Not long after deciding to open their dairy farm for tours, Julie Ard-James and her father, Pat Ard, wondered about the risks. Would enough people visit to make the venture worthwhile? Are children and their parents really interested in knowing more about how a dairy farm operates? Were they doing the right thing for their business, Ard’s Dairy Farm? The answers to these questions, in a sense, came from a small child. “On the very first field trip that came out here,” Ard-James says, “a little boy told me he had never drunk cow’s milk before. I thought maybe he drinks goat milk or something, and I asked him, what kind did he drink? He said, ‘I drink the kind out of the cafeteria.’ “I just chuckled and later said, ‘Daddy, we’re doing the right thing.’” Since combining their dairy business in Ruth with the growing industry of agritourism in 2011, the Ard family is busier than they could have ever imagined. The farm, which started in 1894 when Pat Ard’s grandfather purchased 211 acres of land, has grown into a fully functioning dairy that produces Grade A milk from more than 200 Holstein cows on 1,200 acres of land. And now it’s a place where children and adults alike learn that milk doesn’t originate in a cafeteria or a grocery store. “It was a way for me to get involved in the daily activities of the farm and a way to bring in more income,” says Ard-James, who worked seven years as a marketing executive for Sysco Foods before returning to the family farm. “It was also a way to educate children, and even their parents, who may have never been on a farm. A lot of people have no idea how to milk a cow or how we milk a cow. “We started very small,” she adds. “And in the sense of agritourism, we’re still very small and new.” Fast-Growing Industry Agritourism takes on many faces in Mississippi. It is defined as a business on a working farm, ranch or other agricultural enterprise that offers an experience that is both educational and fun for visitors, while generating supplemental income for the owner. Examples include U-pick farms, petting zoos and pumpkin patches. As one of the state’s fastest-growing tourism markets, agritourism generates around $150 million annually in Mississippi. Dairies can be seen as a prime target for commingling with agritourism. The state’s dairy industry is small but active. Figures from Mississippi State University show 109 Grade A dairy herds, 14,000 milk cows and $40 million in milk production for 2012. Farms are scattered throughout the state, with the heaviest concentration in Walthall and surrounding counties. Activities Abound With decreasing numbers of dairy farms in Mississippi, agritourism could make sense. The Ard family thought it did. Pat Ard oversees the farming operations with help from his son, Jason. Ard’s wife, Bonnie, and Ard- James handle the touring business of the farm. Activities include tours of the farm, a playground and a fall festival each October with a corn maze, bonfires and wagon rides. Ard’s Dairy Farm even has a ranch house open for weekend getaways. “Folks can come out and do as much or as little as they want,” Ard-James says. “If they want, they can fish or swim in the creek that’s behind the house. They can go to the barn and really see the day’s activities. Some people don’t want to do anything. They come to relax and to get away from the busyness of life.” To learn more about agritourisim in Mississippi, visit www.msagritourism.org.