Just outside of Waconia sits an old-fashioned farm stand, tucked inside the stables of an old barn. Donna Frantz, an 81-year-old German-Norwegian, can be found inside, mingling with customers and offering advice on everything from planting seeds and composting to the plight of the honeybee. At The Farm has become a staple in the community over the last 16 years, where customers stop in regularly for organic produce, fresh eggs, jams, pickles, seasonal décor, and more. “People love the nostalgia of it all,” Frantz says. “I sort of look like a pioneer, but I don’t mind that—it’s my image.” Not many people start a business at the age of 65, but that didn’t stop Frantz from following her dreams of owning a farm. “My husband thought I was nuts,” she admits, but Frantz, who grew up on a pork farm in western Minnesota, couldn’t ignore the feeling that she was meant to be a farmer. “My grandma was a fabulous gardener, and I inherited that gene.” So when the right property came along, Frantz didn’t hesitate. “I’m not afraid of taking risks,” she says. Her husband was recently retired from the cement business, and Frantz, who had owned and operated an antique shop and greenhouse at different points in her life, was ready to channel her previous experiences into a new venture. “We bought it during the blizzard of ’91,” she remembers. For the next six years, they were busy cleaning out the barn, laying a new cement floor and dreaming big. One spring Frantz decided to grow a few tomatoes, so she ploughed a patch of land and started a modest garden. “I pulled a little red wagon with produce from my field to a little side shack,” she recalls. After the barn was renovated, she moved her small business inside and it really took off. “People want to eat local and know the farmer or where their food comes from, and I was on the ground floor of this,” she says. The inside of the barn has a rustic feel: shelves are lined with pails holding colorful beans, stacks of mason jars display seeds, and antique furniture abounds, including an old-fashioned cash register. Frantz stays busy working at the farm seven days a week throughout the summer, but she never tires of it. Since she has a few “elves” on staff, as she likes to refer to her helpers, she is able to staff the shop while still keeping up with the daily planting and harvesting demands. “When you’re a small business, you have to sell the sizzle. I’m always interested in people and connecting with the community,” she says. In recent years, Frantz has opened up her farm to various community events, free to the public. “It’s getting to be that people like to come to the country to see something,” she explains. So she offers a little extra incentive to get towns-folk and city-people alike to make the trek to the farm. In the spring she hosts a “junk market,” complete with free coffee and scones; in the summer there’s an artisan fair and a corn roast; and in September she sells apples and holds an apple pie contest. Her favorite part of the business? “The connections with people and being able to teach them about good food,” says Frantz. “The folksiness of it all, it’s just beautiful.” Throughout the summer months Frantz can be found in the barn, out in the fields, or driving her little green cart somewhere in between. During the winter, she’s dreaming up new ideas for next season. “It’s been quite a journey. And I’m still excited about doing all of this, I have not lost my passion,” she says. “This is beyond my wildest dreams, to have made something out of nothing.”
Waconia’s At the Farm Store
A Waconia woman uses her golden years to pursue her dreams.