Van Laar’s Fruit Farm
“WHERE QUALITY RIPENS”
Julie and Brian Van Laar’s dream of creating a family fruit farm began twelve years ago when they decided to move from their suburban home in Lisle to 40 acres in Capron, IL. Their vision has always been to grow the farm for their children to take over one day. Along with their five children, Jonathan, Katelyn, Sarah, Rachel and David, the Van Laar’s focus on sustainable practices when growing their fruits and vegetables. The family uses non-gmo seeds to grow strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, peaches, apples, sweet corn, tomatoes, green & yellow beans and a hard red winter wheat which they take to an artisan grinder. The family focuses on a diversification of crops in order to maintain a sustainable farm. The Van Laar’s also raise chickens on pasture and sell the eggs at farmers markets.
June is strawberry season and a really busy time on the farm! For about four weeks you will find the family in one of the three strawberry patches which cover three acres of their property. They pick over a 1,000 quarts a week for several, local farmers markets and restaurants. Raspberry season follows soon after and the family switches over to picking raspberries. They recently completed building a high tunnel to protect the raspberry plants from bugs.
The Van Laar’s began growing apple, pear and peach trees back in 2004. The fruit farm now has about 4500 apple trees, 500 peach trees and 100 pear trees. They rely on the European method using a trellis and pruning like a vine which allows for more sun and a sweeter final product. They will begin picking Zestar apples in August followed by Gala in September. During harvest time the family relies on seasonal help from local youth to help with picking.
The Van Laar’s farming practices focus on mostly organic, eco-friendly methods. Crop rotation, cover crops and natural pest control in the form of free-range chickens are some of the strategies that the family rely on. A poly-wog pond on their property ensures that there will be plenty of frogs to help control pests in the strawberry fields. The Van Laar’s have 16 hives on their property which produce the honey they sell as well as pollinate their fruit trees. The family uses organic based compounds for fertilizer and pest management, however, they will use a chemical counterpart if there is a bad pest problem. The Van Laar’s continually learn about new farming methods from other farmers as well as through classes at universities such as Cornell and Michigan State University.
The Van Laar’s farm is always evolving and in 2014 they built a cider house to produce their unpasteurized cider which they sell at farmers markets. The building also houses a farm kitchen and they were just recently approved to produce and sell jams (coming soon to farmers markets!). Julie and Brian help to cultivate the different interests of their children. While some have a passion for growing veggies and wheat, others have interests geared towards prepared foods such as jams and pastries. With more ideas on the horizon the Van Laar’s continue to grow their family farm business for future generations.
You can visit the Van Laar’s booth at the Woodstock Farmers Market on Tuesdays and Saturdays on the Woodstock Square, May – October and then on scheduled Saturdays at the McHenry County Fairgrounds, November – April.