Dave and Bev Medvecky and “The Big Woods Farm”
Dave and Bev Medvecky, owners of “The Big Woods Farm,” have created a model for how to marry creative revenue generation with an unbeatable lifestyle. Their 240-acre property, located about an hour north of Minneapolis, has a mix of native prairie, hay pasture and a thriving forest of maple, oak, basswood and other trees.
Dave first saw the Tree Farm in 1977 while he was working on a nearby powerline for an energy company. He noticed a cabin surrounded by a garden with beehives and thought, “what a neat little place.” A year passed and he learned one day that the owner had died and that a neighbor was handling the estate, so he went to volunteer to look after the bees. “I got to know the neighbors, spent some time there, put in a bid for the property and have never left.”
The Medveckys have discovered markets for most of what they can grow on their land, which has in turn created relationships with many of Minnesota’s most interesting and authentic artisans. They sell their wood to cooks who want cherry wood smoke, to woodworking artists and to folks who need lumber for flooring and paneling. Logs with “figured wood”—what mills would call “defects”—are sold to local bowl turners. One customer buys wood to make old-fashioned “berry boxes” for farmers’ markets.
An intimate knowledge of wood—what’s on the inside as well as the outside, its density, its grain, how it will cure, in which season it should be cut, what it will look like after it has been manipulated with a wood lathe or a carving tool—is what the Medveckys know about. They work with all kinds of craftsmen and artists, taking them into the woods and comparing the merits of different trees. “If we visit in person I can see their process,” says Dave. “The more I can see how they’re going to use it, the more I can help them find the perfect piece of wood.”
But their Tree Farm is about far more than just wood. The Medveckys sell sweet things: finished maple syrup (more than 90 gallons of it some years, with people signed up on a waiting list to get it) and honey fresh from their bee hives. They raise potatoes, asparagus, tomatoes, peas, corn and strawberries mulched with leaves from their property. Sometimes they even sell old wasps’ nests and fallen logs and twigs with moss on them to “The Nature Lady,” who sells them to florist shops, which in turn sell them to folks who want a little piece of Minnesota’s forest beauty in their own homes. The Medveckys’ two grandchildren helped them collect these items and load up “The Nature Lady’s” truck. “It is good for the kids to see that you can make money from the woods but I had to warn them that most sales aren’t as easy as this one,” says Dave.
And then there are the peonies: 250 bushes, with more than 5,000 fragrant, beautiful flowers a year. Some go to the farmers’ markets, and many are sold by the pail or in bouquets at the farm. Bev also brings many to church, and she and her grandkids fill up the back of the station wagon and take them to a local nursing home. Says Dave, “the residents love the bouquets; you should see the smiles on those faces.”
And then there are the wild creatures. The Big Woods Farm boasts deer, wild turkey, the occasional black bear and sightings of bald eagles in flight. The Medveckys harvest their trees carefully so these and other creatures have plenty of good habitat. Dave uses a chainsaw and an old-fashioned “Iron Mule” so that logging operations have minimal impact. “It’s an old machine from the 1960s; it allows us to wiggle in between the trees and get the one we want without damaging the others—it’s all done by Bev and myself.” They leave snags, and make sure the bird feeder is always full when the snow starts to fall.
The Medveckys have also partnered with the Soil Conservation Service to restore some of the prairie on their property. In the summer this area is usually covered with bright yellow coneflowers, and Dave says you can almost see “Laura from Little House on the Prairie running across it.”
With a combination of creativity, hard work, curiosity and friendliness, the Medveckys have established something unique and satisfying on their property. “Big Woods Farm is a living and a lifestyle for us,” says Dave. “I’m out in the woods every day.”