Peebles Farm embraces agritourism in autumn months

By Angela Spencer Published October 5, 2014 at 12:00 a.m.
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PHOTO BY: Rusty Hubbard

Katie Peebles is co-owner of Peebles Farm, home of a pumpkin patch and corn maze, between the cities of McCrory and Augusta. Over the past 10 years, the farm has expanded to include agritourism in the fall that caters to families and school groups.

Between the cities of McCrory and Augusta, a gravel road next to a field of sunflowers leads to Peebles Farm, where the changing of the seasons from summer to autumn means pumpkins and corn mazes for guests. Workers on the farm say they enjoy the chance to work with the animals, and visiting children squeal with delight at the baby potbelly pigs and ducks.

Katie Peebles — who owns the farm with her husband, Dallas — helps run the operation, and the recent expansion into agritourism has made the business explode as the weather cools down each year. Hayrides and pumpkin patches are iconic symbols of the autumn months, and Peebles Farm is one place that has become a regular seasonal stopping point for area schoolchildren and families.

Peebles has embraced the farm life after years of moving around, first when she was growing up and then in her own career in the Air Force. She said that she loved growing up in a military family, moving around and spending a lot of time in the Southern states. When her parents retired and moved back to her mother’s native Vermont, Peebles said she knew she would probably not stay in the North.

“My dad was in the military for 30 years, and we lived in Texas, Virginia, Florida,” she said. “I grew up in the South. When they retired and moved us to Vermont, I was familiar with it because we had vacationed there every year, but it was too cold for me, and I missed the military lifestyle when my dad retired.”

When she was 18 years old, Peebles joined the Air Force and spent two years in Texas and Virginia. In the Air Force, she was an aerospace physiology technician, preparing airmen to recognize when air pressure changes while they are in flight.

“We took the pilots and crew members in an altitude chamber and simulated the effects of altitude on their bodies,” she said. “When an Air Force pilot loses pressure in his jet, he needs to recognize when he’s being deprived of oxygen. What we did in these chambers is, we took the oxygen out of the air. When you have no oxygen, you either get giddy and laugh — some might cry; some get very belligerent. We had to get the pilots to know when they needed to put their oxygen masks on.”

Peebles’ desire to stay in a warm climate landed her in Arkansas, where she has lived for 25 years. Her experience as an aerospace physiology technician made her want to be a flight nurse, so she pursued a degree in nursing at East Arkansas Community College in Forrest City. She worked as a registered nurse in labor and delivery at St. Bernards Medical Center in Jonesboro until 2005, when she quit nursing to work on her husband’s farm full time.

Katie and Dallas met in 1994 at St. Peter’s Catholic Church in Wynne, where they still attend. Katie said they had both been out of the church and were taking night classes at the church when they met.

Dallas’ family has been farming for generations, Katie said. In 1972, Dallas took over the family farm. At the time Katie and Dallas met, he was still farming row crops, but prices kept dropping. The couple purchased their current property on U.S. 64 between McCrory and Augusta in 1996 and started growing watermelons and cantaloupes in order to diversify their crops.

Over the past 10 years, the farm has embraced agritourism when autumn comes around, and it all started with an inquiry from Carol Adams and Donna Brown, teachers at Harding Academy in Searcy.

In 2004, Katie and Dallas’ daughter was a second-grader at Harding Academy, and Adams and Brown wanted to bring the students to a real working farm as a field trip.

“At that point, we were farming pumpkins and watermelons wholesale. We were shipping everything out,” Katie said. “We were also farming row crops. They were really interested in seeing the soybeans and pumpkins, so we had them come down, and we set out some pumpkins and made up a little hayride for them.”

Forty-two kids came to the farm that year, and Katie said she and her husband started doing research to prepare for the following fall. In 2005, they constructed their first corn maze, which was about 15 acres. Since then, the operation has grown and has become an annual destination for many school groups and individuals.

“Every year we’ve just added to it,” Katie said. “We’ve done a lot of building. When we first started, we didn’t even have a carport to get under. It was all just out in the open.”

Now Peebles Farm boasts a 16-acre corn maze; 4 acres of sunflowers; 4 acres of cotton; a barnyard with a zebu, a llama, two miniature potbelly pigs, six goats, ducks, chickens and cats; a play area with rubber-duck races, a slide and tire swings; concessions and a picnic area; 60 acres of “U-Pick” pumpkins; hayrides; train rides; horse and wagon rides; and a general store with Arkansas-made products.

Peebles Farm sees between 45,000 and 50,000 school children every year now, and Katie said the school-group discount helps everyone by making the visits affordable and by keeping the traffic up during the week at the farm.

Working the farm is not a one-season job, however. It takes most of the year for the couple to work and maintain their crops in order to be profitable. Every year, the work starts in February when they start working their ground and purchasing the seed for their crops.

“Once you get those seeds in the ground, it’s seven days a week until Nov. 1,” Katie said.

Weeds around watermelons, cantaloupes and pumpkins have to be manually chopped out, and Katie said the farm will have up to 20 people for several days just chopping out the weeds.

The whole operation will end in December, and Dallas and Katie will have a couple of months to rest until the process starts again.

In that interim time, Katie said, she enjoys painting, and several of her paintings can be found for sale in the general store on the farm. She and Dallas also enjoy trying new restaurants and spending time with their five children and eight grandchildren.

“During the offseason, we love to eat,” she said. “We love to try new places to eat. We love the Little Rock and Memphis areas for food. We just go everywhere. We’ve already done the travel and all of that, so right now, we just watch Netflix and eat.”

Fall activities at the farm run through Oct. 31. Admission to the farm is $8, which includes the corn maze, play area, barnyard, cotton patch, sunflowers and concession area. Pumpkin prices are based on size and range from $2 to $8. Hayrides and horse and wagon rides are extra. Group and military discounts are available.

The farm is open from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Thursday; from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday; and from noon to dusk Sunday.

Staff writer Angela Spencer can be reached at (501) 244-4307 or aspencer@arkansasonline.com.

Zoned Editions Staff Writer Angela Spencer can be reached at 501-244-4307 or aspencer@arkansasonline.com.

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