Frankenmuth’s longtime working farm turns 84 this year
FRANKENMUTH, Mich. – April 25, 2022 – One of Frankenmuth’s only remaining working farms open to the public is launching its 84th season, featuring its famous petting barn, special events, educational tours and a closer look at historic farm equipment and buildings.
Grandpa Tiny’s Farm, located at 7775 Weiss Road in Frankenmuth, will begin offering tours and open its petting barn to families and groups at the end of April, weather permitting.
The unique heritage farm is owned by the Bavarian Inn William “Tiny” and Dorothy Zehnder Foundation. Agri-tourism business owner Wendy Winkel runs her business on the land, honoring Tiny Zehnder’s original vision for the property. Winkel actively runs the farm, offers educational events, u-pick times for fresh products, popular activities such as the Frankenmuth Flower Festival and Santa’s Reindeer Farm, and much more during a season that runs from late April through mid-December.
Weather permitting, the farm will open Saturday, April 30. Farm hours are:
Admission is $6, while children under age 2 get in free. Parking is available at no charge on a gravel lot in front of the Big Blue Barn.
Originally established in 1938 when Tiny Zehnder purchased the farm at age 18, the 60-acre complex includes two barns more than 100 years old, a corn crib and milk house, a historic iron bridge, a one-room schoolhouse and a fully restored farmhouse. While not all original to the property, many of the structures have been restored with the idea of creating a unique visitor experience in Frankenmuth.
“Tiny really had a vision to create a historic village in town,” said Winkel, who just completed her fifth year operating her agri-tourism business at the farm site.
With the farm’s spring season kickoff, it is full-on “baby time” with lambs, baby chicks, bunnies and more in the petting barn, which stays open throughout the year. Egg incubators will also be full and hatching baby chickens, turkey, or peafowl. Other farm animals include cattle (Texas Longhorn), horses, rabbits, chickens and hens, a donkey named “Rosie,” a pony named “Lady,” sheep, turkeys, fainting goats and even 12 peacocks. The farm reindeer are a popular winter season attraction.
Winkel’s agricultural focus for Tiny’s Farm includes growing sunflowers, pumpkins, wheat and corn as well as managing an apple orchard and lavender fields. She is assisted by additional staff helping with the petting barn. Winkel’s goal, however, is to always make herself available to visitors to share what is currently happening on the farm and educate them about farming.
An agri-tourism expert and president of the Michigan Agri-tourism Association, Winkel especially enjoys welcoming field trips for students from the surrounding community. Group trips can be scheduled for all ages and sizes, though no more than 20 is recommended.
“I love to see the children on school field trips come here and learn about farming,” said Winkel.
As summer approaches the farm comes to life with 20 acres of sunflowers, and during the Frankenmuth Flower Festival in August the fields of flowers are open for visiting and picking. Later in the fall the farm offers cider and donuts and pumpkin picking. The patch usually opens up in September, along with hayrides on the weekends.
During winter weekends the big event is “Santa's Reindeer Farm,” a tradition where children and adults walk the festive farm, visiting with Santa's workings, the jolly man himself and even get to pet a reindeer.
Besides the activities and events open to the public, the farm hosts weddings and other small private events which are catered by the Bavarian Inn Restaurant and Lodge.
Winkel is proud to continue Tiny Zehnder’s vision for the farm. Originally a dental hygienist from Rochester, Michigan, Winkel began her career in agri-tourism in 2017, finding a passion for educational activities around farms and farming.
“I love offering a comfortable experience where people can learn about something that they are not familiar with,” says Winkel. “Where I grew up there was no agriculture. For me this is an important heritage for Frankenmuth and Michigan.”
The late Tiny Zehnder was the beloved patriarch of the Bavarian Inn Zehnder family. He and his wife Dorothy, who is now 100 years old, owned and operated the Bavarian Inn Restaurant for many decades, expanding it and spawning numerous other family businesses, including the Bavarian Inn Lodge, Covered Bridge Shop, and River Place Shops. Today, those businesses are in the fourth generation of ownership.
“It was Tiny who was a big part of putting the community on the path towards the Bavarian theme, from our shop fronts to our festivals to our passion for good food, family and our community,” says granddaughter Martha Zehnder Kaczynski, who helps run several of the family enterprises.
About Grandpa Tiny’s Farm: This 60-acre working farm is located at 7775 Weiss Road, just off Frankenmuth’s Main Street. It is open each year to the public, usually between late April and December. It includes historic buildings, numerous farm animals, with a petting barn, and fields for planting pumpkins, corn, wheat, sunflowers and more. It is operated by Wendy Winkel and owned by the Bavarian Inn Zehnder family foundation. Founded by William “Tiny” Zehnder in 1938, today the farm maintains its historic place in the community, entering its 84th season of operation in 2022. Learn more at https://www.grandpatinys.com.