By Amber Holst of Concierge Preferred
Located in the heart of the Midwest, Illinois is home to quaint rural towns and plenty of peaceful countryside. And that means lots of farms that are open to the public for an afternoon spent petting animals, tasting freshly made cheese, or picking your own fruit right from the source.
For trip ideas that take you from the interstate to a farm gate, here’s six farms in Illinois to visit—all of which make for a relaxing day in the country.
If you visit Marcoot Jersey Creamery in Greenville, chances are that you’ll leave with a full belly and a new appreciation for dairy farming. The Marcoot family milks 65 Jersey cows twice every day and makes 18 varieties of cheese and a dozen seasonal flavors of ice cream (we’re partial to the black raspberry pomegranate).
While Illinois made cheese, milk, clove honey, and beer cheese retail items are worth the trek alone you would be remiss not to take one of the farm and creamery tours. For $3 per person you get a behind-the-scenes look at the milking parlor, calf barn and cheese-making process.
One of the largest you-pick apple and peach orchard in the country, Eckert’s Country Store and Farms welcome 500,000 agritourists each year at its locations in Belleville, Millstadt, and Grafton. Eckert’s Millstadt and Grafton retail farms, open seasonally, focus on apples and pumpkins.
Belleville is the heart of the family business, though, where its year-round operations include a gourmet specialty food store, 200-seat restaurant, ice cream shop, and lawn-and-garden center. Customers select from seasonal homegrown peaches, apples, pumpkins, strawberries, blackberries, tomatoes, and Christmas trees.
Sleepy Creek Vineyards has a 10-acre vineyard, and makes wine on-site from their own grapes, as well as with fruit from other growers. Located just 30 miles from Champaign-Urbana, and 2 hours from Chicago and Indianapolis, Sleepy Creek hosts daily wine tastings. You can also make an appointment to tour the winery, and even reserve a room in their B & W (bed and wine) located right above the winery.
Be sure and take some time to relax near their beautiful pond and browse their gift shop where wine, local cheeses, and other snacks and gifts are available.
You won't find Charlie Brown in the The Great Pumpkin Patch, but you will find over 300 varieties of pumpkins, squashes, and gourds from all over the world. The Great Pumpkin Patch is run by Mac Condill, a 5th generation farmer, who with his wife Ginny also own The Homestead Bakery and Homestead Seeds.
Every autumn The Great Pumpkin Patch offers many forms of "agri-tainment," including various mazes, a children's garden, conifer garden, music, food (pumpkin pies, bread, cookies, muffins and more), plus friendly goats, pigs, exotic chickens, rabbits, a llama and an alpaca. The Great Pumpkin Patch is located near the scenic Amish communities of Arthur and Arcola.
Located near the midpoint of Illinois’ portion of Route 66 in Shirley, you can visit Funks Grove Pure Maple Sirup farm and learn how maple trees are tapped in the spring and how maple syrup is made. Syrup season at this multi-generational family business typically begins in mid-February or March, lasting from four to six weeks. Using about 7,000 spouts, or “taps,” the Funk family draws sap from 3,000 sugar maple trees.
Fear not: tapping doesn't hurt the trees. In fact, the same stand of trees in the grove have generously shared their sap with the family for generations. The family makes about 2,000 gallons of the sweet stuff each season and sell it until the supply is depleted, usually August or September. After that? They close up shop until the following season. So what’s with the spelling? Family ancestor Hazel Funk Holmes, who took the reins of the company in the 1920s, wanted the family’s sirup to be spelled with an “i,” which was the preferred spelling back then.
Hardy's Reindeer Ranch is known for its herd of Alaskan reindeer, but also features hay rides, paintball, pedal race cars, and the "Jack Splat Pumpkin Cannon." Located in the countryside near Rantoul, Hardy's also has a Christmas tree farm and a 10-acre corn maze. For added fall fun—and spookiness—they offer “Moonlight Madness" entrance to the corn maze where you work your way through the corn maze solely by by the light of the moon.
Use the map below to visit farms from this article, or search for even more Illinois Farms & Orchards.
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