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Airb-n-BAWK! offers unique experience

Earlier this summer, Julie Holmgren traveled from Paynesville, Minnesota to Wrenshall where she had booked Farm LoLa's new "AirB-n- BAWK!" She brought with her a copy of "Locally Laid: How We Built a Plucky, Industry-changing Egg Farm – from Scratch," the written tale of Jason and Lucie Amundsen's voyage from city dwellers with a backyard flock to running a free-range local egg farm in rural Carlton County.

In the newest chapter of the Locally Laid Egg Company story, the Amundsens have now opened the farm experience they call "a vacation for the farm-curious" to paying guests.

Farm LoLa now offers two overnight "ag tourism" experiences via Airbnb: The Perch, a lofted cabin which you may book for $163 per night (with a two-night minimum stay) and The Nest, a solar bunkhouse that is one-third chicken coop and two-thirds bedroom, for $52 per night.

Jason refers to The Nest as a "chicken aquarium," where there is a bunk bed, a solar charger and light, and a wonderful view of the chicken coop. The Perch offers a bit more luxury with an outdoor shower and outhouse, a small kitchen, deck, fireplace, double bed, pull-out couch and two sofas. There's a two-night minimum stay at The Perch - because it's more time consuming to get it ready for the next guest - but no minimum for The Nest.

Lucie Amundsen said she sees a trend in people wanting unique experiences.

"It's when we venture out of the ordinary that we create the strongest memories. So a safe adventure like ours is appealing for families with young children," she said.

According to the website, the "choose your own adventure" stay at Farm LoLa can include a long list of activities, including:

• Feeding and watering pasture-raised poultry;

• Freeing the chickens at daybreak or putting them to bed;

• Moving paddock fencing;

• Gathering and packing eggs;

• Washing eggs with a vintage 1952 egg washer;

• Working the farm stand at the farmers market;

• And, of course, mucking coops.

On her first night at The Perch, Holmgren collected eggs, refilled the chickens' water, "took them [the chickens] all in and put them to bed," and had a chat with the farmers "gleaning knowledge from them about agriculture." When she woke up she was taught how to fill the chickens' feeder and collected more eggs.

Julie said her family was "giving me a real hard time about it" after she told them she had paid for a getaway where she would wake up and do farm chores. But she had raised chickens, and ran a natural foods co-op where she gained an appreciation for where our food comes from and "how interconnected everything is." Staying in The Perch afforded Julie an opportunity to "spend time with chickens," bike through Wrenshall and Carlton, and learn about life on the organic farm.

Jason Amundson said the new Airbnb accommodations at Farm LoLa don't bring them significantly more income but "helps the brand."

He talked about a visiting family whose 16-year-old daughter was "hyper-uncertain about driving," so Jason got permission to teach her how to drive a tractor. Over the course of an hour-and-a-half, she learned to operate farm equipment, with Jason and her mom witnessing her sense of intimidation about driving diminish. On another night, Airbnb guests helped chase down some sheep that had escaped a nearby farm. Lucie added that two medical students who will be doing their residencies in rural locations stayed for a few days.

According to Jason, the original goal of the AirB-n-BAWK! was to offer visitors an immersive experience. He explained that many people working 9-to-5 may have unrealistic ideas about farming while thinking it's something they want to do. A stay at Farm LoLa to test the idea might be confirmation for some that "'yeah, I like this kind of life' or, as we call it, 'farm contraception,'" he said, meaning a stay might prevent some folks from diving into something they're not ready for.

But they've been pleasantly surprised by how much people like the experience, even in the simple Nest, which has a portapotty and a handwashing station, in addition to its proximity to the chickens.

And then there's the bonus of some added help.

"It's nice when people stay a few days and take on putting the birds to bed at dark (close to 10 p.m.) and letting them out just after dawn," Lucie said. "I'm not saying we're exactly sleeping in, but we appreciate it! It's also been sweet to see Jason take coffee out to guests and maybe sit for a few minutes with them. Farming is inherently solitary work, so it's nice to see him getting a little time with people."

Holmgren stayed for the chickens (and appeared to have a wonderful time). Others may stay to pick honeyberries, explore Carlton County, learn about life on a farm, or simply for the low price point of The Nest.

"To get an egg just feels like such a miracle to me," said Holmgren after a morning of gathering eggs at Farm LoLa.

Bookings are going well, with some availability in August and lots in September. In fact, they're going so well that Jason and the crew have been working on another Nest-style bunkhouse. To book a stay, go to Airbnb.com and search for "Wrenshall."

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