Historical society seeks $10.5 million for Kelley Farm project

by Joni Astrup

Associate Editor

A request for $10.5 million to fund a revitalization project at the state’s historic Oliver Kelley Farm in Elk River is back before the Minnesota Legislature, which opened the 2014 session on Tuesday.

Students left the Kelley Farm barn during a field trip. Star News file photo

Students left the Kelley Farm barn during a field trip. Star News file photo

The Minnesota Historical Society is asking the Legislature to support a $10.5 million capital budget request to renovate and expand a visitor center and help build programs to accommodate the growing number of people visiting the farm.

The farm welcomes nearly 30,000 visitors a year, including 15,000 students on field trips from more than 60 Minnesota school districts across the state, according to the historical society. It operates as a working 1860s farm on the homestead of Oliver H. Kelley, founder of the first successful national farming organization, the Grange.

“The Kelley Farm provides a unique opportunity for young learners to understand first-hand what is meant by farm-to-table agriculture,” said Minnesota Historical Society CEO and Director Steve Elliott. “The ongoing development of agriculture and its importance to the state of Minnesota and to today’s global economy is a story too few children understand.”

Each year the farm is forced to turn away field trips for 4,000 students due to space limitations and outdated facilities, according to the historical society.

Rep. Nick Zerwas

Rep. Nick Zerwas

Rep. Nick Zerwas, R-Elk River, said he will be carrying the Kelley Farm bill this session in the House. He also carried a similar bill last session to appropriate bond proceeds to the Kelley Farm revitalization project. That request was rolled into a larger House bonding bill but did not emerge as part of the final bonding package approved by the Legislature.

“The Kelley Farm continues to be the Minnesota Historical Society’s No. 1 bonding priority,” Zerwas said. “I strongly believe the bonding bill should focus on roads, bridges and state-owned assets.”

Kelley Farm staff and a group of school children worked the fields with a pair of oxen. Star News file photo

Kelley Farm staff and a group of school children worked the fields with a pair of oxen. Star News file photo

The 189-acre Kelley Farm is operated by the Minnesota Historical Society. Located along the Mississippi River east of downtown, the farm remained in the Kelley family until 1901. The Grange purchased the farm in 1935 and donated it to the Minnesota Historical Society in 1961. Since the construction of the visitor center in 1981, the farm has operated as a living history program. Today it continues as a working farm complete with crops, gardens, oxen, cows, horses, sheep, hogs and chickens. The livestock breeds are very similar to those found on Minnesota farms in the 1860s.

The Kelley Farm's proposed visitor center floor plan.

The Kelley Farm’s proposed visitor center floor plan.

Oliver H. Kelley Farm revitalization plan

The revitalization plan includes:

• Tripling the size of the aging visitor center to include expanded exhibit and public program space, classrooms, a teaching kitchen and restrooms. In addition, the building will feature updated technology, including videoconferencing and Internet access, that will enable the farm’s programming to reach schools throughout Minnesota.

• Overhauled maintenance support areas, a “guest animal shelter” for visiting livestock, and a multipurpose shelter to serve as a community rental space and lunch area for school children.

The proposed Kelley Farm visitor center.

The proposed Kelley Farm visitor center.

• Expanded programming offered year-round to serve Minnesota’s families and schools, as well as tourists.

• Environmentally sustainable features that will keep operating and maintenance costs at nearly current levels despite the proposed expansion.

Source: Minnesota Historical Society

 

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