In a sunny spot next to the big red barn, the leafy green tops of potato plants poked out of the ground just as they've done every summer on the Eidem farm for more than 100 years.
The Brooklyn Park homestead doesn't look all that different from how it did when the Eidem family bought it in the late 1800s. The city purchased 19 acres from the family in 1976 with the intent of operating a historical farm to showcase the community's heritage.
But even historical sites need contemporary comforts, said Jody Yungers, director of Brooklyn Park's Recreation and Parks Department. That's why the city is considering an $8 million plan to renovate what it calls Eidem Homestead.
"There's no way to save it without putting more money into it," said Nancy Wagner, a partner at Bluestem Heritage Group who on Monday helped present the restoration proposal to the Brooklyn Park City Council. The council is scheduled to vote on the renovation plan at its July 23 meeting.
At the moment, the Eidem site lacks most modern amenities — electricity, running water, air conditioning and plumbing — forcing it to close for bad weather and scaring some people off from visiting.
Those limitations hinder the city's ability to use the site to link locals with their shared heritage of agriculture and community, Yungers said.
"It really is unique to have a living farm within a first-tier suburb of the Twin Cities," she said.
Ties across time
John and Lectty Eidem paid about $80 an acre in 1894 for the plot of land (and a house, barn and granary) just north of the Twin Cities, with its sandy soil perfect for growing starchy spuds. Like most farms in Brooklyn Park at the time, the Eidems' cash crop was potatoes, though they also raised animals and other crops to feed themselves.
Though the Eidems were not a particularly distinguished family in Brooklyn Park, they are representative of the city's farming and immigrant communities of the past and present, said Darryl Sannes of the Brooklyn Historical Society.
Programming at Eidem Homestead today tries to tap into the city's agricultural roots with an emphasis on simplicity and sustainability, coordinator Eve Burlingame said.
"Kids are getting farther removed from people who have farmed, with those generations and lifestyles," she said.
John Eidem was the son of Norwegian immigrants who arrived in Minnesota with the waves of people migrating from Europe in the late 19th century. So his farm is a way for today's Brooklyn Park residents to connect with prior immigrants, Wagner said. One-fifth of the city's residents are foreign-born, with large populations from Liberia, Laos, Somalia and Mexico.
"This was an immigrant community back then," she said. "It's an immigrant community today."
Visitors can experience the farm at daily life and storytelling sessions, scheduled periodically throughout the summer, and at annual events.
They can see a chicken coop and a cow grazing in the pasture, reminiscent of the days Minnesotans produced their own eggs and milk. They can see the cheery yellow kitchen with a wood-burning stove in the corner, making the place look just like it did when Lectty was whipping up a meal.
"In the middle of all this development, this is the one little piece of history that's still there," Sannes said. "And that's a way for citizens today to connect with their past."
Eidem Homestead renovation plans include a new visitor's center with modern facilities, revamped programming that is consistent and increases public awareness, and new landscaping to make full use of the homestead's 19 acres.
The renovation project would span 10 years, during which the farm would remain open to the public. On average, it gets about 6,000 visitors annually.
"It's doing the best it can right now with minimal resources," Wagner said.
The visitor's center would include restrooms, concessions, seating areas, a catering kitchen and spaces for large gatherings. It would be a place to welcome guests and help them transition "back in time" as they enter, Wagner said.
New programming would focus on the 1905-1930 era, she added, to match the physical appearance of the house. It would offer expanded options, such as self-guided tours of the site and year-round activities.
The plan proposes relocating the parking lot and city-owned community gardens on site to open up more of the land for demonstration crops, animal pastures and nature trails.
At their work session Monday, Brooklyn Park City Council members seemed interested in reviving the historical farm but also wary of the costs. "The concern I have is the price tag," said Terry Parks, who represents the city's East District.
Yungers said the city would apply for state and federal grants from organizations, such as the Institute for Museum and Library Services and the Legacy Heritage Fund, which could cover up to half the costs of the renovation.
But to win such funding, the project will need initial financial leverage from the city to demonstrate commitment, she said.
Sannes, a longtime Brooklyn Park resident, said he hopes the city invests in the homestead and its rich history.
"The Eidem farm was kind of in a position where it's either got to get bigger and better or be abandoned," he said. "It's pretty rare to have a farm that exists pretty much like it did a hundred years ago."