MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — During the Cold War, a piece of property in Dakota County served as a missile site and a launching pad. But in this week’s Finding Minnesota, John Lauritsen shows us how its new owners are hoping to transition from missiles to Mediterranean cooking.

This time of year, rural Dakota County is a sea of green. There are acres and acres of lush farmland, with a former missile site smack-dab in the middle of it all.

The NIKE missile site opened in 1959. It was one of four bases constructed during the Cold War era to defend the Twin Cities from possible enemy aircraft attacks.

“I was looking around to buy a farm. And then one day I drove through here on this road- there was a big sign, ‘For Sale,'” said Lahcen Grass.

For Lahcen, it was a sight for “really sore eyes.” He and his wife, Amina, bought the overgrown property as quickly as they could. He said it was basically a jungle when he first bought it.

“It took about $10,000 to clean the trees and shrubs and everything,” he said.

Becoming the owner of a former military base meant Lahcen also became owner of its history.

“It was just to wait for a signal from the defense system, if there is any enemy aircraft, so they can fire the missiles,” said Lahcen.

At its peak, more than 150 people lived and worked at the base. Now, there are three. But the past is everywhere and waiting to be explored: From a bomb shelter with concrete walls 2 feet thick, to the actual launching pad where security was a priority.

When asked how many missiles could be launched at one time, Lahcen said, “here was potential for 12 launchers. The number of missiles was classified information. I don’t know how many were here.”

Those missiles were 31 feet long and weighed about 10,000 pounds. They could travel nearly 2,000 miles an hour.

Lahcen admits that it’s a little weird to wake up every day at a former missile site.

“Sometimes, it’s scary, sometimes it’s rewarding,” he said.

It’s rewarding in the sense that Lahcen and his wife are trying to launch something new. When the site was decommissioned in 1972, the Department of Mining took over. Then, a private owner. Finally, the Grass family became owners in 2015 and turned the former administration building into their home.

Amina said she was skeptical at first, “but we make it work.”

The couple is originally from Morocco and they have a flair for Mediterranean food. They want to open a cooking school, which is why the site is now adorned with an army of vegetables. Grape vines are replacing barbed wire. Chickens now run their own security near the former mess hall.

“Each dish and vegetables, we need a certain combination of spices and olive oil,” said Amina.

Amina says this is a dream of theirs — one they hope takes off.

“This is the perfect spot where I can show my vision and show our culture and share things with people,” said Lahcen.

The couple is also working with the USDA to bring bees and pollinators to the property.

They hope to open their cooking school in about a year.

Once the school is open, they will add a museum that will focus on the history of the Nike missile site.

John Lauritsen

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