HOUSTON, Minn. — Along Hwy. 16 between Rushford and Houston, is a small wooden produce stand along the road with a sign above it that reads “Sweet 16 Farm.”
There's a cute little checkout window and a kids' slide near the 10 by 6 foot stand, and on Fridays and Saturdays the stand is filled with brightly colored freshly picked produce and beautifully designed bouquets of flowers.
It may look like a tiny business venture for a hobby farm at first glance, but there’s much more blooming in the background than what meets the eye.
Sarah Wexler-Mann and Daniel Drazkowski are nurturing a three-part business plan for what they plan to be an organic destination farm — and plan to be open soon and invite the public to enjoy it.
The couple, who bought the farm in 2010, have created a disc golf course on their 240 acres of land, a hops crop for craft beer, and a farm stand. Their hope is to not only help provide organic food — and beer — to the world, but to give the surrounding community the ability to experience things they might not always have the opportunity to.
“There’s growing ag tourism culture,” Sarah pointed out, like visitors from both the Winona area and as far as the Twin Cities looking to do day trips these days not to scenic towns but outside them, seeking to experience the local farming community.
Sweet 16 is just in its first year of being open as a food stand, and there is a lot more work to do. But the couple is enthusiastic, inspired, and willing to toil to make their farm a destination.
The goal, Daniel said: “For future generations to enjoy and to see where their food comes from, and the enjoy the the land at the same time."
Not just work, but play
Surrounding the farmhouse from three sides is a beautiful landscape of hills and valleys leading to nearby bluffs on the property, where the couple owns 160 acres of woods. Weaving its way throughout the land is a network of trails corresponding with a Frisbee golf course.
One of the reasons Daniel and Sarah bought the farm was because of the diversity of the property’s landscape: Woods, prairie, hills, valleys, flatland, and more.
“When we found the property with its wide array of possibilities,” Sarah said, “we knew this was where we wanted to live.”
After restoring some of the prairie and cutting the thistles and weeds that reached chest height, they began to see the possibilities the land could hold. Daniel had enjoyed playing disc golf, and after seeing the natural obstacles the land created, the idea of a course was seeded in his mind.
From water hazards to hills to narrow obstacles, the course presents a challenging and unique experience.
“It’s a little different than most frisbee golf courses,” he said.
The course is expected to open to the public on Sept. 24, after receiving its final approval from Houston County in August.
“I’ve been enjoying it now for the last couple years,” Daniel said. “It’ll be nice to let other people enjoy it.”
Hopping into the beer trade
Behind their remodeled farm house are five rows of about 20-foot-tall poles with cord running along the tops connecting each row.
Hanging from those trellises are long, green, organically grow and on their way to being certified but not certified hop bines.
Some were able to be harvested this year, and went to the most recent brewing company set to open in Winona, Island City Brewing, Daniel said. The others need about one more year until they’re fully matured for top-quality brewing. Daniel is already planning for the big moment when they can be picked.
“We’re already talking about a harvest party next year,” he said with a smile.
Although the plan right now is to get the hop crops up matured and well taken care of, Daniel and Sarah have their eyes on a bigger dream — possibly opening a taproom on the farm, where live music and beer can be offered.
Between permits and all the regulations needed, Sarah guessed it could be a reality in 20 years. Daniel would love to see it happen in five. Right now, it's all part of the dream, and their work to see how their visions become reality.
“If that’s something that becomes an opportunity we are absolutely interested in making that part of our destination farm,” Sarah said. “That’s where we’re hoping to head.”
Fresh farm stand
The farm stand has been open on weekends since May, and so far has had a healthy serving of community support.
“We’ve had customers every weekend,” Sarah said. “They always stay and chat. I think people really enjoy it.”
Customers seem to especially enjoy the handpicked bouquets of flowers.
“Every weekend all our bouquets sell out,” Sarah said.
Like with all things, Sarah said, there’s room to grow and lessons learned every day. They plan in the future to sell produce, and maybe even flowers, to local businesses.
A community focus
Beyond the concentration on becoming an organic destination farm, Sarah said they hope to incorporate family activities, events, and opportunities in the future to draw people together and connect with the land and each other. Things like workshops, opportunities for kids to come and cut their own bouquet of flowers, musical performances, community nature hikes.
They’ve already laid the groundwork for it. There’s an area set up as a campground and a cleared wide space that Daniel described, with some evidence, as currently being a kickball field — it's already equipped with a container of baseballs, Frisbees, and, yes, kickballs.
At the heart of Sarah and Daniel's work is the ability to nurture the land for the future and help others connect with it like they do.
“Everything we’re doing is for our son, for our future generations, and this is the way I feel makes us the happiest,” Sarah said. “I can’t think of a better way to spend my days than creating something special.”
“Everything we’re doing is for our son, for our future generations, and this is the way I feel makes us the happiest. I can’t think of a better way to spend my days than creating something special.” — Sarah Wexler Mann, Sweet 16 Farm