplers and others have handled along the way. 

It has been an adventure for Ruth and her family, but she feels this farm and operation are her destiny.

“I don’t know how many times I thought why Arkansas? Why am I here? What am I doing here? Farming on a hillside, really? And I look back now and I think of all the different people that have come through this farm, the stories that have come through it, and I get it. We were definitely meant to be right here, not even five miles from here but right here, no doubt. Chiggers and all.”

For more information on Dogwood Hills Farm, Bed and Breakfast, call Ruthie Pepler at 870-448-4870 or check out the website at thefarmex.com.