Slept on the run: A visit to Angora – focus on your hometown
Valhalla, according to Merriam-Webster, is a place of honor, glory, or happiness. This is what this land looked like when Kate Smith and her husband, TJ, found it online an hour after a property purchase near McGregor fell through. It was 2017 and they needed a venue, so they drove to Angora to see him.
There was electricity, but no water, a very old house in not very good condition, quite a few outbuildings, and a carriage. It was a farm with a dairy cow, pigs and sheep, and a potato farm years before that. But it has grown for 65 years, so their tour of the land takes them through a large brush. Their young son, Sam, wasn’t tall enough to see the plants.
But they fell in love with this place and saw it transformed in their minds into Valhalla Ridge Ranch. This is what it is today. One hundred acres of bliss and rolling hills that make up part of Wolf Ridge. On the day of my visit, Kate was preparing for Skalds, a unique Scandinavian festival held in Angora. It’s very reminiscent of the Renaissance Festival down south in Minnesota.
Kate makes tinctures, teas, potions, herbal remedies…an entire pharmacy in her kitchen. She had just posted the website for the farm where she sells these preparations, and was preparing to serve them at the Scalds Festival.
The site has been up now for a few weeks. Check www.valhallaridgefarm.com for details. The description on the website says: “Valhalla Ridge Farm is a small business dedicated to providing natural, holistic health solutions for the entire family. We specialize in pharmaceutical medicine and herbal remedies and believe in nature’s power to heal and strengthen the body.
This is evident throughout the farm. There are fields of herbs and wildflowers to forage for remedies and acres of forest with wild mushrooms and medicinal plants everywhere. They also planted huge gardens with vegetables and fruits of every kind and special herbs to maintain health.
Near the wooden garage, TJ restores old bikes — there seem to be at least 50 here — and offers them for free or for a charge to those who want a bike but can’t afford one. Nearby is the old house, where the beautiful Finnish wooden construction can be seen where the siding has disappeared. The house is leaning badly and is on the list of buildings to be restored. But it was also a treasure trove of original furnishings and memorabilia that Kate and TJ returned to their owners. One day it will stand tall again and house this family of three.
The kitchen in which Kate makes her treats is one end of a tiny house she ordered online from Amish Builders. It’s very small of course, but it currently houses this family and their five dogs! The first year they lived here, they stayed in the old trailer on site — and the winters, as usual, were tough, especially on the electric bill for heating. Now they heat with firewood from their “hundred-acre forest.”
Not far from home, they cleared out the horse barn for their little pony, Tina, and her companion, Charlie. Pip, their 1,000-pound pig, died two years ago, but he used to get out of that cage and head to the front door to get treats. Now this can is included in the expansion list.
But everything takes time and money. TJ has an off-farm job, as do most Iron Range farmers. They grow most of their food. But restoring an old place is an expensive and long-term project. The well they drilled had to be drilled through 325 feet of rock! There is an outhouse and a shower cabin, but the laundry is done outdoors in an old washing machine.
The beautiful 1898 tamarack barn will need some work as well, but Kate hopes it will be a meeting place, perhaps for classes or events. There’s also an old ice house, and Kate and TJ’s favorite feature, a beautiful old root cellar built into the hill along the entrance. Kate also wants a “summer kitchen,” where cooking and preparing treatments can be done in a large, airy preparation area. All part of the dream.
Kate’s daughter returned for a while and cleared an area for camping — Valhalla Ridge Ranch would eventually join Hipcamp. Check it out at www.hipcamp.com. According to the website, “Hipcamp is the most comprehensive resource for unique outdoor stays. Discover and book tent camping, RV parks, cabins, treehouses, and glamping campgrounds. All on private land, many of which are ranches like this one.”
There are many places to explore here in the hundreds of acres of deep forests. Bunny Hollow, as their son called it, is a magical fairytale garden located just off the trail. There is a ridge to hike and explore.
On my day at the farm I visit the greenhouse, built entirely from recycled windows, wood and doors. It is the newest addition to the house. In the middle is an old tree about ten feet tall that came from their original home and has the initials on it.
Kate’s children are engraved in it. Plants thrive here, and you can see the expansive outdoor gardens through the glass.
Inside are herb drying projects and crafts that began in this sunny space. You can learn more about everything going on at Valhalla Ridge Farm in the Facebook group “Valhalla Ridge Farm, Learning and Sharing Homesteading Skills,” where Kate posts regularly. You can find him at www.facebook.com/groups/215765626300788.
Marlyse Revell lives in Virginia, but grew up in Illinois with relatives who worked in agriculture. She is a board member of the Iron Range Partnership for Sustainability.