Little Farm Market Wild Bird Store is more than meets the eye

2020 Business Traditions - Roll of Honor

Gwen Lybeck (left) and her daughter Emily stand at the counter of the Wild Bird Store Friday, Jan. 17, in northeast Brainerd.

For bird-watchers, a store in northeast Brainerd has long been a destination, but there is much more to the Little Farm Market-Wild Bird Store than bird seed.

The business has been part of Brainerd since 1955.

Gwen and Dion Lybeck purchased the business July 1, 2017, from owner Michelle Stanley.

Gwen Lybeck remembers going into the store when it was on Washington Street and buying big jars of olives for her grandmother. With farmers and gardeners bringing in produce, the Little Farm Market was both a link to the past and present when consumers were once again closer to the origins of the food on their table. The Lybecks kept the well-established name but note the store isn’t what some may think of when they envision the typical farmer’s market.

The market and bird store may be thought of as several stores in one — providing everything needed for the avid or casual birdwatchers, offering locally sourced gifts, and supplying produce to both commercial customers and restaurants to individuals hosting graduation parties.


Sometimes they do have produce — be in fresh tomatoes, dill or squash. But their net goes out farther than that.

“I supply produce to a lot of nursing homes, group homes and day cares and restaurants to the area,” Lybeck said, noting those entities may have orders that are too small for other providers. But if a business with a small kitchen wants one green pepper, two red onions and six tomatoes, the Lybecks order for them and deliver the produce. Orders are filled by the Northwestern Fruit Co. in the Twin Cities.

Lybeck said customers include orders like Cash Wise Liquor’s lemons and limes. Another spot has a agroup of office employees putting together an order, be it a bag of shredded lettuce or mushrooms. With about 20 customers who order twice or once a week, or even once in a while, Lybeck sees opportunities for their business on this track for orders with the convenience and delivery service. Beyond the comercial customers, Lybeck said they can place food orders for individual people who are planning special events from graduation parties to weddings to reunions.

“That’s one of the places I want to grow,” she said of the produce side of the business.

Those orders aren’t limited to commercial customers. Individuals who may be getting ready for a family reunion, graduation party or other event can also order their produce and have it delivered.

Buying the store has been a learning experience, she said.

They weren’t new to a family business operation as they own a tree service and landscape company. Lybeck was employed with the school district for 12 years. When Stanley, who lived nearby, mentioned an interest in selling the business, the Lybecks took a serious look, even spending time observing at the store. son, Maxon, now 8, was entering kindergarten so the timing fit.

--- --- --- --- ---


“We are really big on family and we thought it would be something fun and neat to have this family business. And it kind of came up fast when we decided to do it.” - Gwen Lybeck

--- --- --- --- ---

Their oldest daughter, Emily, now 25, was taking college business classes and came home to manage the store. Their younger daughter, now 21, comes home on school breaks and summers to work there.

“We are really big on family and we thought it would be something fun and neat to have this family business,” she said. “And it kind of came up fast when we decided to do it.”

Family and friends help when they are needed and the delivery driver who worked for the Stanleys stayed with them.

“It’s kind of just us but we love it,” Gwen Lybeck said.

The customers who feed birds are those who come back on a regular basis. They share knowledge and look forward to reports of what customers are seeing on their bird feeders and look forward to the first reports of bird sightings as the seasons change.

While they were bird feeders themselves, Gwen Lybeck said she never in a million years thought she’d have a bird store.


“I enjoy watching the different types of birds that come in,” Lybeck said, adding when they bought the store she knew the main birds but now it’s fun to know all the different breeds.

“It’s fun in the spring when people start talking about the birds they’ve seen and when the purple finches arrive,” she said.

That sense of community was appealing. Stanley had grown the business and Lybeck said the people who came through the doors weren’t just customers they were friends.

“That really appealed to me, both of us I think, the customers,” Lybeck said. “All in all, it‘s fun and we enjoy it and you are always learning something.”

--- --- --- --- ---

“I enjoy watching the different types of birds that come in. It’s fun in the spring when people start talking about the birds they’ve seen and when the purple finches arrive." - Gwen Lybeck

--- --- --- --- ---

Customers can come in and bag their own seed, choosing from the varieties displayed in 20 large bins. They can buy 5 ounces or 50 pounds. Make their own mixes or buy bags that are all ready to go.


Steve’s Mix, their most popular bird seed blend, has been around for 20 years. There is also straight black oil seed or a mix with thistle and sunflower seeds.

If customers come in and have a question about garden seed or bird feeding, Lybeck said they’ll search out the answer if they don’t know it themselves, even calling their vendors. Their own customers also share their expertise on gardening and birds.

But that’s not all the store has to offer. Lybeck said a lot of people think the store is either just bird seed and feeders or a traditional farmer’s market. Others, even though they’ve been part of the community for 65 years, may not know about the store or realize it’s been on the east side of town near Cash Wise Liquors and the new Dairy Queen since 2007.

The store’s name was already established when the Lybeck’s bought it but Gwen Lybeck noted that can give people just a small glimpse of what they do. They do sell pretty much anything related to birds, but in addition to the bird store and the market, they are a gift store focused on local products or items from the region.

Items include All Things Herbal soaps and lotions from Pequot Lakes, Gene Hicks Gourmet Coffee from Ely, hair scrunchies and bands from a woman from Palisade, kitchen scrubbies made by a retired woman and bird feeders that look like porch swings made by an older gentleman from Brainerd.

The store includes books, puzzles, adult coloring books, locally made greeting cards, and consignment for people who make bird houses in their homes. Other items include The Secret Garden jams, jellies and soup mixes from Park Rapids, Crapola Granola from Ely, and Smude Sunflower Oil from Pierz — including flavored and infused varieties. Smude offers a wide variety of flavors from vanilla infused to tomato basil, lemon and lime among a host of others. They have honey from Hillman and wild rice from Aitkin and maple syrup from Brainerd.

Lybeck includes old fashioned Christmas candy with rock candy and ribbon candy, chocolate stars and chocolate covered peanuts.

Lybeck and her daughter Emily sell items they craft with mesh and burlap wreaths and designer tile coasters.


Newly added are candles from Superior, Wisconsin,

“So we are always trying to grow that part too with different types of gifts,” Lybeck said. “We do a lot of special orders, too.”

They also look for bird feeders people may have seen and want and can get orders in typically in a week or earlier.

On a bitterly cold January day, Lybeck was able to focus on spring as she put together her spring seed order. She always had a small garden.

--- --- --- --- ---

“I’m really big on shopping local if I can. I’d rather support someone local if I need ink, I’d rather go to the Office Shop and buy it.” - Gwen Lybeck

--- --- --- --- ---

“I’m always learning,” she said. “During garden season, we have seed potatoes, asparagus roots, garlic” in addition to seeds. And they want to move into starter plants with tomatoes and pepper plants ready to go for customers. In the fall, they usually sell corn stalks and straw bales purchased locally from a grower southeast of Brainerd.


“I’m really big on shopping local if I can,” Lybeck said. “I’d rather support someone local if I need ink, I’d rather go to the Office Shop and buy it.”

There are From birds to produce to gifts, the store in business for more than six decades in Brainerd, continues to build on its legacy and grow in new directions.

Family and friends help out at the store when they need it and the store’s delivery driver stayed with them after their purchase of the business.

“It’s kind of just us but we love it,” Lybeck said.

And sometimes they’ll have farmer’s market produce like squash.

So the store that’s more than its name suggests continues to grow what it provides to customers six decades after its first owners made their start here.

Renee Richardson is managing editor at the Brainerd Dispatch. She joined the Brainerd Dispatch in 1996 after earning her bachelor's degree in mass communications at St. Cloud State University.
Renee Richardson can be reached at or by calling 218-855-5852 or follow her on Twitter @dispatchbizbuzz or Facebook.
What To Read Next
Get Local