Back to the farm

The Kelley Farm. Credit:

More than 50 percent of the land in Minnesota is farmed yet how much do us city folk really know about our agricultural history? There are three historic farms right in the metro area that provide a great afternoon escape. This is the third and final column in the house museum series and yes, these farms still have their farmhouses. In fact, all three are on the National Register of Historic Places. So grab a nearby Dairy Queen and head to the farm. 


Learn the story of early Dakotah and pioneer living in Minnesota through the eyes of Jane Gibbs. As a 7-year-old girl in 1835 Jane moved from New York to the shores of Lake Harriet. While her adopted father Rev. J. D. Stevens was a missionary trying to convert local Native Americans Jane befriended them and learned their ways. The family moved on but Jane returned with her husband in 1849 and homesteaded property just north of today’s fairgrounds where they raised vegetables and were successful truck farmers supplying food to growing St. Paul.

The farmhouse dates back to 1854 and contains several items original to the Gibbs family. Other buildings include a one-room log cabin, a schoolhouse, several tipis, and a couple barns — including one designed by legendary North Shore architect Edwin Lundie. Meandering in and around the buildings are pioneer crop gardens, an apple orchard, a chicken coop, geese, pigs, and other farm animals. (2097 W. Larpenteur Ave., Falcon Heights; Wed.–Sun. noon–4 p.m., weekends in Sept. and Oct., noon–4 p.m.; $8 adults, $5 children, free to Ramsey County Historical Society members)


When they left Germany in 1857, Wendelin and Julianna Grimm brought with them a box of “everlasting” alfalfa seeds. Though the seeds grew plants, our harsh winters killed most of the crops. So over the next 15 years, Wendelin saved seeds from plants that survived, planted those seeds, and so on, until he ultimately created a winter-hearty strain of alfalfa. He shared seeds with his admiring neighbors but it wasn’t until 10 years after his death that a University of Minn. professor tested Wendelin’s alfalfa seeds and found them to be superior. Grimm alfalfa was then marketed nationwide and became the standard alfalfa seed for hay. All alfalfa crop seed today has can be traced to Grimm alfalfa.

The farm site originally contained many out buildings but only the farmhouse remains. The two-story yellow Chaska brick house has exhibits telling the Grimm story, a few original family artifacts, and has friendly volunteers on site. (7025 Victoria Drive in Carver Park Reserve; open Saturdays through August, 1–4 p.m.; free)


When 22-year-old Oliver Kelley staked claim to land along the Mississippi River in 1849 he couldn’t have imagined his property would one day be an historic site important to farmers across the country. After 20 years of working the land he felt farmers should band together to share their knowledge and organize into a dignified group. He founded the National Grange, the first national organization for farmers. The visitor center hosts an informative exhibit but what makes Kelley Farm so much fun today is that it’s a living history farm with guides in period clothing who talk about their work and encourage you to chip in. The 1876 house and several outbuildings are surrounded by heirloom gardens and horses, chickens, goats, sheep, and giant oxen that pull visitors around the site. Don’t miss the exciting Labor Day weekend grain threshing (Aug 31–Sept. 2). (15788 Kelley Farm Road, Elk River; open Wed.–Sat., 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Sun., noon–5 p.m., Sept. and Oct. hours: Sat., 10 a.m.–5 p.m., Sun., noon–5 p.m.; $9 adults, $6 children, free to MHS members)

ICE CREAM BREAK: Gibbs Museum: 1720 Lexington Ave., St. Paul; Grimm Farm: 2120 Arboretum Blvd., Victoria; Kelley Farm: 424 Main Street, Anoka

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