September 13, 2023 at 6:00 a.m.
The smells, sounds, sights and memories make fall on the farm fun.
That’s what Noah and Sara Van Beck and their family, Spencer and wife Angela, Quentin, Maretta, Thatcher, Jena and Damian, hope people visiting Van Beck Ranch northwest of Freeport experience during Fall Farm Fest, weekends from 10 a.m.-5 p.m., starting Sept. 9 through October, with a wrist band fee.
It might be watching alpaca antics, baby goats walking behind their mammas and ducks quacking as Kunekune pigs eat; sharing the story of hatching chickens; playing in a corn dig and on a giant candy corn jump pillow or tactile bazooka ball course, picking out pumpkins, riding on homemade horse swings or snapping photos by old vehicles, including a 1948 Packard Noah and Sara used as their wedding car 25 years ago.
“It’s our mission to have every family have wonderful fall memories here, like we have,” Sara said Sept. 7 sitting with Noah in the concessions and gift shop, which includes stuffed farm animals, T-shirts and sweatshirts, fall candles, homemade preserves by Strawberries Galore and More and the book “St. Joseph’s Hammer,” written by daughter-in-law Angela’s sister Leah Brix.
Nearby is a children’s museum, inspired by Sara’s parents Betty and Glen Wilwerding, with Grandpa Glen’s Fishing Hole and Grandma Betty’s Little House Kitchen, where children can make corn husk dolls.
“That’s the teacher in me,” said Sara, an educator at Sacred Heart School in Freeport, wearing a burnt orange Fall Farm Fest T-shirt, like Noah, Thatcher and Damian as they prepare for opening day, Sept. 9.
The Van Becks have lived on this Wilwerding century farm since 2001.
“This was my dad’s property that they crop farmed, and before that it was my grandpa’s and great-grandpa’s,” Sara said. “At first my great-grandpa brought seeds from Germany and planted apple seeds to start a nursery. Then it was a dairy farm by Grandpa John, and my parents made it a crop farm.”
Noah and Sara transformed it into a goat farm, with close to 500 goats. Glen passed away before their new barn was built, but Sara’s Christian faith tells her her dad is watching from heaven and would love what they are doing on the farm.
In 2020 the Van Becks, who operate one of the largest meat goat farms in central Minnesota, were named the Stearns County Family Farm, and people approached them about seeing the goats. That was one of the reasons they chose to hold a Fall Farm Fest.
“It was God’s divine plan. It was on our hearts for a long time, and we prayed about it,” Sara said. “Carrying on that legacy is huge; to have family time in the great outdoors is huge.”
At night, Sara, with a brain that doesn’t turn off, talked with Noah about opening up their farm so people could enjoy “our space, and we could carry on my father’s, grandfather’s and great-grandfather’s heritage and share it with youth and families,” she said.
They chose to do Fall Farm Fest during a special time of the year – kidding season for their goats, with the possibility of their guests seeing baby goats born.
“It’s like our own miracle of birth right here in Stearns County,” Sara said.
The Van Becks decided which activities to offer by talking with their children and other family members, who helped them get ready and are pitching in during Fall Farm Fest.
“Family help has been huge,” Sara said.
Much of the 10-acre farm is filled with things to see and activities, some homemade. There is a children’s tire play area built by Noah, complete with homemade horse swings and a Sound and Fairy Garden, where people can play music on a specially made board. Friend Char Meyer made and painted a makeshift cow people can milk near the corn dig.
The red goat barn is a sure attraction. On this evening, goats rush toward Damian holding a container with feed, demonstrating how visitors will be able to do so, while newly born baby goats frolic close to their mothers.
“Damian loves the goats,” said Sara of their youngest son whom they adopted. “For a little boy who never knew about tractors or animals, he fell in love, and he can walk around the farm and tell you about it. … We hope families will come out and be refreshed and enjoy one of our favorite seasons.”
Being on the farm, where a child is learning, growing and having fun is Sara’s favorite place to be.
She and Noah have another reason to share their life on the farm legacy – one month old granddaughter Mariella, daughter of Spencer and Angela.
“Starting a new venture when I’m going to be 47, and being a new mom this year, adopting, and being a grandma in the same year, the farm is definitely something Noah and I were talking we want Mariella to enjoy some day,” Sara said, “And we want to be able to watch our own grandkids play on the things on the farm, which is so important to us.”
Memories made at the Van Beck Ranch will continue by them and their Fall Farm Fest guests.