Lincoln Highway Farms Selling Fall Fruits, Veggies, And Family Fun
Every fall, northern Illinois farmers set up roadside shops to get their crops to market, as well as get visitors to check out their farms. You can find several of these along a stretch of Lincoln Highway east of DeKalb.
One of the largest is Kuipers Family Farm in Maple Park. It has a pumpkin farm and apple orchard, plus a lot of family attractions. These range from train rides and corn mazes to climbing walls and a "bouncing pillow." Co-owner Kimberly Kuipers says these were inspired by taking their own kids to nearby farms.
"They were very nice, but there was just a lot of stuff to look at and our kids wanted to climb over everything, and were constantly getting in trouble so we thought, 'Why don't we take what we want to see for our kids, and see if we can duplicate it at our own farm?'" she said.
That's what attracted Michelle Barton and her children.
"I love it, and we have a great time, so we enjoy running around and doing all the activities."
Kuipers says her biggest source of income comess from the stores at the pumpkin patch and apple orchard. They sell what's been harvested, other crops like squash, and food made from those crops. Kuipers says the fall season is when business is at its peak, but during the summer the farm is rented out for something more "matrimonial."
"So the weddings have been a really nice way for us to continue to generate income and use the infrastructure that we already have here except for the fall, with all the barns and the train, and those are things that we can incorporate into the weddings," she said.
Other farms carry out this same kind of sales strategy, but on a smaller scale. Mark Yaeger owns Yaeger's Farm Market near DeKalb. He also has a "harvest playland," including a corn maze, but also grows crops year-round.
"There's a long list of the summer and fall vegetables that we raise that keep our market going. As we're doing right now, I'm doing the garlic, gotta get the garlic planted someday," he said.
Yaeger says word of mouth means he can get families coming back year after year. Sometimes, that extends to several generations:
"We kinda lose track of them for a few years and then--lo and behold--they're coming back with their husbands or their wives and their kids and they're starting their own traditions again," he said.
And then there are less conventional agricultural offerings. Joe Heidgen runs Shady Hill Gardens near Elburn. His business consists of a greenhouse complex that grows flowers year round. He says mums are popular this time of the year.
"Obviously the greenhouses that we just walked through are filled with poinsettias so those are a couple months off, and then on the other side in the greenhouses over that way we're already starting geranium stock plants for the spring of 2019," he said.
Heidgen says the Gardens can offer something different.
"We have pick-your-own cut flower beds, so there's beds of flowers like zinnias, sunflowers, celosias, snapdragons, and people can come here and cut them, so that's definitely something a little bit unique," he said.
And in some cases, uniqueness is all that's needed to get repeat customers. Kate Wiltse owns a produce farm in Maple Park, and while she has staple crops in the fall, her earlier offerings also get people's attention.
"In the Spring, we're one of the few in the area that has asparagus. We do bedding plants as well and once we start with that, sweet corn. Sweet corn, tomato, and beans," she said.
And for customers like Laurie, who lives just outside Chicago, these offerings are worth the trip.
"A friend of mine who used to live out here introduced me to Mrs. Wiltse's and ever since. I have seven children and raise my kids by coming out here, getting farm produce, taking it home, and cooking it," she said.
And next fall, the cycle starts anew.