By Johnny Jackson
As the sun rose on the dewy, lime-green countryside, workers were already quietly preparing feed for small pygmy goats and robust cows.
These are daily chores for Jake Carter, whose family has owned Southern Belle Farm since the 1930s. The 200-acre farm is located a few miles northeast of downtown McDonough, a fast-growing suburb of Atlanta and the Henry County seat.
Still a rural oasis amid subdivisions and strip malls, at one time Southern Belle Farm was a dairy farm with nearly 400 head of cattle.
"The dairy business is a tough business," said Carter, whose father, Jimmy Carter, is a third-generation dairy farmer.
Carter, himself, is a seventh-generation farmer in Henry County. He said his great-great grandfather sharecropped parts of the Southern Belle Farm before buying it outright for a few dollars in 1938.
The farm no longer has traditional crop or dairy operations. The farm is now used as an agri-tourism farm, each year giving some 10,000 school-aged children an opportunity to learn about traditional farming.
"Over the past few years, we've realized that there are fewer and fewer farms," Carter said. "And there are kids who have never been on a farm or know what is involved in running one."
Southern Belle Farm hosts various family-oriented activities during the summer and fall months, from its pumpkin patch to its corn maze.
"The kids really have a good time out here," Carter said. "At the same time, they're learning."
Recently, Carter decided to create a new attraction for the farm.
For the first time, beginning in April, the farm will provide a pick-your-own strawberry venue for area residents.
Last October, Carter and others with the farm planted 45,000 strawberry plants on two acres of land with the goal in mind of providing families with an afternoon of strawberry picking.
"It gives the families something fun to do," he said. "We wanted something to be able to share with the public during the spring."
Picking begins April 15 at the farm, located at 1658 Turner Church Road in McDonough, and will continue through the month of May. "You-pick" one-gallon buckets will be available at $10 each. "Pre-picked" one-gallon buckets will cost $12 each.
"I think it's a fresh relief to a lot of people to be able to go out to a farm and see what it's all about," Carter said.
He said he expects strawberry picking will be an annual activity for the farm. Additionally, the farm expects to open a blueberry and blackberry patch next year.
On the net:
Southern Belle Farm: www.SouthernBelleFarm.