By Mpls.St.Paul Magazine / Inspired by Kieran Folliard's My North
When entrepreneur, restaurateur and idea guy Kieran Folliard first came to Minnesota from Ireland 30 years ago, he did so because of the state’s reputation for innovation, and for its dynamic urban cultural core. But once he got here, this country boy from western Ireland was pleasantly surprised to discover how connected Minnesota’s urban core is to its rural community. Beyond escaping to rural Minnesota whenever he can, Folliard’s business now exists to champion it by crafting tangible, high-test products—like Red Table Meat Co. salami and Baker’s Field Flour & Bread—using only the highest-quality raw materials grown on Minnesota farms. In a state full of opportunities to connect with the rural, here are five farms that are more than happy to have you out for a visit.
When Bill Bartz and Emily Knudsen first decided to open their 55-acre farm to the public, they did so specifically to grow agritourism in their little slice of southern Minnesota, just west of Owatonna. Today, Pleasant Grove is one of the best pizza farms in the state, offering live music, bucolic farm views and a menu of farm fresh wood-fired pizzas that are well worth the drive. Through October they’re open every Sunday from 1–7 p.m.
Just outside one of the most picturesque downtowns in the state, sits one of Minnesota’s most picturesque farms: Red Barn. Unsurprisingly, the farm’s centerpiece is—you guessed it—a huge red barn that is about as picture-perfect a huge red barn as there ever was. While the highlight of Red Barn is their pizza farm nights, don’t miss its on-site general store, which is stocked with everything from Red Barn-branded clothes to farm-fresh goods like stone oven baked bread, jams, canned sauces and pasture-raised eggs.
To experience one of the most brilliant, yet woefully under-sung fall drives in Minnesota, follow Highway 212 west from the Twin Cities as it passes through the rolling farm hills and small towns that were born of them. Along the way, pull off to visit Grandview Valley Winery, located just a stone’s throw from Granite Falls (a few miles south of 212). Originally a soybean farm, Grandview Valley’s 100-plus acre plot has been in the same family for four generations, and only recently switched its crop when the fourth and fifth generations launched a harebrained scheme to grow grapes instead. These days, the transformed Grandview Valley specializes in very good vino and pizza, served with idyllic western Minnesota views that go on for miles.
Nestled smack dab in the middle of the magic, central Minnesota spot where the state abruptly turns from farm country into lakes and woods, Alexandria is one of the more singular Minnesota cities and, likewise, Carlos Creek Winery is one of the state’s more singular farmsteads. Its rolling landscape intermixes dense groves of trees with vast fields of grape vines, crafting an experience that feels somehow like you’ve embedded Tuscany into the Minnesota woods. You can visit Carlos Creek year round and settle into their tasting room, or you can hit one of their curated, one-off opportunities like a murder mystery party, Raku pottery experience or annual grape stomp.
Located just 15 minutes west of downtown Minneapolis, Two Pony Gardens is as impossibly cool as it is impossibly close to town. Famous for its epic heirloom tomatoes (green, yellow, red, black, white, pink and orange) and dahlias (to the tune of 100-plus varieties), the Two Pony show really comes to life at their reservation-only pizza nights. Your modestly-priced ticket gets you practically bottomless wood-fired pizza slices, and a pre-determined lesson in how our ecosystem works, with past topics ranging from warbler walk to honeybees.