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AirB-n-BAWK! Minnesota Egg Farmer Invites Customers to Stay and Farm

On a recent Saturday morning outside the small town of Wrenshall, Minnesota, about a half hour south of Duluth, it was 5:40 a.m. and the locally laid egg farm chickens were beginning to swarm. shake.

Most people on vacation would still be dozing off. But not Klay Jaeger and his 9-year-old son, Isaac. For them, it was time to get the chickens out.

“Hello!” cried Jaeger the eldest, opening the door of one of the two large chicken coops. “Get out! Isaac added.

For around $50 a night, the Jaegers slept in a small outhouse in the chicken coop. It’s two-thirds dormitories, one-third chicken coop, separated only by a few windows.

They can actually see the chickens while they sleep; and vice versa. “It’s weird having chickens staring at you. But… you get used to it,” Isaac Jaeger said.

Lucie and Jason Amundsen started their “farmed” egg business ten years ago. They raise 400 chickens themselves and have contracts with seven other large breeders who produce eggs for their brand. They also grow pick-your-own berries.

Jason and Lucie Amundsen opened two Airbnb rentals at their farm on Aug. 20 in Wrenshall, Minnesota, this summer. Guests stay at the farm and have the opportunity to help with household chores.

Dan Kraker | MPR News

They call this new company their “AirB-N-BAWK!” » The idea came from an article read by Lucie Amundsen about a local business in Scotland where customers sleep in an apartment above a bookstore at night and volunteer at the shop by day.

In addition to the dormitory, the Amundsens have also built what they call “The Perch”, a small house on stilts in a wood next to the chicken coop.

Both are rustic. Neither has running water; guests use an outbuilding. But they have proven popular since opening earlier this summer.

The Amundsens estimate they will earn about $13,000 this year renting the two, enough to add nearly 20% to the farm’s annual profit.

“It’s real money for a farmer,” Lucie Amundsen acknowledged, adding “there’s a kind of sad commentary there, that producing food with integrity isn’t enough anymore.”

The Amundsen’s quaint farm rentals are part of the growing agri-tourism industry. While for a long time many farmers ran vegetable stalls or pumpkin patches, in recent years farmers have become more enterprising, offering everything from pizza nights at beekeeping course.

The United States Department of Agriculture estimates that it is a billion dollar industry. But that’s likely a serious undercount, said Dawn Thilmany, a Colorado State University professor who researches agritourism.

“There is an appetite [for this]” she said. “People are foodies. People are big outdoor enthusiasts. Right now, every trend of what this next generation of tourists wants to be, we can do well in farms and the ranches.

Jason Amundsen, co-owner of Locally Laid Egg Company

Jason Amundsen, co-owner of Locally Laid Egg Company, helps Isaac Jaeger place freshly washed eggs into cartons.

Dan Kraker | MPR News

“Where Does Food Really Come From”

There are more than a dozen “farm stays” and bed and breakfasts listed on the Minnesota Department of Agriculture list. Minnesota Cultivated Yearbookwhich highlights local food producers.

What’s different about the Amundsen’s farm is that guests don’t just sleep there; they also have the opportunity to help with household chores. And most do.

“For the most part, people want to be involved, they want to do the work, they want to collect the eggs, they want to take care of the birds, they want to be in a situation where they’re contributing,” Jason Amundsen said.

For the Jaegers, they started their day by letting the chickens out. Then, after falling back asleep for a bit, they got back to it at 8:30 a.m. Joined by three other guests staying at the farm that morning, they collected the eggs, washed and wrapped them.

They also fed the chickens and filled the water canisters. Klay Jaeger even scraped chicken poop in a chicken coop — with a smile on his face.

“It was a lot of fun. It’s great to spend time with my son. And I always wanted to take her to a farm. It’s a good experience for him to see where the food actually comes from,” he said.

And once Jason Amundsen trained the guests, he said they could be very helpful. “We can go to town, we can go do things, or we can go to bed early, like we couldn’t before. We were so paralyzed by the clock.

Chickens eagerly waiting to be fed

The chickens eagerly wait to be fed locally laid eggs on the farm.

Dan Kraker | MPR News

As the number of Americans working on farms has declined—less than two percent of Americans now live on farms—the number of people seeking ways to learn about agriculture has grown.

The farm tourism industry tripled between 2002 and 2017, according to the latest USDA estimates.

Minnesota does not track the economic impact of the industry. But farm tourism has grown alongside the growth of the local food movement, said Paul Hugunin of the Minnesota Department of Agriculture, because people are looking for experiences, not just products.

“You can go to a grocery store, and you can buy local apples, you can get locally grown pumpkins, but you can’t experience the beauty of an apple orchard that overlooks a river or overlooks the cliffs. You don’t have the experience of taking your kids to a pumpkin patch and letting them find the pumpkin that you are going to carve as a family.

And more and more tourists want to know what life is really like on the farm. “People don’t always want the entertainment version,” Thilmany said. “They want the authentic, what’s it like to be a farmer or a rancher for a weekend.”

Thilmany initially struggled to understand this concept. She grew up on a soybean, corn, and hog farm in Iowa. She was eager to get to the big city and leave the chores of the farm behind.

“But to anyone who hasn’t figured that out or doesn’t have a grandpa or grandma on the farm yet, they just want a touch of Americana.”

Klay Jaeger fucks a chicken coop

Klay Jaeger runs a chicken coop on the locally laid egg farm.

Dan Kraker | MPR News

Enthusiasm awakened

While the agritourism sector is growing rapidly, only a small number of producers participate. The USDA estimates that five percent of farmers have some sort of agri-tourism business, though Thilmany thinks the actual number could be closer to 20 percent.

Andrea Simek and her husband first hosted guests in their pumpkin patch and corn maze on her husband’s family farm between Duluth and Iron Range in 2012. At the time, it was still a working dairy farm.

“Who’s going to drive out to the middle of nowhere to see our farm?” she remembers the request of her husband’s grandfather, in disbelief.

That first summer, she said, the cars were lined up on the dirt road. Grandfather Johnny passed in his Carhart overalls to greet the children.

2020 has been their busiest year ever. They hosted over 1,000 people a day for six fall weekends. Now they also offer live music and educational excursions, and throw parties.

She and her husband have full-time jobs off the farm. “It adds a bit of extra income to us at the end of the year,” Simek said. More importantly, he continues their family’s farming tradition.

For Jason and Lucie Amundsen, their vacation rentals have contributed to profitability. But it also ignited their enthusiasm for farming, seeing how their guests react to their chickens.

“We have been doing this for 10 years. It’s our anniversary. We kind of needed a little fluff to get us excited again.

Isaac Yaeger holds a chicken

Isaac Yaeger holds a chicken he caught that escaped through the fence at the locally laid egg farm in Wrenshall, Minnesota on August 20.

Dan Kraker | MPR News