Royal Oak Farm & Orchard
Best Farm to Visit
When Peter and Gloria Bianchini purchased the Hebron Road property in Harvard in the 1980s, it was with the intention of having “a nice, quiet spot in the country” to which they would retire, says Sarah Bell, the Bianchinis’ granddaughter.
Upon their retirement in 1992, the couple hired a farm manager for the property, who suggested planting apple trees. The next farm manager suggested planting more apple trees.
“Eventually, they had to think about what they were going to do with all the apples,” Bell says.
The answer lay in turning the farm into a destination that the Bianchinis, deeply devoted to their Christian faith, envisioned as a “true blessing to families,” Bell recounts.
Opened fully to the public in 1997, Royal Oak Farm Orchard comprises 20,000 trees, representing 30 varieties of apples, on 160 acres.
Beyond the apples available for purchase or a day of picking, the property’s old tractor shed now houses the gift shop, a bakery, a country kitchen and an apple barn. Young guests ride the Royal Oak Express Train and Royal Oak Carousel before visiting the playground and petting zoo. The country’s only apple tree maze, the Amaze ‘N Adventure, offers 1.5 miles of walking trails, three activity areas, a central climbing tower and games to play. Guests can pick their way through the maze’s nine varieties of apples.
Bianchini, a former land developer, laid out each addition “in an aesthetic way,” Bell recalls, so guests could appreciate the land’s “beauty and awe.”
Royal Oak has also been a blessing to the Bianchini family, as four generations live on the farm and have taken on various aspects of the business. Bell describes the staff of 100 who work on the farm at the height of the season as also being “like family.”
As the Bianchinis intended, Royal Oak continues to live up to its motto: “to glorify God on our family farm by serving our community, growing family traditions, and producing quality fruit.”
Location: 15908 Hebron Rd., Harvard, IL
royaloak.farm | 815-648-4141
Pearce’s Farm Stand
Farming is engrained in the Pearce family, as evidenced by sixth-generation patriarch Bob Pearce’s commitment to cultivating crops with his wife, Mary Ann Pearce. The couple began farming in the mid-1950s, and subsequent generations of the Pearce family have also joined in on the operation. Through the years, Pearce’s Farm Stand has offered a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables, including apples, beets, cucumber, green beans, leeks, tomatoes, winter squash and zucchini, as well as herbs like basil and dill, and even distinctive fall decorations.
Location: W5740 N. Walworth Road, Walworth, WI
pearcefarms.com | 262-275-3783
Lake Geneva Farmer’s Market
Best Farmers’ Market
With its focus on locally made and harvested goods and products, Lake Geneva’s seasonal market operates from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Thursdays, from early May to late October. Vendors sell handcrafted and homegrown items, including cheese, coffee, plants, pastries, seafood, soap and — it goes without saying — fruits and vegetables.
Location: Horticultural Hall, 330 Broad St., Lake Geneva, WI
horticulturalhall.com | 262-248-4382
Woodstock Farmers’ Market
Best Farmers’ Market
This year-round market fluctuates between the seasons, with an outdoor format in the summer that features about 40 vendors on Saturdays and 30 vendors on Tuesdays. In late fall, winter and early spring, the market goes indoors with about 15 regular vendors on Saturdays. A sampling of the artisan products available include baked goods, beef, cheese, eggs, honey, pork and poultry, in addition to crafts, body products, flowers, hanging baskets and soaps.
Location: Woodstock Square (summer), 121 W. Van Buren St., Woodstock, IL, and
McHenry County Fairgrounds (winter), 12015 Country Club Road, Woodstock, IL
Apple Barn Orchard & Winery
Best Farm to Visit
One of Judy Jacobson’s favorite memories is of the day that a man came into the country store and began to look around with great interest. “I remember coming here as a little boy,” the man told Judy. His mother, he said, had a framed picture of the Apple Barn that had hung in her kitchen for years. “Do you know what I’m talking about?” he asked Judy. “I think I do,” she said. She showed him a framed vintage postcard. “That’s it!” he told her.
Judy explained that she didn’t have any more of the postcards, but if the man would leave his name and address, she would send him one when more were printed. She did him one better. When the postcards came in, Judy had a friend make a frame out of barn wood and then mailed the framed postcard to the man.
Steve Jacobson and his wife Judy are the sixth-generation owners of the land on which the Apple Barn Orchard and Winery stand at W6384 Sugar Creek Road in Elkhorn. Steve’s parents, Jim and Karen Jacobson, planted the first orchard in 1976 on what had long been a dairy farm. When Steve and Judy took over the farm in 1985, they planted apple trees on 40 acres. Today, their farm has 4,000 apple trees with 14 varieties, a vast strawberry patch, a cider and winemaking operation, and the country store with made-from-scratch bakery items such as maple syrup, jams and jellies, butter, salsas, Wisconsin cheese and gifts for the home.
“When you’re in the hustle-bustle, you don’t realize that you’re making memories,” Judy says.
But Judy knows from the blueberry-picking trips to Michigan with her own children and grandchildren, how those family times are etched in the minds of children. “We’ve had families that came as children, and now they’re returning with their grandchildren,” Judy says. “Anything local, fresh and homemade is really important,” Judy says. “That’s why they’re coming.”
The family-oriented Apple Barn Orchard and Winery moves with the rhythm of the seasons, kicking off in June with strawberries. Around mid-July the country store shifts its focus to mostly wine and cheese, until September through November, when apple-picking season begins. Then, during the holidays, the store sells pies, apple cider, holiday-label wines and Christmas gifts.
Steve began the winemaking operation in 2004 by learning and experimenting at home. For the past five years, master winemaker Jake Drefs has overseen the off-season winemaking operation. Estate wines come from the strawberries, apples and pears grown on the property. The raspberries, peaches, blueberries, rhubarb, blackberries and cranberries for the other wines are grown on other Midwest farms. In warm weather, food trucks come to the farm, and customers can sample the fruit wines from the outdoor wine bar.
But back in 1985, Judy had no idea what the farm would become. Every time they ran out of room they expanded, creating space for each new idea.
“You’re doing what you’re doing, and you’re doing it in chapters,” Judy says.
The Jacobsons began supplying local grocery stores with their apples, cider and wine. They also began collaborating with an online shop that ships wine all over the country. Soon, the farm’s reputation had spread far beyond Elkhorn.
Still, there’s nothing quite like being there. A visit to Apple Barn Orchard and Winery transcends buying fresh fruit and gifts.
“It’s all about making memories and experiencing the farm life,” Judy says.
Location: W6384 Sugar Creek Rd., Elkhorn, WI
applebarnorchardandwinery.com | 262-728-3266
Thank you to all of the businesses who provided their photographs to include in the feature.