The historic Oliver Kelley Farm in Elk River has been stuck in the past. This spring, it enters the present.
The Kelley Farm, a living-history farm dating to 1850, will reopen its doors to the public on weekends starting April 1 after the completion of nearly $15 million in renovations.
"Minnesotans need to know where their food comes from," site manager Bob Quist said. "There's more to agriculture than farming, and farmers aren't just old white guys with straw sticking out of their teeth."
Nearly $10.6 million in state funds and $4 million in private funds were used to add amenities meant to show the juxtaposition between farming old and new.
The farm traditionally displayed heritage animal and crop varieties that were raised in the 1860s on the original farmstead. In the new buildings, their present-day counterparts will be displayed.
"In the 1980s people were fairly connected to agriculture and farming, but in the new century people have fewer and fewer connections." Quist said. "Over that time, our program of using an 1860s farm to get to stories of Minnesota farming today got weaker because there was less to compare it to."
To help visitors connect, the new visitor center will offer an introductory movie, classrooms, a learning kitchen, indoor exhibits and a museum store. The center's large windows bring the outdoors in, and its exterior design and paint color were chosen to allow it to blend with the farmstead, Quist said.
Just outside of the visitor center, the updates include a machinery plaza to help visitors understand how farming has gone from horses to 300-horsepower machines.
The site will also offer a modern barn and food trail where users will interact with animals and models to learn where food comes from. A "meet your meat" station, for example, will have a hog model that may be opened to see where cuts of pork come from.
"The goal is to have interaction with animals," Quist said, "and to meet animals that populate the farms of today."
The Kelley farm is owned by the Minnesota Historical Society and is a national historic landmark. Though the farm opens in April, a grand opening with food and music will be held May 6-7.
Gabriel Sanchez is a University of Minnesota student on assignment for the Star Tribune.