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Old Harvestore Converted To Airbnb
Liz and Jonathan Gerdes rehabbed an old Harvestore silo into a farm store with a second-level apartment. The store is only open Saturday mornings, but the apartment is available 24/7. Offered on Airbnb, it has proven more popular than the two young farmers ever hoped.
“We launched in early May, and the response has been amazing,” says Liz Gerdes. “It’s over and above what we expected, and we’ve had nothing but 5-star ratings.”
The concept of a silo apartment didn’t just happen. The Gerdes returned to Jonathan’s family farm in 2011 to work with his parents and take over the dairy farm. When dairy prices tanked a few years later, they started looking for ways to add value and insulate themselves from dairy price fluctuations. Selling raw milk from the farm, which is legal in Minnesota, appealed to them.
Posting to Facebook Marketplace began attracting customers. As word-of-mouth built demand, the Gerdes realized they needed an on-farm store.
“Will suggested fixing up the silo,” says Gerdes. “It had been damaged when the barn next to it burned in 2001. The roof had holes, and the sealant between the blue panels had melted away.”
The family went to work on it, buying a used roof from a reseller of Harvestores in Wisconsin and resealing the panels.     
“We turned the ground level into the farm store for customers to get their milk on Saturday mornings,” says Gerdes. “We decided to turn the upper level into an area that could be used as an office and family and friends guest quarters.”
They quickly found out why builders like square corners and flat walls. They also learned why builders like new wood. It took them 3 years in between full-time farming to finish the job. The round walls and extensive use of old boards from two barns being torn down in the neighborhood added to the challenge.
“I lost track of how many times we said we’d never build anything round again,” says Gerdes.
YouTube was a major resource, teaching them things like applying water to sheetrock to bend it to fit the curves of the wall. Plywood was cut thin enough for shiplap on the walls. The ceiling was lined with some of the old barn wood, and old hay loft flooring became guest house flooring. Barn wood was also used for trim around windows.
“Working with old barn wood is an adventure,” recalls Gerdes. “We love it for the character, but you pay for it with work to make it smooth and come together.”
The result was a curved wall room with a kitchenette, dine-in area, and couch that pulls out into a full bed. A 3/4 bath includes a shower with exposed blue Harvestore panels. A ladder leads to an additional sleeping area in a loft above the bath.
“Once it was finished, we thought we’d see what happened if we put it on Airbnb,” says Gerdes.
They priced it at $115 per night, and it quickly took off. People love how unique it is, just the idea of staying in a silo is a grabber. Added to that is the working farm location with a 100-cow dairy.
In promotion and when guests arrive, Gerdes emphasizes that farm life is different from what they normally experience. She wants them to understand the family’s way of life.
“I warn them that the farm day starts at 5 a.m., and if they don’t like noise, close the windows and turn on the sound machine,” she says. “I have a list of things to expect on the wall, such as the smell of manure when a 7,000-gal. tank of it drives by on the way to the field.”    
For the Gerdes, raw milk sales and an Airbnb rental have been a natural progression, one that isn’t finished. They’re already planning ways to further integrate agritourism into their farm life.
The success in raw milk sales and the rapidly growing interest in silo stays parallel to each other. In both cases, quality is key. Great care was taken in the silo rehabbing, and the same is true of the raw milk sales.
Airbnb customers suggest the same quality is paying off there with reviews like, “Beautiful farm, beautiful interior, and an incredible place overall.”
Contact: FARM SHOW Followup, Gerdes Fresh Farm, 16839 Beaver Ridge Dr, Caledonia, Minn. 55921 (ph 612-619-3256; elisabeth.gerdes@gmail.com; www.gerdesfreshfarm.com; www.airbnb.com/rooms/859370401304938814?source_impression_id=p3_1687352413_ooYbqZtBu0zblgGV).

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2023 - Volume #47, Issue #4