July 26, 2021 at 3:01 p.m.

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Bocksells enter vacation rental business
Angie Bocksell stands in one of the bedrooms of Swede Heir Acres Guest House near Pepin, Wisconsin. The Bocksells use a farmhouse as a vacation rental to diversify their 180-cow family farm.  PHOTO BY DANIELLE NAUMAN
Angie Bocksell stands in one of the bedrooms of Swede Heir Acres Guest House near Pepin, Wisconsin. The Bocksells use a farmhouse as a vacation rental to diversify their 180-cow family farm. PHOTO BY DANIELLE NAUMAN

    PEPIN, Wis. – A desire to fill a community need led Paul and Angie Bocksell to turn the house on a nearby second farm into a vacation rental property rather than simply becoming landlords.
    “Pepin is a very touristy area; there are a lot of rural wedding venues in this area that bring people in to the area, and they are always looking for places to stay,” Angie Bocksell said. “We thought this would be a better use for the space versus simply renting it out to a renter. We like the idea of having a little more control over when and how long people can stay on our farm.”
    The Bocksells milk 180 cows on the home farm site, which is about 1.5 miles from the newly-acquired farm. They have rented that farm site for several years before purchasing it in June 2020. Paul and Angie are the fifth generation on their farm, which was homesteaded by Paul’s family in 1872. They began their own dairy careers in 2004 by beginning to buy into the family’s dairy herd.
    As a family farm, the Bocksells have found sustainability through diversification. In 2017, the addition of a herd of beef cows allowed them to market farm-raised beef under their Swede Heir Acres Farms label. They also raise pigs to market pork as an extension of their children’s 4-H projects.
    “Last year, I decided to start a website to market the beef and pork, and 22 head left the farm for the processor, sold as halves or quarters or retail cuts sold locally,” Bocksell said.
    The purchase of a freezer truck has allowed the Bocksells to obtain a license to market retail cuts of beef and pork from their farm. They view the addition of the vacation rental property as another avenue of diversification to keep their farm sustainable.
    “My thought is if we only rent the property out on weekends, we will make more money than we would just renting it as housing,” Bocksell said. “We purchased the farm: 107 acres, and for a space for our beef cows and dairy heifers.  The house was kind of a bonus, we think.”    
    The farm is full of the history. In the late 1800s, the farm was home to the Barry family, including Anna Barry, who was a school teacher of Laura Ingalls Wilder. The replica log cabin on the Ingalls’ former homestead, which was the setting for the book “Little House in the Big Woods,” is located nearby. The farmhouse itself was built in 1900 and served as the home for generations of a local farming family.
    A short distance from the Mississippi River and the historic towns of Stockholm, Maiden Rock and Plum City, the Bocksells’ second farm lends itself to being an ideal locale for families looking to have a peaceful getaway.
    “There aren’t a lot of commercial options for people to stay at in the area,” Bocksell said. “People come to this area for a reason, because it is so rural. There are a lot of people around here who are going this route, building cabins on their property or turning a second house like this into a vacation rental, or even renting out their own homes.”
    The decision to create a vacation rental came easily to Bocksell.
    “This has always been a very beautiful property,” Bocksell said. “It has always been well cared for. We did some painting and minor drywall work, and then I went on Amazon and found basically everything I needed to decorate and furnish the house. The prep work was really that easy.”
    The more complex details came on the business end. The Bocksells established the property as a limited liability company and secured the necessary insurance coverage after consulting with an attorney.     
    “Being a farmer, we typically tend to have more liability risks than most might,” Bocksell said. “We need to separate our businesses to help diffuse that risk if there were to be a liability claim against us.”
    Bocksell recommended those steps to any farmer considering agritourism or rental properties.
    Bocksell tries to space out her bookings to allow herself adequate time to clean, restock and prepare the house for new guests.
    “I try not to make the turn-around time so tight that I might get in a bind when something else comes up on the farm or with my kids,” Bocksell said. “I always try to leave enough time between bookings for things like that.”
    After spending the winter and early spring preparing the property, Bocksell hosted her first guests in June. She has listed the property on the Airbnb website but has found that word of mouth has been just as valuable a method of advertising.
    “The wedding venues have been looking for places for wedding guests to stay because there is a shortage, especially with COVID-19,” Bocksell said. “And many of us know each other, because this is rural America, and those venue owners have been great with helping us get bookings.”
    Guests at the Bocksells’ Swede Heir Acres Farm guesthouse have the entire house at their disposal, and the Bocksells offer their selection of retail cuts of home-raised beef and pork to guests as well.
    Sharing their farm story is an important piece of the project to the Bocksells, and they hope the business will begin to lend itself to agritourism, with guests booking guided farm tours.
    “That is really the hope, to develop that part of the business,” Bocksell said. “Once I get used to having guests and operating the rental, I really want to develop that aspect.”
    Bocksell has found that most of her bookings are people traveling to the area from either the Twin Cities area or from the Madison area, and most of the bookings are related to weddings.
    With the expanse of the farm, the Bocksells are looking into creating campsites for an additional way to diversify the rental property business.    
    “I really like that people in rural America are finding ways to use their space and their properties differently,” Bocksell said. “It gives us a lot of opportunities to capitalize on what we have.”


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