This happened last month when I took my family on a visit to the Historic Oliver Kelley Farm in Elk River, MN. We started our visit in the visitor center and I gasped just walking inside. Wide open windows spanned wall to wall overlooking the beautiful rural landscape. I imagined it to be the same view Oliver Kelley took in when he began his farm here 160 years ago–rich soil for growing, tall trees lining the Mississippi River, simple beauty as far as the eye can see. Maybe it was because it was the end of a very busy summer, maybe it was because the weather had been hot and stifling, maybe my heart just needed a break from the hustle and bustle of city life. Whatever it was, setting my eyes on that peaceful country scene was the deep inhale of fresh air I didn’t know I needed. I couldn’t wait to explore more.
After receiving a map of the area and an update on the day’s work schedule, the greeter invited us to begin our tour with a short video. The film told the story of Oliver Kelley, his influence on farming in Minnesota, and the legacy that still carries on today. From there, we had the option to start with the modern farming area or the historic farmstead. We chose the path leading to the old farmhouse first. Upon reaching the farmhouse, the kids could not resist the open doors to the root cellar and they climbed down. Inside the dirt walls we found jars filled with colorful vegetables lining the shelves, garlic and chilis hanging from the ceiling, potatoes and squash filling baskets in the corner. Curious still, we climbed up the steps to find folks dressed in traditional historic clothing working over a wood burning cook stove.
And just like that, my kids stepped out of the life they knew in the twentieth century and into working life on the farm in 1860. They mixed up bread, dug for potatoes, fed the oxen, pumped water for drinking. It was a museum experience unlike anything I have participated in before. It was as if we weren’t just visiting the farm, we were a part of it. We weren’t just learning, we were doing, and having fun all the way.
After the historic farmstead, we stepped forward 160 years into the modern farm. The kids learned about the science behind growing apples in Minnesota, what flowers help the tomatoes to grow, the parts of the pig that make up the foods they love to eat. The modern farm was just as interactive, keeping all ages engaged–from adults to toddlers. Driving home that day and back into the Cities, I found myself with a greater appreciation for the farming community we passed along the way. This is exactly what a museum should do–change your perspective and leave you curious to know more. The Oliver Kelley farm was a delightful surprise from beginning to end for all of us, and we can’t wait to come back to see what else is happening on the farm (maybe even check on that bread we started baking!) If it’s your first time, or your twentieth time, be sure to make a visit to this beautiful and historic location. We could all use a welcome breath of fresh air.
15788 Kelley Farm Rd., Elk River, MN
Visit website for updated seasonal hours.
Children 5-17 $8
Children 4 and Under FREE
Minnesota National History Society Members FREE
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