Ever since she was a little girl, Jo Ann Goldenburg had a vision of something for the environment. Now, many years later, Goldenburg says she has accomplished that goal with the opening of Dahlonega Butterfly Farm, a farm dedicated to teaching the community about conservation and native species of butterflies.
Goldenburg worked in the corporate world for 25 years as a video producer but always yearned to follow her childhood dream. A few years ago she decided to take a leap of faith and follow that dream.
“I just got to a point where I had a lot of freedom in my life and this little nagging thought that I needed to open this farm, so I sold everything I had in Atlanta and moved up here to build a farm,” Goldenburg said. “I built it all from the ground up and I love it — I call it my dream farm — and it’s really like the American dream I guess.”
Goldenburg said that she decided to move up to North Georgia to start her farm because it’s always been a “secret place” where she could get away from the hustle and bustle of the city.
“I’d always get away to Dahlonega and Dawsonville whenever I needed a break from Atlanta,” Goldenburg said. “I would usually go up to the mountains and go hiking and just enjoy being up in the mountains, so I guess I’m a mountain girl at heart.”
The farm, which is located at 427 Castleberry Bridge Road in Dawsonville, contains dozens of planters full of native species Goldenburg planted to attract wild butterflies, a large greenhouse full of butterflies and a gift shop. Goldenburg said that while raising butterflies was not in her initial plan, she decided to start the butterfly farm as a way to teach community members about the importance of butterflies and environmental conservation.
“This is an educational farm, we like to teach people about the life cycle of butterflies and the native habitats that they need to survive,” Goldenburg said. “My purpose is for everybody to have a butterfly garden.”
While Goldenburg officially opened her farm back in June 2019, the COVID-19 pandemic forced her to shut down in 2020. But now the farm has reopened and is back to normal operations.
Visitors to the butterfly farm start their tour in Goldenburg’s “containment room”, a USDA-regulated room with tanks of butterfly chrysalises that Goldenburg hatches to release outside. She uses the chrysalises as a visual aid to educate visitors about each stage of the life cycle of the butterflies.
“We start by telling people about the life cycle of butterflies,” Goldenburg said. “It’s really important to educate about all the stages of it because every part of the cycle is so important.”
Visitors are then led into the greenhouse, a large room filled with butterflies, plants and flowers, where they can get up close and personal with the dozens of butterflies. Goldenburg said that she primarily raises three types of butterflies: monarchs, fritillaries and a couple different varieties of swallowtails.
“We can only raise what’s native here; if you wanna raise butterflies you have to raise what’s naturalized to your environment,” Goldenburg said. “We actually raised about 500 butterflies at the farm, this year we’re hoping to raise 1000.”
The final leg of the farm tour takes visitors to an outdoor garden, where Goldenburg or one of the farm’s tour guides shows visitors dozens of types of plants, explaining which types of butterflies are attracted to which plants.
“If you put in the right plants the butterflies naturally come and lay their eggs,” Goldenburg said. “And when [visitors] get inspired by the butterflies then they think ‘I wanna get plants to attract them myself’.”
Goldenburg said that her goal is to continue growing her butterfly farm and eventually expand it into a nature center.
“I want to continue the educational purpose and build it out, build an interactive trail to the waterfall and that just helps people stay more in the land and enjoy what we have,” Goldenburg said. “I’m more of a lifestyle entrepreneur cause it’s really a lifestyle; I have this farm and I’m out here so often taking care of it, and I hope to live out here one day.”
The Dahlonega Butterfly Farm’s 2021 season will go from now until about November, when butterfly season ends. Goldenburg has several attractions planned at the farm during the spring, summer and fall to help attract more visitors to her farm.
“We’ll be planting a thousand zinnias, and in the summer we’re doing a cut flower garden and we’re gonna let customers cut their own bouquets,” Goldenburg said. “And then in the Spring and Fall I do plant sales; I grow all my own plants and most of them I grow from seeds.”
The Dahlonega Butterfly Farm is open Wednesdays through Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., and on Sundays from noon to 4 p.m. Tickets are $5 for children, $8 for adults and $6 for seniors. The farm also offers season passes at $15 for individuals or $38 for families.