After heading out of Houston we drove straight to Wykoff, MN for our next farming experience on Dream Acres – which I will say now really is the place to be. As soon as we pulled in the driveway we knew that this surely was going to be an amazing part of our journey. We were warmly greeted by Todd Juzwiak, one of the owners and masterminds behind the Dream Acres operation. After we stepped out of the car, Todd led us to what would be our lodgings for the duration of our stay, a ridiculously picturesque little two story, straw insulated bungalow, which we discovered to our delight and fascination that they had built themselves. In fact these folks had built each of the half dozen structures on the farm, including not only the main house, but also a library, greenhouse, outdoor kitchen, ice house, stable, and a barn/blacksmith shop/ movie theater/ stage with balcony seating!
As Todd showed us around our jaws continued to drop further and further at each turn- I swallowed many bugs. His sharp wit and friendly, jokester nature put us at ease, and it wasn’t long before we started getting the trembles of excitement that you get when you are a kid about to discover something amazing. We settled into our nest and with gusto commenced our first task on the farm- relocating a massive pile of logs. We met the three summer interns working on the farm, Emily, Corine, and Alex- all hip young children of Minnesota. Not long after Evie, the other half of Dream Acres, arrived having just picked up their two boys, Chester and Stanley, from piano lessons in town. Evie was just as much of a character as Todd. Her exuberant smile and bold gestures as she introduced herself were a telltale sign of a free and independent soul.
For the next few days we settled into a routine of work interspersed with excellent, home-cooked meals, where everyone sat down together as a big family. Chester and Stanley usually provided the entertainment. The camaraderie and genuine warmth at these meals came to be something we greatly enjoyed and appreciated. Throughout our short stay we really felt like we were part of the family. What we appreciated as well was the fact that nearly everything these people needed to live, they provided for themselves.
The whole farm was run on solar power, where it was needed. From the certified, commercial kitchen to the homemade movie theater to the outdoor solar heated, rainwater collection shower, it was all powered by the sun. One might think that having limited electricity would be a ghastly inconvenience, but it wasn’t. It was actually quite pleasant and relaxing to end each day reading, writing, or playing music in the light from candles and kerosine lamps. In terms of conservation, it was an eye-opening experience. You really take for granted the resources you have in your typical lifestyle until you live in a place where nothing is wasted. These folks built their own icehouse to keep blocks of ice that they took from the creek in the winter for cryin’ out loud! Most of us complain that our refrigerators aren’t big enough.
Besides growing all their own food, Dream Acres provided the local community with fresh produce through their CSA operation. The farm hosts workshops in collaboration with Tillers International – a non-profit who’s mission is to “preserve, study, and exchange low-capital technologies that increase the sustainability and productivity of people in rural communities.” The workshop topics come in a wide range from Oxen and Horse Farming, Maple Sugaring, Woodstove Cooking, Stone Masonry, Bee Keeping, Timber Framing, and Solar Power technologies.
Evie has a background in theater which she used to create the Flourish Summer Camp program at Dream Acres, where kids are invited to stay on the farm and learn about farming and gardening while cultivating interest and ability in the performing arts. Creativity and self expression seemed to flow with ease at this place, no doubt because the people there live balanced and happy lives with clear priorities. I was ecstatic when Todd told us that they show international films every friday night in the barn and invite anyone in the community to come. I immediately geeked out and expressed my interest in film and mentioned that I had some shorts of my own they could check out if they wanted. I was honored and pleased to find everyone enthusiastically awaiting Robot Dreaming, which was screened in the barn the following night along with Cinema Paradiso, a lovely and sentimental Italian film.
Chester and Stanley were so impressed by my movies that they wanted to do some stop-motion animation of their own. So, the next day I showed them the way and to my amazement, they followed the course to completion. They premiered their movie Invaders and the Good that very night in the barn. Most kids their age would animate for about ten minutes before distraction and A.D.D. thwarts the project, but Chester and Stanley displayed great enthusiasm and resolve in their effort- further evidence of the benefits of growing up without television.
There is so much more to talk about in terms of Dream Acres being a model for sustainable, alternative, green, and healthy living that I can hardly wrap my brain around it, let alone describe it all here. Suffice it to say that this farm has set the bar for us as far as “the total package” for farms go. But beyond all the living off the land and sustainable appeal, what made Dream Acres so incredible was the people who made it what it is. We truly feel blessed to have experienced this place and hope that we can someday go back and revisit.