Kayla Elefson set a ladder down with a dull clank. Above her hung bushels and bushels of cured garlic. Elefson snipped the bulbs from their stalks, and Eric Elefson joined, reaching high with a pair of scissors.

They each placed the white bulbous vegetables in one bin, the stalks in another for composting.

The Elefsons harvested nearly 500 pounds, or 4,000 heads, of garlic this year. Their bounty resting in an insulated garage filled with a rich, earthy smell.

Some will return to the ground as seeding for next year, some move into storage for personal use, and some will go to CSA customers.

Along with garlic shares, the couple behind Turtle Hare Farm + Stay offers sustainable lodging in a renovated farmhouse.

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A farm-and-stay model isn’t quite new, but it’s smart, said their CSA partner Cree Bradley, of Chelsea Morning Farm.

From 2018 to 2019, there were more than 57,000 such rural listings on Airbnb, according to Vox. Hosts with farm listings also earned more than $81 million.

Farming can be a difficult pathway to make a livelihood, so finding creative ways to make that work is crucial, Bradley said. Airbnb has granted more permission to consider this model for supplemental income, and it’s a good fit for farmers who want to share what they do to an experience that’s more than lodging — and that’s the Elefsons.

“Kayla and Eric follow a stewardship method of farming. They want to care for and protect the land. They put a lot of value in the decisions they make and how they connect with people.”

Kayla Elefson stands on a ladder as she cuts bulbs of cured garlic from their stalks Friday, Aug. 21, at Turtle Hare Farm + Stay in Two Harbors. (Tyler Schank / tschank@duluthnews.com)
Kayla Elefson stands on a ladder as she cuts bulbs of cured garlic from their stalks Friday, Aug. 21, at Turtle Hare Farm + Stay in Two Harbors. (Tyler Schank / tschank@duluthnews.com)

Reconnecting to land

Kayla and Eric Elefson were experiencing burnout working in the Twin Cities arts scene. Eric was acting and directing; Kayla was dancing in a couple of companies, working at a nonprofit and teaching private lessons. It was an unmanageable pace, she said.

When she started developing back pain and breathing trouble, her doctor recommended she slow down and lessen time on her feet.

They took a course through the Land Stewardship Project, and from there, she volunteered on a farm. “I carefully placed seeds into these trays the entire day. After go-go-go, it was just a mind-blowing experience,” she said.

Farming and reconnecting to land helped them feel rejuvenated and renewed. “We realized that slowing down, we can do a lot more,” she said.

That birthed Turtle Hare Farm + Stay. They began farming microgreens. They launched a CSA. Then, about two years ago, they moved onto 16.5 acres in Two Harbors.

The farm

You can hear the constant humming of insects on Turtle Hare Farm + Stay.

Inside the red sauna, a hand-drawn “relax” sign and a rich, inviting cedar smell welcome you.

Guests at Kayla and Eric Elefson's Airbnb, Turtle Hare Farm + Stay, can enjoy a sauna made entirely of cedar. (Tyler Schank / tschank@duluthnews.com)
Guests at Kayla and Eric Elefson's Airbnb, Turtle Hare Farm + Stay, can enjoy a sauna made entirely of cedar. (Tyler Schank / tschank@duluthnews.com)

Fans buzz in the greenhouse, where cabbage, beans, tomatoes and more grow plump and plentiful. “If you see something you want to eat, feel free,” Kayla said.

Outside the farmhouse rest two chairs in front of a hot tub. Inside there are curtain rods made from birch branches and a used piece of metal doubles as a floating headboard.

Red repurposed water skis line the walls on either side of the bed, and a small teddy bear sunflower bouquet in a Mason jar rests on a modest white table.

They value being able to do it all themselves in a sustainable way, so the couple hand-sewed and painted the room’s furnishings. They dry their bedding and linens on a line, and while they’re required to offer single-use items, they opt for coffee in a compostable bag, bamboo toothbrushes, eco-friendly feminine hygiene products and honey in small cardboard containers.

Their lodging operation runs from May to October, but COVID-19 recently delayed the start of their second season, which explains the erect yurt beyond the back trails with no furnishings — yet.

The stay

The pair said everyone who comes is partaking in an act of self care, and that energy is inspiring.

The Sibinskis were looking for something “simple, cozy and away from all the noise” when they found Turtle Hare Farm, said Ashtyn Sibinski.

They hadn’t been to a farm-and-stay before, but were drawn by the serene setup.

Turtle Hare Farm + Stay's one bedroom Airbnb is attached to Kayla and Eric Elefson's living space, a renovated farmhouse, and features found and thrifted items for decor. (Tyler Schank / tschank@duluthnews.com)
Turtle Hare Farm + Stay's one bedroom Airbnb is attached to Kayla and Eric Elefson's living space, a renovated farmhouse, and features found and thrifted items for decor. (Tyler Schank / tschank@duluthnews.com)

“You get the feeling of their slowness philosophy and how their idea of rest permeates this whole place,” said Dean Sibinski, noting the way the instructions are worded and the literature laid out for guests.

You can tell they live very intentionally, Ashtyn Sibinski added.

A challenge with a farm-and-stay model is both aspects need a lot of attention, and marketing and style are a lot of hard work, said Eric Elefson.

It’s another way to get the land working for you, but it comes with some sacrifice, Kayla Elefson said.

The garlic

They’re adjusting to only offering garlic and are going to hold off on a farm stand.

But, in their first year of offering a CSA, they sold out their shares, a good problem to have.

The Elefsons grow five garlic varieties: music, Armenian, Georgian crystal, Krasnodar red and brown tempest.

The garlic curing in their garage will be sorted by size and variety. When the outer layer dries, they “clean” the bulbs by removing the papery layer.

Kayla Elefson holds a large head of garlic at Turtle Hare Farm + Stay on Friday, Aug. 21. (Tyler Schank / tschank@duluthnews.com)
Kayla Elefson holds a large head of garlic at Turtle Hare Farm + Stay on Friday, Aug. 21. (Tyler Schank / tschank@duluthnews.com)

Then, they’re sent to their 30 area CSA members and to a garden center in the Twin Cities, and the rest is for eating and planting for next year’s harvest.

Standing in their garden space, their garlic patches were covered in weeds. This provides ground cover and it keeps the roots in, which is better for biodiversity for the critters and plant life. “It looks like a mess, but it’s probably the best thing we can do for our soil and for our garlic,” she said.

A pro of farming garlic is it’s low-maintenance, which allows them to embrace a slower pace.

Shifting to a farm was a way to find some balance, and working in agriculture, you realize you can’t control the weather, pests or how fast or slow a plant wants to grow, she said.

Seeing that and accepting it, the Elefsons started to apply that to their lives, and the shift has added to their relationship.

You have to be purposeful about non-business talk and non-business time, Eric said. That can be detrimental if you don’t take care of the relationship.

They set work hours as best they can. They’ve divided focuses: He’s more in charge of the stay, she, the farm, and they meet weekly to discuss business.

Working with your partner “gives you a new sense of wonder about the person,” Kayla said. Observing what they accomplish, how they accomplish it, “It helps me value him in a way I didn’t get to see before.”

For more information, visit turtleharefarm.com.