CHANHASSEN, Minn. — When Degler Farm stopped milking cows in 2002, it was the end of dairy production in Chanhassen, Minn., as they were the last dairy left. It wasn’t the end of Degler farm, though. Gayle and Lois Degler continued to grow corn, soybeans and wheat. But, eventually, raising crops alone wasn’t enough for this family of educators.
Gayle was a teacher in southwestern Minnesota for six years. He was also involved in the family farm in Chanhassen. The opportunity arose for Gayle and Lois to purchase the farm next door to his home farm. Gayle then farmed full time, and he and Lois raised four children: Beth, Todd, Wade and Ellen. All the children (except for Todd) went into the teaching field. Todd went on to become an engineer.
Both those professions led the Deglers to look at what their farm’s future could be. The family wanted the farm to be a place to educate the public about production agriculture while having a lot of fun at the same time. The farm has always been a place that welcomes visitors. While the dairy was still operating, the Deglers hosted school groups for 35 years. The students had the opportunity to tour a working dairy and better understand the work that goes into milk production.
The Deglers all have day jobs (in addition to the Degler kids, Gayle is a Carver County commissioner and Lois manages the bookkeeping for the farm and babysits grandkids when needed); so they were looking for something that would allow them to generate additional income on the farm during the weekend. The idea of opening the farm up to visitors to experience agriculture firsthand with their families was born in 2018.
“We want to keep the farm look and setting,” Todd said. The farm experience is geared toward ages 14 and below, “because they probably know the least about agriculture.”
The Deglers find that the children who visit have a keen interest in what goes on in a working farm. “They (the kids) appreciate the education,” Ellen said.
Four years ago, the family opened the Degler farm up on the weekends in the fall. That year, they offered hayrides, a corn pit, pumpkins for sale and a corn maze which was less than an acre. “It was a big hit,” Todd said.
It took the farm one and a half years working with the city to get the permits for agritourism. “There really are only a few agritourism farms in the metro,” Todd said. The farm had to coordinate with Chanhassen on parking plans and conditional permits. The Degler farm is the only agritourism site in Chanhassen, so the city had to develop how they would handle this type of business in town. Now that the Degler Farm has been up and running for agritourism for many years, they have a clear understanding of how best to work with the city to ensure all permits and conditions are met.
“It turned into a natural transition,” Todd said. The first year they did about three hay rides a day. The Deglers saw interest in the farm experience and knew this would be successful. With agritourism, it’s not one size fits all. “There’s no cookie-cutter way to do it,” Todd said. The first year the farm did 20 hay rides the whole season. In 2021 there were 20 hayrides given each day, with two tractors pulling the wagons. “It’s a big family event. It’s been all family runs, tours and hayrides,” Todd said.
The family works together to bring their dream of opening an agritourism destination to fruition. Gayle, Lois, Wade, Todd, Ellen and families can be seen at the farm throughout the fall season. Sister, Beth lives in Wisconsin.
In 2020, people were looking for something to do outside, close to home. Degler Farm was the perfect fit. “What really propelled this was Covid,” Todd said. That year he used his engineering skills to make a trebuchet to catapult pumpkins. The trebuchet was a big hit and taught visitors principles of physics in addition to it being just plain fun to watch.
“The views and smells are free. You pay for what you want to do,” Todd said. That includes the slide, hayride, pumpkins and corn maze. “We greet people when coming in, pay when you go,” Todd said.
“Education has always been really close to my family,” Todd said. The 25-minute hayride around the farm allows Gayle to drive the tractor while also sharing the farm’s history and the history of agriculture in Carver County. There’s old machinery located in the Deglers’ woods; Gayle explains to visitors how those relics aided farmers in planting and harvesting. “We compare and contrast our farm with other farming techniques,” Todd said.
Todd has a sawmill outside of the barn where he cuts a large piece of wood for projects around the farm, such as the top of the benches on the hay wagon. He also sells lumber. Near the sawmill are The University of Minnesota honeybee boxes, which have been at the farm for six to seven years. “They (U of M) were looking for places in the metro,” Todd said. The bees are another talking point in the hayride, explaining that a farm is a great place for bees to inhabit as there are plenty of pollinating options.
Just beyond the barn, you’ll find the three-acre corn maze. A new design is created each year. “We math teachers map out our grids,” Ellen said. Once the design is mapped out, it takes dedication all growing season to keep the design in the field free of corn and weeds.
New this year is a tube slide. Riders go down while sitting on a gunny sack. The slide is on the hillside overlooking the farm; the view is impressive, and the ride down is exhilarating.
“We have an old gravity box with a basketball hoop on it,” Todd said. Shooting hoops gets the conversation going with the visitors about how a gravity box works.
The pumpkin patch is across the street from the farm on two and a half acres. A local youth group picks the pumpkins and helps load them on the trailer for the ride over the farm, where they’re displayed for visitors to choose just the right one. This year’s pumpkin crop is impressive. The lack of rainfall didn’t seem to slow the pumpkins down. “Pumpkins like drier weather,” Gayle said.
Creating an on-farm experience for visitors while maintaining a working farm is no easy task. However, ingenuity, hard work and a dedication to preserving agriculture in Chanhassen for not only the Deglers, but for their community, is the goal now and for future generations. With the Degler family raising the fifth generation, the hope is that it continues to be a family-run farm steeped in history and an unending passion for sharing that history with visitors. “Our niche is the small-town farm feel. We’re rooted in education and promoting agriculture,” Todd said.
The Degler Farm is open on weekends through Oct. 30. For more information, visit https://deglerfarm.business.site/.