Kids on the farm

Written by Emily Battmer

For Jacki Roden, there’s no place like the dairy. When she graduated from college in December 2013, she knew she wanted to return to the family business. And while she was at it, she thought she’d introduce others to life on the farm as well.

Roden started Roden Barnyard Adventures LLC as a way to stay involved with the dairy and pursue her passion for agriculture promotion. Her business offers a hands-on familyfarm experience with tours, summer camps and events at Roden Echo Valley, a 500-cow, 2,000-acre dairy farm in West Bend, Wis.

Roden is the owner of Roden Barnyard Adventures, but she is quick to credit her parents, Rob and Cindy, and her siblings with supporting her as partners in the enterprise. Without the help of her family, Roden says the business wouldn’t exist.

That tight-knit family atmosphere is one of the driving factors behind the creation of Roden Barnyard Adventures. Roden says growing up on a farm gave her a strong set of morals, and she is passionate about preserving this way of life and passing it on to the next generation.

“When I’m working specifically with youth, I just want to expose them to the way I was raised,” Roden says.

“One thing I really want them to learn is responsibility and respect and just a genuine way to work and live because a lot of people don’t get that these days.”

That idea, coupled with a passion for agriculture promotion and consumers’ general lack of understanding of the industry, helped Roden formulate the idea for an “agricultural tourism” enterprise early in her college career.

As a sophomore at the University of Wisconsin-River Falls, Roden attended a Wisconsin Farm Bureau conference with her older brother, Rick. During the conference, Roden says she noticed a recurring topic of discussion: the growing disconnect between consumers and the farming community.

“Kind of as a joke, I told my brother, ‘Let’s be that farm that has tons of people over all the time,’” Roden says. 

But her brother didn’t take it as a joke. The Rodens have always been passionate about sharing their farming lifestyle with others, and Roden’s parents and her brother encouraged her to pursue her idea of developing her own agritourism business.

Roden started working on a business plan with one of her professors, laying out her mission and vision and getting her ideas for how to manage the business on paper. By the time she graduated in December 2013 with a degree in agriculture marketing and communications and a minor in agricultural business, she was ready to return to the family business and open the farm to community members.

Now, she operates Roden Barnyard Adventures while also working full time on the farm. On a typical day, she wakes up and goes to work at the dairy, where she helps her mom feed calves and do the bookkeeping. On the days she has farm tours or events, Roden says her visitors often get to see these morning chores as part of the tour. Roden conducts all the tours herself, but she says when the group runs into one of her parents or siblings, the tour-goers have the chance to ask them questions about their jobs on the farm. She calls Roden Barnyard Adventures her part-time job, with the bulk of the activities taking place from March to October.