Southern Belle Farm
- What do you know about the early history of the farm?
The land known as Southern Belle Farm today was originally Farguson Place. The Farguson’s were some of the largest landowners east of McDonough and some of the original settlers in Henry County. The land was sharecropped by my Great-Great-Grandfather (William Glenn Carter) and my Great-Grandfather (James Arthur Carter) in the early 1900’s. With mules they would plant, tend to, and harvest cotton and split the profits with the landowner. This was the case up until 1938 when they saved up enough money to purchase the farm from the Fargusons.
- How did the name “Southern Belle Farm” evolve?
My great-grandfather (Arthur) and my grandfather James Coan Carter Sr. (J.C.) purchased the farm in 1938 and the dairy was born. In the early 1950’s my grandfather named the farm – J.C. Carter and Son, Registered Holsteins. As a child showing Holstein dairy heifers at the state fair, my father (Jimmy) wanted to name the farm “Georgia Belle.” When he found out the name was already taken, Southern Belle was settled on and the name has stuck ever since.
- Were you involved with the day-to-day operations of the farm when it was an active dairy operation?
The last of the dairy herd was sold in 1986. I was only 6 years old at the time and to this day I have fond memories “working” alongside my grandfather and my dad. Lifelong lessons of an honest days work, commitment, and seeing a job to completion were instilled in me from a very early age. It was here that I was taught that we don’t work a 9 to 5 job but many times a 5 to 9.
- What was the decision making process to transition Southern Belle Farm into an agritourism location? In the early 2000’s and in the peak of the housing boom in Henry County, developers began to make offers [to purchase our land] for potential subdivisions.The decision to sell the land and move on would have been an easy and very lucrative choice. We as a family sat down and after much prayer and discussion, knew there had to be another option [to selling.] We wanted to keep the farm in the family for future generations and make it a viable [business] again. At the same time we had new neighbors coming to us, asking questions about milk and where their food comes from. We saw this as an opportunity to transform our farm into an agritourism education farm and in 2006 we hosted our first educational school tours.
- Did you always know you wanted to be a farmer and take over the family business?
Farming is simply in my blood and it’s all I’ve ever known. Most kids want to be a doctor or lawyer or professional athlete when they grow up. Not me, all I ever wanted to be was simply a farmer. I think we tend to model ourselves after those that are closest to us. My first sentence as a child was “barn with daddy.”I wanted to be just like my dad when I grew up. I think farmers are some of the most resilient people on the face of the planet and will not take no for an answer. There was a time here on our farm when the odds were stacked against us and we realized that production agriculture was no longer viable in our now urban community. In order to provide an opportunity for the future generations to continue our farming heritage, we knew that we would need to change directions. Agritourism was something that we were all passionate about and saw it as an opportunity to not only keep our farm in our family, but to share it with others in our community.
Most kids want to be a doctor or lawyer or professional athlete when they grow up. Not me, all I ever wanted to be was simply a farmer. I think we tend to model ourselves after those that are closest to us. My first sentence as a child was “barn with daddy.”
- When did Southern Belle first open to the public and what types of attractions were available that first year? How has it grown?We opened our doors to the public in 2006. We started out that year with the fall corn maze, pumpkin patch, hayride and a handful of other attractions. In an effort to diversify as well as meet the needs and requests of our community, we added just over an acre of U-Pick strawberries in the spring of 2008. In 2009, we added U-Pick blackberries and blueberries. By 2010 we added a winter Christmas tree season and by 2011 planted a five acre block of peach trees. Currently the farm operates nine months out of the year and has over 100,000 visitors annually.
- Was the current growth and scale of the agritourism offerings part of the long term plan or has it just evolved that way? What additions are you most proud of?
Once we made the decision to shift from production agriculture into agritourism we have always tried to focus on adding attractions that promote strengthening the family bond. As we’ve added and grown what we offer, it all leads back to what families can come out to participate in together. I think what I’m most proud of are the crops we grow. Planting the seeds, watching the plants grow and the culmination of our guests harvesting their crops for “pick your own” is something that is really special to me. Having the new farm market available for families to come out and purchase something that was grown right here is also really exciting for us.
- What role does family play in the current operation of Southern Belle and what are everyone’s roles?
Southern Belle Farm is a family run business. My father Jimmy and I are partners and are active in all of the day-to-day operations of the farm. We would be lost without our better halves keeping us in line and going. My wife Jennifer handles the field trips and corporate events. My mom Kathy, also known around these parts as Mimi, runs the bakery and is a driving force behind much of what you see at the farm today. I also have numerous nieces and nephews who work seasonally all throughout the year.
Agritourism was something that we were all passionate about and saw it as an opportunity to not only keep our farm in our family, but to share it with others in our community.
- Family history and farming heritage are represented all over the farm. Can you share what some of those things are and why they are important? Family history is something that has always been important to me. The addition of our new farm market has allowed us to showcase some of the family history and heirlooms that have been passed down through the years. The centerpiece in the market is our checkout barn. The beams that make up the barn came from the original home place built in the late 1800’s. The grist mill, cotton scales and all of the farm implements as well as the barnwood on the walls of the market all came from this farm and around Henry County. We see this as an opportunity to showcase our farming heritage and honor those that paved the way for us to continue that legacy.
- Southern Belle is a business, but what do you see as the mission, goal or service it provides?
Serving our community and those that are around us is something that has always been a cornerstone for our family. We have a wonderful opportunity to serve our community through Southern Belle Farm. I think that in this day and age we get so wrapped up in our media devices that we too often put quality family time on the back burner. It is our desire and mission to provide a wholesome atmosphere for families to come out and not only reconnect with agriculture, but to reconnect and strengthen the family bond.
- Running a farm of this magnitude has to be a huge undertaking. What do you enjoy or appreciate most and what unique opportunities does it provide you and your family?
I enjoy meeting and seeing families come out to the farm enjoying a day spent together. Over the years we have really gotten to know the families that visit and they too have become like family. The thing that I enjoy most is the opportunity that [my wife and I] have to raise a family here on the farm. The life lessons and character that was built for me on the farm is something that I hope to pass on to my kids as they grow up here.