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Extension > Source - Fall 2008 > Bison ranch provides unique tourist stop

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Bison ranch provides unique tourist stop

Agri-tourism is one way to support healthy communities

Bison Ranch

With gas prices at record levels, some Minnesotans are sticking closer to home, exploring "hidden treasures" in neighboring communities. These local attractions might include community festivals or fairs, an Amish farm tour or even crops tours, such as apple orchards.

According to Extension tourism educator Kent Gustafson, agri-tourism is one way to support healthy communities and reward businesses that incorporate sustainable practices, such as using local products and employing local people.

"Agri-tourism is anything that relates to agriculture that people would want to see," Gustafson says. "It's putting the two [agriculture and tourism] together as a real hybrid, since they don't come together naturally, and finding a niche, or a competitive advantage."

Pam and Dave Johnson

Pam and Dave Johnson of Nevis, Minn., ensure visitors to their Northland Bison Ranch come away with an understanding of the animal's historical role and importance to Minnesota.

Partnering with Minnesota agri-tourism operators, Gustafson and his University of Minnesota Tourism Center colleagues help owners strengthen their business and marketing strategies. A key part of their role in that partnership is equipping owners with University-led market research findings.

Dave and Pam Johnson, owners of Northland Bison Ranch in Nevis, Minn., worked with Gustafson to fine-tune their overall marketing approach. They admit they came close to giving it all up in the mid-1990s because they feared taking a financial loss. Today, their successful business is built around reintroducing the native buffalo to its traditional habitat and providing a historical and educational experience for visitors. The Johnsons' tours also teach about the importance of bison to Native Americans during centuries past—as a source for meat, clothing, sacred religious symbols and medical remedies.

"The Tourism Center really encouraged us to do this, to stick it out," Pam Johnson says. "We weren't sure it was worth putting more into it, but we've really evolved. Last year we gave over 1,000 tours. Every year it's steadily grown, even with the economy the way it is."

For more information on the University of Minnesota Tourism Center, a collaboration of Extension and the College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences, visit

Outings with fall flavor!

Pick an Apple

Pick an agriculture-themed outing the whole family will enjoy: Visit a local apple orchard.

Hurry, before the first snowflakes fly! Indulge in some of fall's finest offerings at a nearby pumpkin patch, apple orchard, corn maze or winery tour. Plan an agriculture-themed experience and chances are you'll choose an outing the whole family will enjoy.

Select a pumpkin for each family member, bring home a variety of local produce to try new dishes—or savor the crunch of a University of Minnesota Honeycrisp apple during its prime harvest season.

The University of Minnesota Tourism Center recommends the following fall destinations:

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