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Down on the farm with Julie and Bel

Julie Nelson and Belinda Jensen went in search of a trip that was affordable, close, memorable and down to earth. They explored a growing trend called "agri-tourism" in Wisconsin and Minnesota.
Credit: Bea Chang, KARE
Bel and Julie get a tour of The Buffalo Gal Ranch in Houston, Minn. from Valerie Shannon and Mike Fogel.

ID=17236783Julie Nelson and Belinda Jensen went in search of a trip that was affordable, close, memorable and down to earth. They explored a growing trend called "agri-tourism" in Wisconsin and Minnesota. They tell us more in their own words.ID=17210105

Belinda and I journeyed back to our roots to the rolling hills of Wisconsin. Though both of us grew up in Wisconsin neither of us had spent much time on a farm so we decided to check out an increasingly popular form of tourism called "agri-tourism."

There are so many different experiences and "Farm Stays" you can choose from but we picked "Room to Roam" in southwestern Wisconsin to start because it offers a truly hands on experience.

Room to Roam is definitely a working farm. It is not fancy but is very clean and has everything you need for your stay. Kids would be delighted by all the animals surrounding the four bedroom farmhouse where guests stay. As soon as we drove in we were greeted by chickens and kittens and a gaggle of geese that let us know right away they were not happy to see us.

At this point, Bel reminded all of us that this was their farm. We were just visitors. They had a right to honk loudly every time they saw us. That, my friends, is the sweet heart of Belinda in a nutshell.

I digress.

We immediately dove into farm work when we arrived. I jumped on the combine with owner/farmer Jess Veraguth whose family has worked this land for four generations. He gave me some background on the farm and a list of things Bel and I could participate in during our stay.

We did everything we could from feeding calves to collecting eggs for breakfast to helping to bring in the cows to be milked. We tried to help bring in the cows, but it turns out we are not 'naturals' at it. Let's leave it at that.

You can really do as much or as little as you like on this farm. Bel and I learned so much and came away with deep admiration for the hard, tireless work that dairy farmers do every day.

I mean, every day, no matter the weather or the day of the week.

The whole experience was such a great departure from my regular life. I think that is the main reason it is such a great idea to think about this. The Farm Stay US website gives you an idea of how many different types of farms there are to stay at. Julie and I both grew up in Wisconsin so we had to start our journey at a dairy farm.

The drive down was just beautiful. The bluff country of southwestern Wisconsin was really a big part of the journey for me. This farm is perched up on a 1000 foot bluff overlooking the mighty Mississippi and was just beautiful and very classic with the road carved out of the acres of towering corn stalks. There is an amazing overlook on the farm that is just a 10 minute walk from the farm house and a great spot to check out the vast rolling hills that encompass this part of the state.

The farm is definitely a working farm. You can do as little or as much as you want. Jess and Mary are busy so if you join them in their daily chores remember to wear your rubber boots and get ready to be busy.

We visited during one of the busiest times of the year - harvest time. It was quite a day that this couple in their 60s put in before their heads hit the pillow. Growing up next to many dairy farmers in western Wisconsin, I did know that this daily grind is very tough, but to see it first hand for the first time in years was an eye opener.

We were there on a beautiful day, but I have to say every inclement day since I think of Jess and Mary dealing with the elements and getting the job done.

It is a great way to show your kids where all of their food comes from and how hard it is to produce it. It will make them appreciate that gallon of milk in the fridge a lot more.

I want to thank Jess and Mary for letting folks into their lives and onto their fourth generation farm. The history of their families is also a great piece of Americana that seems to be getting lost these days.

The next morning we hit the road and crossed back over into the great state of Minnesota for quite a different experience. We met Val and Mike Fogel, proud owners of Buffalo Gal ranch in Houston. We toured their lovely rental cabin up on the bluffs that overlooks 500 acres of land and their herd of 200 buffalo.

This experience is much more about rest, relaxation and learning about the buffalo. It is a gorgeous vista and the Fogels are so much fun.

Their passion for this animal is contagious and they love to share their knowledge with visitors. From meeting their "pet" buffalo Cody to their miniature ponies to taking a tour of the Western Town they're building on the property, their passion for what they do is contagious.

What a privilege it was to be a part of the Veraguth's and Fogel's lives even for just a short time. Bel and I came home from our trip with so many memories, having tried and learned lots of new things. And really, what more can you ask for in a vacation?

Val and Mike were fabulous, and Cody their buffalo was magnificent. Val can ride him, and he is a gentle giant! They love their life, they love their land, and they love their buffalo. They really feel that they are here to show people how important buffalo were to American history. The return of buffalo from near extinction is important to them. They built the cabin you stay in and it is really set up beautifully perched above a large buffalo herd pasture.

I had a chance to get up close to the herd, and they are so massive and beautiful. The babies are "orange" and really so adorable. These are wild animals and MIke and Val respect that. This is a place to go and relax and enjoy the landscape, the peace and quiet, and the amazing buffalo.

Val and Mike Fogel are really unique folks and have a lot of great energy. This farm stay is really a fun one for couples that want a get-away.

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