Mark Nisbet is the founder of Eudora Farms. His history with animals goes back to his childhood when he managed to keep pet rabbits and chickens on the balcony of his family’s apartment in Morganton, NC. As the son of a teacher, importance was placed on education and conservation.
Nisbet earned a degree in sociology at Elon, accepted a job with LabCorp and moved to South Carolina. He began looking for some place rural to raise his show dogs and found this place in Salley with a tiny, old house and thirty acres, mostly wooded.
“We were thinking of getting ostriches and emus,” Nisbet said, “but they were too expensive at the time. We saw miniature donkeys in a periodical and decided to get one. We started learning about the animals and ended up getting a camel. At first, friends came out to see the camel, then churches would ask us to have camel rides at their VBS programs. Then we started doing festivals on the weekends.
“The farm sort of developed without intention,” Nisbet smiles. “We started doing field trips for school groups. I had to learn how to drive horses, tack up draft horses, hook up the wagons for the classes. The good Lord puts you in positions that are the right thing for you, but you might not know anything about how to do it.” Nisbet continues to include education and conservation with every field trip Eudora Farms has hosted, along with the festivals and exhibits.
LabCorp went through several merges and eventually Nisbet was let go. His focus fell fully on the farm. “We developed a ten-year plan to possibly have an interactive animal exhibit. The festivals began requesting petting zoos and the fair in Columbia County lost their animal exhibit vendor and we got that job. Still have it, twenty years later. That was when we realized we might be able to make a living doing what we enjoy.”
Eudora Farms eventually had exhibits in fairs across the country for seven months out of the year. They’d start in Florida in February and March, then go to upstate New York and the New England states, finishing up the season in August and September here in the south.
Eudora Farms Drive-Thru Safari is open from Wednesday through Sunday, 10:00 a.m. – 6:00 p.m. at an introductory rate of $20 per vehicle. $5 cups of animal food may be purchased in addition. The farm is closed Monday and Tuesday. As guests drive their own vehicles through the drive-thru safari, they enjoy close encounters with zebras, camels, antelope, water buffalo, emu, llamas and Willie, the extraordinarily large African Watusi.
The farm currently has 2 concessions trucks. One serves cheeseburgers, hot dogs, sausage dogs, corn dogs, chicken drummettes, French fries, and drinks. The second concession serves funnel cakes, deep fried Oreos, and drinks. We also have a picnic area if you’re interested to bring your own meals.
The current farm is the first part of phase one for the Safari. Eudora Farms is Planning to include better signage, a gift shop with restrooms and an educational area, beautiful, grand entrances, and possibly an downloadable phone application for animal education as you drive through. There is also an enclosed petting zoo area nearby, along with a Parakeet Adventure where over 200 parakeets make their dwelling. Eudora Farms Drive-Thru Safari plans to acquire more animals as the safari grows.
By the time we reach mid-summer, a walk-thru trail should be available with around six different displays. While walking along this leisurely route, guests can see ring tailed lemurs, African servals, binturongs, a tortoise, and kangaroos. Guests will be able to sit and relax while enjoying the fresh air at park benches available throughout the trail. Currently, the walk-thru trail does not include any animal interactions, however they are considering it in the upcoming months.
Caring for animals is the number one goal and top priority for Mark Nisbet & the Eudora Farms staff members. His history with animals goes back to his childhood when he managed to keep pet rabbits, along with chickens on the balcony of his family’s apartment in Morganton, NC. As the son of a teacher, importance was placed on education and conservation.
**** In March of 2020, they were all set up at the Florida fair at Okeechobee; all the vendors were set up, the town had invested a lot of money and the fair was ready to start. They had been hearing bits and pieces about the coronavirus COVID-19, but didn’t expect to have to shut down. Ultimately the decision was made to not open. Then the fairs in NY and New England closed. Nisbet is still waiting to hear if the southern fairs will open in August and September.
During the off periods while working the fair circuit, Nisbet would work on the ten-year plan for the 2021 safari drive-thru, acquiring more land, clearing it, fencing it, seeding it and acquiring more animals. When COVID-19 shut down the economy, Nisbet was sitting on 125 acres, 100 of which were seeded and ready, beautiful rolling hills just needing some fencing. He had 80 – 100 animals with a few ostriches and black buck antelope on order. “With everything shut down, I wanted to continue to provide work for some of my folks, so we kept working on the safari out of pocket. My kids came home from college and could help out. We figured it would be short term and the fairs would open again in May. That didn’t happen. We tried to keep moving forward, but my savings were dwindling fast. We began to think about opening the safari much earlier than anticipated.”
Nisbet put a rush on finishing the giraffe exhibit and a few other things so they could open. He set their opening day for Mother’s Day 2020. “Suddenly we began to get publicity, news stations and Facebook, the magic of social media! It coincided with a time when people didn’t have anything to do and they needed to get out of the house.
“When you hit your darkest times, there are a lot of variables trying to stop you. But like the Bible says, in those times you’re close to getting overwhelmed with favor from God, you have to stay true to your dreams and push on.
“So, we opened a year early. A few cars came through and we thought that was good. Suddenly, we started seeing a lot of cars coming in, a couple hundred. Then word of mouth spread and the next day we had close to 800 cars come through with a 1 ½ hour wait to get in. The third day was basically the same thing, so it was awesome.”
Nisbet felt sure business would slow down now that businesses are reopening and people have other things they can do outside of isolation; however, the following weekend was busier than the first. There was a three hour wait to get in and they had to turn away new arrivals due to traffic issues.
Nisbet concluded our talk with a drive-thru tour and a visit to the lemur exhibit. “We’re still in the process of doing things to better the park,” he said. They’re struggling figuring out the logistics, where and when their handful of employees are needed and how to manage the crowds. They need to update their website, manage their Facebook and Instagram accounts, and try to answer hundreds of messages and phone calls. “It’s a bit overwhelming. But it’s been very good for local businesses, especially the gas stations and restaurants. It’s good to be a part of a small community, it gave everybody a little boost.”
Nisbet’s sons Travis and Tristan, and his daughter, Shelby, work at the farm along with several other employees, and he could not have done this without them. He is very appreciative of their help. The farm is USDA licensed and inspected.