Harriet farmstead welcomes guests from around the globe for the ultimate, authentic farm experience
Dogwood Hills Guest Farm sits on the side of a rocky slope in Searcy County, a few miles north of the intersection of Arkansas 14 and 27 in Harriet. The working dairy farm boasts cows, chickens, goats, ducks, geese, a lemur, working dogs and a mother-and-daughter team that are spearheading a budding new industry in Arkansas — agritourism.
Any given morning, you can find Petit Jean Electric Cooperative members Ruth and Grace Pepler performing the acts that keep this farm going — milking cows, gathering eggs, feeding the fowl and taking care of the many tasks you’ll find on any farm. The difference is they’re often accompanied by guests — from throughout the United States and from as far away as Europe and Australia — who visit year-round for the hands-on experience.
“From the moment they arrive, they begin the adventure,” says Ruth, who started the farm along with her husband, Thomas, when Grace was young.
When guests arrive, usually in the afternoon, the Peplers and their sweet, fluffy Great Pyrenees dogs greet them and show them around. Farm-stay visits are limited to just one group at a time, and members stay in a spacious three-bedroom, two-bath guesthouse with country touches and extraordinary Buffalo National River Valley views. But this is much more than a standard vacation.
“When you hand a child an egg from under a chicken and it’s still warm, they’re like ‘Whoa!’” — Ruth Pepler
“After they are settled into the guesthouse, many of them come to the barn loft for dinner their first night,” Ruth says. “Afterward, there is an orientation, and they can finish their evening on the deck, enjoying the starry skies from the hot tub.”
Guests aren’t required to get up early, but many are compelled to rise and join Ruth and Grace in the milk stand, where they’re shown how to properly milk a cow — an experience surprisingly hard to find for folks living in urban settings. Once the cows are milked, guests come upstairs, where Grace expertly flips omelets and serves a breakfast that includes fresh vegetables, fruits and meats, most sourced from Searcy County. The kitchen is a completely gluten-free operation, well-suited to accommodating special dietary needs.
The day is often spent fulfilling “bucket list” experiences, such as hand-feeding the cows barley fodder, which is hydroponically grown in a special facility Grace originally designed as a 4-H project when she was a teenager. The facility allows Dogwood Hills’ cows to be fed fresh food that does not have to be brought in from elsewhere, since it’s grown on an eight-day rotating schedule right on the farm.
Kids in particular love the hands-on nature. “When you hand a child an egg from under a chicken and it’s still warm, they’re like ‘Whoa!’” Ruth shares. “They’re surprised when they milk a cow, and the milk is warm.” With supervision, children and adults are allowed to cuddle chickens and hold baby goats, too.
Dogwood Hills offers a marvelous location to act as a home base as guests explore Searcy County, float the Buffalo National River and take in attractions. The Peplers also offer hands-on demonstrations and classes, such as wool felting and making pizza or gnocchi. There are activities throughout the year, from farm-to-table dinners to the State Youth Cast-Iron Cookoff, which happens annually the first Saturday of November. A vibrant store on-site offers all-local products, from quilts to spoons, locally raised produce and meat, and products from Dew Line Dairy, Grace Pepler’s micro-dairy.