There’s a new exhibit at the Little Rock Zoo helping visitors of all ages connect with agriculture through elements that are both interactive and educational. Open since April 2, 2016, the exhibit – called the Arkansas Heritage Farm – is located in a newly renovated area of the zoo that once housed the Children’s Farm. It gives the public the opportunity to pet, groom and feed animals like Katahdin sheep, Blackbelly sheep and various breeds of heritage chickens and turkeys.
“After conducting surveys and doing research, we found out there was a strong desire from the public to have a place where they could interact with animals,” says Susan Altrui, zoo director at the Little Rock Zoo. “They also wanted to learn more about agriculture and sustainable farming, and we had the perfect opportunity to make that happen.”
The exhibit also includes geese, African pygmy goats, miniature donkeys and dwarf miniature horses. Additionally, there are two barns, a chicken coop and a playground suitable for children of all abilities.
“We wanted the playground to not just be ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act)-accessible, but ADA-friendly,” Altrui says. “We went the extra mile to ensure the playground could be enjoyed by everyone.”
Partnering With Heifer International
Little Rock-based Heifer International, which is a charitable organization that works with communities to end world hunger and poverty and to care for the planet, helped the zoo launch the Arkansas Heritage Farm by donating lambs (Heifer International calls this “passing on the gift”) and creating signs and educational materials for the exhibit.
According to Allison Stephens, Heifer International’s public relations manager, the signs showcase and explain the organization’s seven M’s: milk, meat, muscle, money, materials, motivation and manure. Each “M” illustrates what animals provide for humans and how they can help end hunger and poverty.
“The signs are designed for all ages, but they’re really intended to get kids’ attention,” Stephens says. “We’re trying to show children how farming impacts them.”
Heifer International also donated a chicken tractor to the exhibit, and visitors can see it in action. By using the tractor, farmers can create more sustainable operations as it allows them to easily move chicken coops with no hard-surface flooring in order to provide aeration and manure in specific areas. Plus, the tractors allow chickens to freely roam in fresh grass while remaining close to farmers – a win-win situation.
“We’re excited to have had the opportunity to help bring a farming exhibit to the city’s zoo,” Stephens says. “This is an urban place where not everyone knows a farmer, and people often don’t know the many different types of farm animals. The creation of the Arkansas Heritage Farm has been great for Little Rock, as well as the zoo and Heifer International.”
Helping the Exhibit Become a Reality
Although the majority of the Arkansas Heritage Farm’s funding came from the capital dollars associated with the 3/8-cent capital tax passed by the City of Little Rock voters in 2011, several organizations and donors pitched in to help the exhibit come to life.
In addition to support from Heifer International, the zoo received grants from the Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism Outdoor Recreation Grants Program, as well as from the Central Arkansas Planning and Development District. Hiland Dairy, the Arkansas Milk Stabilization Board and the Arkansas Agriculture Department donated funds specifically for the exhibit. Additionally, private donors from the Arkansas Zoological Foundation contributed.
“When the Little Rock Zoo came up with the idea for an interactive farm exhibit for children, we were excited,” says Mike Flagg, Hiland Dairy’s general manager. “This exhibit is important because it engages kids by more than just seeing and reading about animals; they get to touch and feed them.”