The Heifer Ranch is an international oasis tucked away in tiny Perryville (pronounced prvl by locals, population 4,700) about 50 miles west of Little Rock on Highway 10.
Background: Heifer International is a non-profit organization headquartered in Little Rock with over 400 projects in more than 50 countries. It is dedicated to fighting world hunger and poverty by using livestock and sustainable agriculture to help people help themselves. Participants receive animals to improve family health and income and make the gift last by passing on offspring to other families in the community.
The ranch: The 1,200 acre ranch was purchased in the 1970s and used as a distribution center to raise and ship livestock. Recently, however, Heifer has begun purchasing animals near project sites, which makes for healthier animals and stimulates local economies. The ranch has been converted into a dynamic educational facility.
Activities: The ranch is home to a wide variety of livestock, including llamas, camels, and water buffalo, and the more pedestrian cattle, goats, sheep, and pigs. A Global Village offers a glimpse into what life is like in different regions of the world, while Cottage Industries demonstrates how families can use value-added products like cheese and candles to increase income. Short tours are available for drop-in visitors (a small donation is requested), or call ahead (501/889-5124).
Schools, churches, and other community groups can schedule half-day field trips that include a chance to milk goats and make bricks. Groups may also opt to learn about sustainable agriculture in EARTH class, work on team-building on the ropes course, spend a day in someone else's shoes learning about world resource distribution by staying overnight in the global village, or spend 2 or 3 nights in the brand-new Global Village Two.
The ranch is staffed largely by volunteers who range in age from 18 to 80 and live on site in volunteer housing. A variety of volunteer opportunities are available for anyone over 18 years old, and as someone who volunteered at the ranch for 8 months, I highly recommend it.