Grace: seemingly effortless charm or divine favor. The name certainly applies to Grace Farm, 2719 Franklinville Road in Woodstock. I packed up my two small kids for an hour-long drive in search of affordable organic raspberries, but we took home so much more!
Grace Farm offers 9 varieties of organically-grown raspberries which are available now thru October for U-Pick on Fridays and Saturdays from 9am-4pm. You can also visit the property on Monday thru Thursday if you call ahead at (815) 790-8895.
Raspberries are $4 per pint, but make the effort to call ahead and visit on a Tuesday when berries are only $2 per pint! An incredible deal for organic raspberries that you won’t find in a grocery store.
When you call, you will most likely speak to farmer and co-owner, Mike Owney, or who we dubbed, “Farmer Mike.” Just from that first phone call, I knew Grace Farm would be a special place. Farmer Mike spoke enthusiastically about the berries and the farm and his excitement was infectious. When people love what they do, they make you love it too.
We received a warm welcome from Farmer Mike himself who dropped what he was doing to give us a tour. He took the time to educate us about the plants and how to find the best berries. No need to sneak berries into our mouths while picking, taste-testing was encouraged! There was more info than I could ever hope to remember, but the attention Mike gave us was duly noted. This wasn’t some high school kid on a summer job robotically handing out pails. This was the man who planted the plot. The love and care he put into his work was a joy to share.
Berry-picking can be tough work when you’re 3, 1, or even 30-something years old, so it’s good to know that Grace Farm has other diversions for families. Chief among them are their icelandic sheep and llama, raised for their wool. You can purchase yarn or wool batts for quilting in their store and fiber arts classes are even available. Of course none of that concerned my son… he just wanted to feed them!
I’d like to note these were grass-fed animals. No pellets here! Their enclosure was spacious and clean. I always appreciate seeing animals treated well and it was good to see that Grace Farm extends its sustainable practices to their animals as well. Check out these chickens! That’s the real definition of free-range, no “cage-free” nonsense here.
Again, Farmer Mike dropped everything he was doing to help my son feed the animals and tell him all their names. When mom wanted to get back to picking, he promised he would bring my son back before we left. He even hoisted him up to feed the llama. Despite working the farm, he made us feel he was at our disposal. This was his home and we were his guests, and the children were the VIP’s.
To be honest, this raspberry-picking experience is not for everyone. If you are looking to comfortably haul away a ton of cheap raspberries you will probably be disappointed. The plants are grown under poly-film tunnels. While these tunnels create great growing conditions for the plants, it also heats the space up and will make a hot day much hotter. Grace Farm’s different varieties of raspberries ripen at different times. You have to search for the ripe berries and color alone is not a true indicator of ripeness. The berries are ripe when a gentle tug releases the berry from the stem, so you have to poke around and taste-test. Little hands aren’t typically capable of the kind of patience and finesse needed. Some varieties, like the black raspberries, have thorns. Delicate berries soon become mush from over-eager pickers. Thankfully, my almost 3-year old was perfectly content following bugs around the plants and popping an occasional berry into his mouth, while the baby rode on my back.
And speaking of bugs, yes there were bugs. Lots of them, but not the biting kind or what my toddler calls “bad-guy-bugs.” There were ladybugs, bumblebees, beetles, grasshoppers, spiders, and this beauty right here…
The creepy crawlies delighted my son who squealed with excitement over each new “friend” he found. It occurred to me that he wouldn’t have this experience if these were not organically-grown plants. Pesticides would have kept all the bugs away.
Other critters were hanging about as well. Twice I was surprised by birds flying out at me that were hiding in the foliage. But that’s nature for you! This wasn’t agri-tainment neatly packaged for mass consumption. This was the kind of place that gave you the feeling, “Gee, this is how a farm should be!”
When purloined raspberries weren’t enough to fill little tummies, we settled down for a snack. Grace Farm has a lovely shaded area perfect for a picnic lunch. When you’re driving in from Lake County, best to pack some food and make a day of it to keep the crankies at bay. No one will rush you away here. Take some time to take a deep breath and enjoy the countryside. Rustic and rural isn’t just a marketing term here. Grace Farm is as real as it gets.
After a couple hours with plenty of breaks in between, we only managed to gather two pints of berries. I would have felt embarrassed to return home to Daddy after a day in the country with just two pints of berries to show for it. Just my luck the Grace Farm storefront had other goodies available. We snagged a box of handmade Dark Chocolate-Raspberry Fudge ($3 for 1/2 lb. box / $5 for 1 lb. box) with the knowledge that Daddy would now deem it a successful trip.
The visual centerpiece of the farm is the restored 1849 Dairy Barn which houses a quilting exhibit. The barn was one of the first dairy barns in the country and Grace Farm is an anchor site for the Northern Illinois Quilt Fest. There is no charge to view the exhibit.
So you won’t find rides, cartoon characters, or hot dogs down on Grace Farm. Not that there’s anything wrong with those things, but Grace Farm is decidedly much more low-key than that. You also won’t find aloof workers, big crowds, and nickel-and-dime attractions. You won’t even pay anyone – you pay a jar! Grace Farm runs completely on an honor system. What you find here is a genuine farm with genuine people. Warm fuzzies freely given at no extra charge.
2719 Franklinville Road, Woodstock, Il 60098
Ph: (815) 790-8895