When his hometown of Wadena in northwestern Minnesota was again hit hard by slumping farm revenues in the mid-2000s, landowner Kent Scheer went looking for other ways his neighbors could make a living. The best answer, he found, was agritourism: Invite out-of-towners in as guests to see and do as the locals do.
"Not only does it provide additional income, but most family farmers also want people to better understand the sourcing of their food," said Scheer, who created the organization Agriculture Alternatives in 2008. He then went to work with University of Minnesota Tourism Center researchers to create the first real guide of farmstays in Minnesota, which is online at www.greenislandpreserve.com/minnesota_farmstay.html.
Scheer said they were surprised to find fewer than two dozen farmstay hosts statewide, based on the criteria that the properties must be real working farms vs. the scores of B&Bs "that might have a few sheep to look at." The real ones range from the Seven Pines dairy farm in Verndale to the Moonstone cattle operation in Montevideo to the Whitley Creek organic produce homestead in Brainerd.
With a growing base of retirees who grew up on farms, along with younger travelers interested in organic and sustainable foods, Scheer believes Minnesota could be a farmstay hotbed. He is making it a mission to educate more farmers about becoming hosts. He also had these tips for prospective guests:
Per our visit to the goat farm, for instance, we specifically asked for a good time to hang with the newborns, but didn't ask about milking. That activity, we discovered, isn't an option when the newborns are nursing. "Think about what kind of stay you have in mind, exactly, and try to coordinate to that," Scheer said.
Hey, city slickers: Planting time is in the spring, and harvest time is in the fall. These are thus the best times to go to experience working at a farm, "if work is what you really want to do," Scheer said. For more leisurely stays, try the summer.
"These are incredibly busy people with incredibly busy schedules, beyond what most city people know," Scheer said. Thus, don't fuss if they forget the chocolates on the pillows or if they're not around much to chat with guests, he said. "But they're usually very welcoming and happy to have guests."