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.
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.
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.”