It’s not unusual to pass farms while driving on the highway, but over 20 farms in Minnesota and Western Wisconsin become destinations this weekend during the 2019 Co-op Farm Tour.
Locally, farms in Faribault, Dundas, Nerstrand and Northfield will open their doors, or rather their lands, to tourists. Each stop offers different opportunities for visitors who want to collect eggs, learn about sustainable farming practices or enjoy a picnic with live music.
Twin Organics, Northfield
Twin brothers Jacob and Andrew Helling, owners of
, are first time participants in the Co-op Farm Tour.
The brothers began farming in River Falls, Wisconsin, on wheat land and moved their operation to Northfield about two years ago. Now, Jacob said, their biggest product is organic tomatoes, among a number of other crops.
Jacob said he and Andrew plan to walk their visitors through their greenhouses during the farm tour and offer produce samples for guests to try. Birchwood Cafe from the Twin Cities may also offer samples.
Graise Farm, Faribault
Andy Olson and Tiffany Tripp have participated in the Co-op Farm Tour since 2017. On
, which they began in 2015, they raise ducks and chickens for eggs as well as pastured pigs and meat chickens. All their animals are grass-fed and raised humanely in a sustainable environment.
A main focus for Olson and Tripp this year is highlighting local collaborations that use Graise Farm products in their menu items. The Local Plate, a food truck owned and operated by Gwen Anderson of Northfield, will serve products made from local Cannon Valley Grown ingredients. That includes duck egg sandwiches, a classic chopped salad, Graise Farm brats and scotch duck egg. For dessert, Faribault’s Bluebird Cakery will serve cookies and scones made with Graise Farm eggs.
Farm tourists may purchase Graise Farm products like chicken or duck eggs and a new offering this year, various cuts of pork. Medford Creek Natural Apiaries will also be on site selling honey and maple syrup.
During the farm tour itself, Olson and Tripp will describe their farming practices and talk about their experience of starting a farm.
From 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., Northfield musician Arlo Cristofaro-Hark performs at Graise Farm. Visitors are welcome to have a picnic on their own blankets as they listen to the live performance or use tables and chairs provided.
TC Farms, Dundas
Elizabeth O’Sullivan and Ian Rhoades belong to a small group of about one dozen farmers who operate
. This is their third year participating in the Co-op Farm Tour.
Founding farmer Jack McCann started a hobby farm in Montrose several years ago, wanting to raise Red Ranger and Cornish Cross chickens outside on organic feed. To become more economically efficient, his farm became a community-supported agriculture (CSA) system than now includes O’Sullivan and Rhoades.
A city boy at heart, Rhoades said he and his wife became involved with farming after participating in land stewardship projects and interning on farms. They enjoy being part of TC Farm because, unlike going to farmers markets, they can focus solely on raising birds well instead of marketing. According to McCann, around 700 clients receive TC Farms deliveries from the various locations.
On the Dundas land, Rhoades and O’Sullivan raise most of TC Farms’ laying hens on the pasture. They also raise a significant number of chickens, both Red Ranger and Cornish Cross. Both are raised outside on organic feed, and their growth is slowed.
“The slower they grow, the tastier and healthier their meat is,” said McCann.
Rhoades said he and his wife usually have several thousand chickens at one time. Currently, he estimates about 2,400 chickens.
“In terms of commercial that’s minuscule, but for a smaller operations, that’s bigger than a lot of places are,” said Rhoades.
During tours, Rhoades said visitors often like to discuss how to gain efficiencies on a small scale farm while still maintaining the quality of a small-scale operation. That, and environmental efficiency is a topic of interest to many tourists, said Rhoades.
Farm tourists may purchase TC Farms T-shirts and eggs, visit the hens and chickens, and help collect eggs.
Shepherd’s Way Farm, Nerstrand
Jodi and Steven Read, sheep dairy farmers, have participated in the Co-op Farm Tours from the beginning. Their four adult sons also participate in a variety of ways, depending on their availability.
Tourists who visit Shepherd’s Way see how a working sheep dairy farm operates. Jodi milks the sheep and shows visitors how she makes the wheel cheese. Guests may also visit the shop area to sample cheese and sausage links produced on the farm. These products are also available to purchase on the tour.
Jodi said she appreciates the Co-op Farm Tour opportunity, which allows her family to share their practices people who come as far as the metro area.
“It makes it more fun to be part of a broader farm tour festival that’s going on at the same time,” said Jodi. “Small farms need all the extra attention they can get right now.”