Farms in the Lens: Wild Acres

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table
Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

About the Farms in the Lens series: Much of what we write within these pages is focused on the restaurants of Minneapolis and St. Paul. But much of what we eat at those tables comes from farms around the state. With underwriting from Clancey’s Meats and Fish, we’ve set out to document a half dozen of these farms, focusing on the relationship between humans and animals. Check out our complete Farms in the Lens series, including: Wild Acres, Hidden Stream, Shepherd’s Way, Redhead Creamery, Twisted Suri Alpaca Ranch, and Paradox Farm.

Pheasant hunting has an air of romance to it — the combination of hunters, dogs, and prairie evokes a Victorian novel made real right here in Minnesota. Beyond Brainerd, off the highway, then onto a gravel road, past the hunters and a log cabin, a complex series of barns, buildings, and enclosures houses Wild Acres Hunting Club and Shooting Preserve, and also thousands of the area’s most treasured poultry birds.

Wild Acres supplies turkeys, ducks, chickens, and pheasants to many Twin Cities restaurants and shops. They control the whole process: They supply their own eggs, hatch the birds, raise them, process them on site, and deliver them.

clanceys-shirt-bannerWhat began as a shooting preserve in 1978 became a pioneering farm that in the 1980s was among the first to sell free-range chickens. The farm has been a favorite of many food professionals, including Wolfgang Puck, Charlie Trotter, and numerous Twin Cities chefs.

“Most of my chefs will say, ‘It’s not what we do with it; it’s a good product when it comes in,’” says Pat Ebnet, who owns and runs the bird-growing side of the business. (His mother, who is semiretired, runs the game preserve.) “Going to one of the restaurants and seeing the end preparation, that is the end benefit. That is the ‘wow,’ that these people really appreciate what I do,” says Ebnet.

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table
Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

A single flock of geese roams around the property during the summer. Many are sold at Christmas time.

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table
Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

Wild Acres started as a shooting preserve and still has a shooting club. Since Ebnet took over, the poultry operation has vastly outpaced the shooting preserve. Pheasants are hatched twice a year and live outdoors. Ebnet processes about 4,000 pheasants each year for restaurants and markets including local coops and Clancey’s.