Polk City, FL

Bell Family Farm and Apiary — Step Away from Life’s Stress and Pet Some Animals

Modern Globe

Cutie cow.Photo byBell Family Farm and Apiary

With so much to do in the Greater Tampa Bay area, visiting a petting farm might not even be on most people’s radar. But a short drive east lands visitors on a 14-acre family farm where a tiny goat will gladly untie your shoelaces and a mini cow will help you pack away your stress for an hour or two.

The Bell Family Farm and Apiary, in Polk City, borders Florida’s Green Swamp, shaded by magnificent live oak trees and inhabited by goats, pigs, cows, chickens, ducks and a visiting wild peacock.

Right at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, Sarah and Ray Bell started looking for property, away from the hustle and bustle of Disney and Orlando’s suburbs. Once they found it, Ray’s 95-year-old grandfather offered to buy them some livestock.

“My mother-in-law said in New York, people were paying $75 an hour to hug a cow. We started thinking about it,” Sarah Bell said. “We’re Florida, not Manhattan, but knew if we got more animals, we could start a petting farm.”

They started with two goats, two pigs, two cows, some chickens and ducks. “Now we have 11 goats,” she said. “We started our mission to give people an opportunity to be around social, loving and often comedic animals and see what farm life is like.”

They started building out fences and pastures, got a barn to house the animals at night and opened part-time, a couple of days a week, by reservation only.

“We owned another company. We were pool cleaners and ran that business together,” Sarah Bell said. “But we realized if we are going in, we gotta go all in. So, we got rid of the pool company, cashed in our life savings and got the infrastructure started and got the animals and started figuring out how to do this full time.”

They went full time with the petting farm in April.

Hey!Photo byBell Family Farm and Apiary

The response has been overwhelmingly positive, she said. “We really just wanted to share this amazing experience with other people.”

Most people love visiting the farm because they love the lifestyle, Sarah Bell said. “I also hear a lot of people say it was so personal and intimate. It’s not like Disney or Busch Gardens. It is very relatable for people.”

Visitors are always amazed at how interested the animals are in the humans that visit. “They are so surprised by how friendly the animals all are, except for the one rooster whose mean. We have a goat named Bonk that goes straight for your shoelaces and unties them. We have a couple of other goats who like to sniff around people’s faces. They are a wonderful centerpiece to what we are doing because they are so engaging and emotionally intelligent.”

The farm gets a lot of Hispanic visitors who can relate to the rural life because that is where they have roots growing up in Honduras or in Puerto Rico. “They had this lifestyle at one point and either got too old or displaced from a hurricane. They still hold that farm life very near and dear to them,” Sarah Bell said. “That is so touching to hear that. They miss what they had when they were kids.”

For the Bells, they do it because it is also part of their growing-up experience. Ray’s grandfather had a small farm in upstate New York where he took Ray most weekends to clear land, fix up the cabin and enjoy the country. Sarah grew up in rural Maine, surrounded by agricultural lands.

“The thing that touches me the most is when people thank me for this. They are paying to come onto my farm, and they are thanking me.”

The family farm is still evolving. Just before Christmas, the Bells built a new, larger barn to house the animals and are converting their smaller barn into a gift shop where they will sell their homemade soaps and candles, mugs, and T-shirts.

They are always welcoming to those who wish to come volunteer.

Volunteer Lisa Byrd and a friendly pig.Photo byBell Family Farm and Apiary

“We have one amazing volunteer who comes every weekend. She came with her two nieces in June and has been here every weekend since,” Sarah Bell said. The volunteer, Lisa Byrd, is an executive for a credit union in Tampa, a high-stress job with tons of responsibility.

“She says when she walks in here, she feels like it is magical,” Sarah Bell said. “She said her therapy bill has dropped to zero” since she began volunteering at the farm.

The farm is open Wednesday through Sunday, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. The entry fee is $17 per person and free for kids two and under.

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