WISCONSIN DELLS — While many may recognize Shelly Mayer from her job in the dairy industry, Mayer and her family have also recently entered into another venture — agritourism. With the completion of their restored barn at Folk Song Farm in Richfield, the family is now welcoming visitors of all ages and walks of life.
“The essence of serenity and beauty, Folk Song’s barn is a monument to how farm, family and faith bind together in a threefold legacy that spans over seven generations,” a description on their website details.
Mayer, the executive director of Professional Dairy Producers of Wisconsin, spoke about her agritourism journey at the Resilient Farms Conference on Dec. 11, holding back-to-back sessions due to the presentation’s popularity. She shared why the venture made sense to them as a family and how they plan for the barn to serve as a setting for a variety of occasions, from weddings and funerals to corporate retreats and school outings.
The story of Folk Song Farm began in 1853, when her husband Dwight’s family, the Mauers, settled on the land just minutes from metro Milwaukee. When Dwight’s aunt passed away in 2011, he and Mayer decided to buy 48.6 acres from the living trust with the idea to keep the fields in production and the land in agriculture. But as two people who love dairy barns, having grown up as dairy kids, they just couldn’t part with an old barn that was on the property.
“My husband said, ‘We can’t take this down,’” she said.
So they followed their heart, asking themselves what they could do with the barn that would bring some extra value to the farm. The family is very passionate about telling the story of agriculture, and decided to hire a local Amish crew to restore and “breathe new life into it.”
The restoration began in 2014 and was completed November 2017. This summer, the Mayers welcomed their first guests to the barn, holding two farm-to-table dinner events and hosting five weddings this fall, including her daughter’s own wedding.
Creating a business plan was an important step not only for the family, as it put the business into words, but also for the local planning commission, who wanted to see every detail before approving the operation. Mayer attended a lot of board meetings and became educated on zoning and other regulations, hiring engineers to make sure everything met site requirements.
“We’re kind of like an oasis,” she said, unlike the urban environment that continues to grow all around them.
It’s what makes them especially attractive to their visitors — these visitors aren’t farmers but expect an authentic experience with modern updates, such as accessibility. It was important to give special consideration to those who would visit Folk Song Farm, making sure they got the experience they were searching for.
Mayer is adamant that the barn is “not just a ‘wedding barn.’” To Mayer, it’s a working barn — a place where people can experience agriculture, a place where all types of events can be held.
The downstairs of the barn has also been restored to tell the story of how their family’s ancestors farmed. Barn stalls have been restored, with visitors able to walk through and hear the story of how the Mayer family lived and worked all those years ago.
Mayer envisions installing motion-activated plaques that tell the story of agriculture, how things were done and where food comes from in this area in the barn next summer. She also has ambitions to clear out an overgrown pond that sits on the property.
Her daughter’s wedding in the barn this fall symbolized more than just the opening of this new venture for the Mayers; it also signified the “passing of the torch,” Mayer said, as her daughter will be the seventh generation on the farm.
More about Folk Song Farm can be found at www.folksongfarm.com.