ERIE – Sure, there are a lot of things growing on Wild Hare Farmers – flowers, produce, animals.
But the most important thing growing on the farm is one that's priceless: the family tree. Without it, Wild Hare would have never taken root – but it did, and today that family tree is still growing and branching out into a business that supplies customers with homegrown, healthy food.
This growing concern was started by Carla Jaquet of Erie as a way to teach her son, Corey, about the importance of farming. Corey has Rubinstein-Taybi syndrome, a rare genetic disorder that can, among other things, make learning difficult.
Today, those teachable moments have become a full-time, family-based cooperative.
Jaquet, 55, started the operation in 2007 as an educational tool, but it wasn’t long before it evolved into a part-time business. In 2016, it became a full-time, year-round operation.
Among her the farm’s offerings – depending on the season, of course – are tomatoes, cherry tomatoes, green beans, sweet corn, kale, bell peppers, onions, hot peppers, cucumbers, fresh herbs and zinnia. They’ll also have freshly brewed organic coffee by the cup Saturdays at the Morrison Farmers Market.
Jaquet said it’s important to both her family and her customers that the farm maintains its role as a good steward of the Earth. She uses only natural, environmentally safe products in the gardens.
Wendy Gustaf, 48, who lives outside of Erie, started shopping at Wild Hare Farmers this past spring.
“I like the idea of knowing where my food comes from,” Gustaf said, adding that she also likes to support local businesses.
“Everything I’ve bought has been delicious,” she said.
Kim Dollieslager, 55, of Erie, has been a customer of Wild Hare Farmers almost as long as it's been open. She said Jaquet's commitment to organic methods also is a big draw for her.
“I trust her growing practices,” Dollieslager said.
A family affair
Jaquet earned a degree in horticulture from Black Hawk College East Campus in Galva. She went on to Western Illinois University and earned a bachelor’s degree in recreation, parks and tourism administration with an emphasis on agri-tourism, and a minor in environmental management.
Corey, 28, of Erie, has always been part of the farm, but he began taking a more hands-on role after graduating from high school.
He has 12 hens, and their eggs go into the muffins he bakes for the Morrison Farmers Market – with a little help from Mom. He’s also the top salesman for kale, and he knows his product, too. He said he likes it because it “makes him strong.”
Corey also helps with the planting and harvesting of his pumpkin patch.
The land is owned by Jaquet’s mother, Gloria McKenna, 74, of Erie and has been in the family for more than 50 years.
Other family members help, too, including Jaquet’s granddaughter, Zoey Stuart, 5, of Morrison, who grows her own flowers and sells mini-bouquets at the Morrison Farmers Market.
The experience has helped Zoey learn how to coax a plant out of a seed as well as how to budget money.
Jaquet’s youngest granddaughter, Millie Stuart, 2, of Morrison, is the official mud pie maker.
Jodi Youngberg, 47, of Erie, is Jaquet’s sister, and helps with planting and maintenance of the farm’s landscape and flower beds.
Many other people help around the farm as well, preparing for special events, and taking care of routine maintenance and production.
Learning and growing
Jaquet said one of the most rewarding parts of the operation has been what her family has learned and how engaged they’ve become with the process.
Jaquet said it’s important to never be closed-minded, because there’s always something to be learned.
Since starting the farm, she’s learned that farming’s unpredictable. There’s no guarantee what Mother Nature will hand her during the growing season.
Then, there are the customers. She said it’s rewarding not only when they buy products, but when they take the time to really appreciate the farm. Some customers don’t have time to garden or don’t have the resources or land available to garden. Other can no longer garden themselves, and they rely on Wild Hare Farmers for fresh, local produce.
On the farm
Customers can pick up Wild Hare's products at the Morrison Farmers Market through Oct. 20, and at Shaheen's Village Market in Erie.
Jaquet's also started a pilot program this year that lets customers order through the Wild Hare Farmers website. Customers can arrange for delivery or pickup in Erie or can meet Jaquet on Saturdays at the Morrison market.
Jaquet is still fine-tuning the system, making sure the demand doesn't outpace the supply.
The farm also started using a high tunnel, which protects produce from the weather and prolongs the growing season.
The farm’s inventory can change weekly, so Jaquet posts updates to Facebook. Items available can also be found at the “Farm Store” on the farm’s website. She’s also working on a weekly email blast to highlight what’s available; those interested can sign up via the “Contact Us” page on the website.
From a project that started as learning tool to a full-time business, Wild Hare Farmers has grown right alongside its inventory. It’s no surprise, though, given that there’s such a dedicated family behind the operation: A mother’s land, a mother’s business and, of course, the most important mom of all: Mother Earth.
How to buy
Wild Hare Farmers, 8060 Elston Road in Erie, doesn’t have regular open hours for the public, but the public can buy products at the Morrison Farmers Market on Saturdays.
The market, 204 E. Lincolnway, is open from 8 to 11 a.m. every Saturday through Oct. 21.
Produce is also available at Shaheen’s Village Market, 707 Main St., Erie. The store's hours are 7:30 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. Monday through Friday, 7:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. Saturday and 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday. Call 309-659-2901 or go to shaheengrocery.com for more information.
Go to wildharefarmers.com/farm-store to order produce.
Contact the farm