A Barron area organic farm has been granted approval to expand its retail space and host on-farm dinners and other events.
The Barron County Board of Adjustment voted 5-0 to allow conditional uses at Dragsmith Farms at 16th Avenue and 13th Street.
Owners Maurice and Gail Smith are now renovating an existing building to include a retail farm store and a commercial kitchen.
Discussion at Monday’s hearing centered parking, capacity limits and to what extent Dragsmith Farms could be considered an “eatery.”
While special event dinners are permissible under the property’s Ag-2 zoning, any ideas of operating a regular restaurant would be problematic.
County zoning administrator Dave Gifford said while seating would be allowed in the proposed farm store, the seating should not be intended for regular dining.
“It’s too limiting,” said Maurice Smith. “I want to be able to feed people.”
He said they do not intend to have a full service restaurant initially, but don’t want to deny people from eating something purchased on site.
Ultimately, the Smiths and county officials clarified that packaged specialty food items—not plated meals—could be sold, and the space would not be operated as a full service restaurant without additional permits.
“If someone buys a sandwich and eats it, I don’t expect the Gestapo to be there to stop you,” said Board of Adjustment Chairperson Walt Organ.
Exact details of Dragsmith’s expansion remain general, and the board approved motions to reflect that.
“There’s a lot on the table, it might not all pan out,” said Gifford. “Let’s get this started and see what works. We can always come back to it.”
As far as events, parking would be confined to a 1.5-acre area in the northwest corner of the property along 13th Street. Parking on the roads is discouraged.
Events could happen 7 days a week between the hours of 10 a.m. and 10 p.m.
Attendance is limited to 300 people per event, with 50 people max inside buildings.
Portable toilets would be provided for events, and the property’s septic system would be further evaluated by County staff to ensure compliance with state code.
In their application to the Board, the Smiths stated that they built the pole shed about 10 years ago with the intention of adding a commercial kitchen and eventually being able to host farm dinners and events.
While they have traditionally sold their products to upscale restaurants in Eau Claire and the Twin Cities, the pandemic has prompted them to make that plan a reality and to pursue other revenue streams.
“Because of COVID-19, all of our customers were closed,” they stated in their application to the board. “This left us without a sales outlet for our products, the majority of which we gave to food pantries.”
Dragsmith started selling more farm share boxes locally and in Eau Claire and began looking to expand on-site offerings.
“We want to provide a local outlet and eatery for our neighbors by bringing some of our chef customers and farm share customers to the farm for on farm dinners and events.”
“We’re trying to create an environment where people can have a farm experience,” said Gail Smith at Monday’s hearing. “And see where their food is actually coming from, or should be coming from.”
A proposal to add six semi-rustic campsites on the property has been apparently shelved for the time being and was not discussed at Monday’s meeting.