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University of Minnesota Extension

New growth for agritourism

Chef Emily stands in front of her brick oven, which has logs below it, holding out a very large pepperoni pizza.
Emily Knudsen pulls a pizza out of the woodburning oven at Pleasant Grove Pizza Farm, which is all about the food and community engagement.

Minnesota's showcase of rural innovation expands, yet has more potential for success

It’s country as far as the eye can see, with fields and trees in every direction. The quiet is punctuated only by an occasional car on a gravel road — until a musician’s gig begins. A tomato-y, spicy aroma signals the taste buds that something good is ahead at the Pleasant Grove Pizza Farm in rural Waseca County.

“Whenever we have company, we always go to the pizza farm because it’s so unique, so delicious. And it’s such a good place to bring kids,” says Zella Vandervoort of nearby Waterville. 

That kind of loyal following has kept growth steady since the pizza farm opened in 2015, says Emily Knudsen, who co-owns the business with her husband, Bill Bartz. 

In search of ingredients for survival 

The success of such ventures is what University of Minnesota Extension researchers hope to better understand.

A statewide agritourism workgroup convened by the Tourism Center recently finished a survey of more than 200 businesses and individuals, both those already in agritourism and those interested in a venture. The goal: Find out what works well and what challenges get between great ideas and reality.

Two women and two girls enjoy pizza outdoors. The girls hold a large umbrella to shade them from the sun.
Karin Scruggs, pictured right, gathers with friends and family to dine while listening to her husband, local musician Ben Scruggs, belt out tunes for the crowd.

The group’s research shows evolving patterns in agritourism — and some deepening trends.

“For a lot of people, bringing a tourism element to a farming operation is a great way of diversifying income, which is something we’ve seen for quite a while,” says DeeDee LeMier, Extension community economics and tourism educator. “What’s newer are the ventures that are totally consumer-facing, like pizza farms.” 

Rediscovering rural roots 

Outside Finlayson in Pine County, Hannah Bernhardt and Jason Misik’s Medicine Creek Farm adds education to the mix on the 160-acre operation where they raise grass-fed beef and lamb, and pastured pork. Their tours give visitors a chance to learn how farmers care for the environment with regenerative practices. Some get up close with the animals.

Farmer Hannah adjusts the feeding or watering trough as five black pigs come around her.
Hannah Bernhardt feeds her pastured pigs on Medicine Creek Farm, where she welcomes visitors.

Visitors can stay overnight in a restored barn or a camper. 

For Minnesotans who are, on average, three generations removed from farming, such experiences reconnect them with rural roots. 

“It’s a new thing for some people,” says Bernhardt. “They’ve never heard of a farm-stay before, but they like being here.”

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