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DeKalb County producers combine entertainment, activities and freshly harvested produce

Published: Wednesday, Sept. 18, 2013 5:30 a.m. CDT
Caption
(Monica Maschak – mmaschak@shawmedia.com)
Luke Cunningham, 13, of La Grange, bites into a freshly picked early Fuji apple Saturday at Jonamac Orchards. The orchards offer barnyard activities and apple picking through October.
Caption
(Monica Maschak – mmaschak@shawmedia.com)
Laura Vesely, 7, of Woodridge, pulls back on an apple launcher before letting go Saturday at Jonamac Orchards. The Orchards offer barnyard activities and apple picking through October.
Caption
(Monica Maschak – mmaschak@shawmedia.com)
Jacob Byers (right), 6, from Milwaukee, and Aaron Scott, 6, of Frankfort, run around the top of a straw maze Saturday at Jonamac Orchards. The Orchards offer barnyard activities and apple picking through October.

When it comes to entertaining customers during the fall, Honey Hill Orchard co-owner Steve Bock tries to keep things simple.

Bock, who owns the orchard at 11747 Waterman Road in Waterman with his wife, Kathy, has operated the almost 50-year-old orchard for more than 20 years. He says he sees an advantage in providing simple fun for people of all ages at his orchard.

“My adage is if you want the big thrills, go to [Six Flags Great America],” he said. “But out here, we try to keep it simple, wholesome and fun, and more economical for people.”

As new crops are harvested for the fall season, such as pumpkins, squash and gourds, many farm businesses in DeKalb County are treating customers not only to the fall pickings but also to entertainment as well. Apple picking, pumpkin picking, petting zoos, hayrides and corn mazes are just some of the simple outdoor fun farm businesses have in store.

Some of the activities provided by these orchards can cost less than $10 with no admission or parking fees. Malta-based Jonamac Orchard, 19412 Shabbona Road, offers a corn maze during the weekends that costs $5 a person. 

Jonamac Orchard will also host Apple Days starting this weekend. A variety of apples will be available for people to pick on their own. Kevin McArtor, one of the owners of Jonamac Orchard, said this season’s apple crop is the largest in years. 

The orchard faced a massive loss of apples last year because of the icy weather in April, but the crop has recovered nicely, McArtor said.

“We’re expecting you-pick apples available well into mid-to-late October,” McArtor said of the Jonamac’s U-Pick event, which began Aug. 31. 

Jonamac Orchard also is offering pony rides and live music for Apple Days. Johnny Appleseed’s birthday will be celebrated Sept. 28 and there will be an Antique Farm Equipment Show and Pumpkin Fest on Oct. 5. 

McArtor says he enjoys the excitement that the many visitors bring to the fall season.

“It just seems like we all just really thrive on the high levels of activity,” he said. “It’s an anticipation of our middle of our harvest.” 

Honey Hill Orchard will have Belgian horses for wagon rides every weekend from Sept. 28 to Oct. 20. There will also be tractor rides throughout the orchard every weekend until the end of October, Bock said.

The orchard hosts Pumpkin Harvest Weekend from Oct. 11 through 14. Bock said large pumpkins weighing 60 to 90 pounds will be given away to people through a drawing. The pumpkins are grown at the orchard, he said. 

The fall season is the orchard’s “main bread and butter” and a busy time of the year, Bock said. The events offered this fall appeal to children and as a consequence appeal to everyone else, he said. For many children, coming to the orchard can be a learning experience to see farming up close.

“It’s an education for the kids, especially ones in the inner city to get a chance to get out and see what rural America looks like,” he said. 

There’s no fall entertainment happening at the Wiltse’s Farm, 50 West 379 Route 38, Maple Park. But there will be a lot of pumpkins. Joe Wiltse, a farmer with the company, said the farm offers a variety of pumpkins in many colors. People who want to come to the farm to pick out their own pumpkin can do so with no charge for parking, he said. And many of them do – some from areas outside the county such as St. Charles – because they’re not looking for corn mazes or hay rides. 

“Because they want the farm experience, as opposed to amusements,” he said. 

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