Tuesday, February 4, 2014

The Perks of the Job - Burchell's White Hill Farmhouse Inn

Every year the Nebraska Tourism Commission hosts an Agri/Eco Tourism Summit in early February. This year we are gathered in Kearney to learn how we can help local entrepreneurs develop tourism in our rural communities. To kick off the conference, we had a pre-tour last night to Burchell's White Hill Farmhouse Inn.

Carole Burchell and her husband Bob Ard returned to Carole's childhood home upon their retirement as University Professors. They purchased her family farm in 2001 and returned home in 2006 to begin the transformation from a country home into a country inn. It took them a year and a month to renovate the barn into a restaurant, and just a bit longer to complete the work on the house.
They have a complete commercial kitchen in the barn and make everything from scratch, including breads and desserts. The dining room/reception hall can hold just over 200 people, slightly less than the capacity they were hoping for. They host all kinds of events, from weddings, rehearsal dinners, reunions, farm meetings and quilting retreats to funeral dinners (The historic White Hill Cemetery is just down the road). 

Their restaurant also has regular hours, though I'm not sure what those are. In addition to the homemade breads and desserts, they try as much as possible to feature locally-grown foods. The house specialty is Bob's smoked BBQ.
We were treated to the stuffed potato, delicious broccoli slaw, and of course, Bob's famous homemade rolls.

One of the things that has led to the success of the venture is the partnerships they have developed. Gene Hunt, who has been the Superintendent of Fort Kearney since 1982, has helped them with their native garden that features Native American seeds from the Pawnee.
Each year they partner with the tribe to exchange and plant seeds to keep the native foods viable.
Their goal is to honor the history of the land, both the Burchell family, as well as the native inhabitants that far predate the American westward migration and early pioneers.

Other of the important partnerships they have created included local wineries, artists and craftspeople (Yes, they plan to include local craft beer in the future!!!!). Local artist Sally Jurgensmier (The Woman of Steel!) shared her art with us after dinner, and Cedar Hills Vineyard hosted a wine tasting.
They characterize themselves as "Earth Friendly," though not "Green." They installed super insulation and efficient windows in the barn, and an open-loop geothermal heat pump system. While I don't pretend to understand what all this means, we were told that the system is so powerful and efficient that they have yet to need to turn on the emergency heat. One of the benefits is that the water used in the system is recycled into this picturesque farm pond.
Of course, the cornerstone of the operation is the Bed and Breakfast. The original part of the home was built in 1886, with a later addition in 1917. When Bob and Carole returned, they added on their living quarters and renovated the early parts into the Bed and Breakfast, keeping as many of the architectural elements as possible. Each bedroom has its own bathroom and individual heating system. To avoid the cost of an expensive sprinkler system, each bedroom also has its own outdoor entrance, onto a beautiful porch or balcony - an added plus!

While we didn't get to stay there, we can imagine that their hospitality is second-to-none! They are both such warm and inviting people, I wouldn't hesitate to recommend a stay with them.


One of their busiest times of the year is right around the corner - the arrival of the Sandhill Cranes on their annual migration.

Carole and Bob faced many challenges, not the least was starting a new business at the very beginning of a severe recession. In some ways, it's like Nebraska really doesn't want rural businesses to survive. For example, another of the challenges they faced was a restriction on signage on rural roads and highways. Their only sign off of Highway 10 (the link off of Interstate 80), is only 2' x 2', and can't say anything about a business, only indicate a farm. Now I'm all for rural beautification, but that is pretty ridiculous. Another issue is that local health officials (who knows, it could be a state or federal regulation) restricts the use of local products. Carole can use local farm fresh eggs in the Bed and Breakfast, but Bob can't use them in the restaurant. Now, just who do you suppose that regulation protects - the consumer or perhaps corporate factory farmed egg producers?

Enough of my soap box! We had a great time and would return in a heartbeat. I hope you consider a visit to Burchell's White HIll Farmhouse Inn in the near future.

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