What’s new at this DeKalb County farm? An expanded bar, a train and a sunflower festival get things started, and there’s plenty more fun that awaits inside.
Living in northern Illinois comes with many perks, and one of them is a front-row seat to the gradual, magical transition from summer to fall. For Kim Kuipers, co-owner of Kuipers Family Farm in Maple Park, this time of year also means opening up her family’s 230-acre farm for all to enjoy.
“We connect people to agriculture and each other,” Kuipers says. “It’s all about coming together as a group and enjoying the wonderful agriculture that the Midwest has to offer.”
Each year, the Kuipers team adds to the farm’s offerings to create a memorable experience for everyone. This year, changes include more bar space, an additional fall flower variety and a new way to tour the property.
The over-21 crowd will especially appreciate the newly expanded bar.
“The adult beverages have become very popular,” Kuipers says. “We’ve always had Kuipers Farm fruit wines and hard ciders on the orchard side of the farm, and we are partnering with Obscurity Brewing again for beer. Last year, they produced an apple cider doughnut beer with us, which was crazy popular. People were waiting around the block at the brewery to get it.”
The Elburn-based brewery has also released a pumpkin beer, and it, too, is on tap at the farm. Kuipers anticipates it will sell out quickly.
“We’re trying to get a better handle on that,” she says. “It’s hard to figure out how much to make. The biggest problem is the beers become so popular they don’t make it through the season.”
For more all-ages fun, Kuipers Farm is expected to unveil Daisy’s Cow Train, a new way to experience the farm’s pumpkin patch on weekends.
“Tractor-drawn cars painted black and white will take you around,” Kuipers says. “You can fit two people in each car. It’s a nice, scenic ride.” Each car is designed to accommodate both kids and adults so that the whole family can enjoy the ride together.
Speaking of beautiful scenery, the Sunflower Festival is back again this year. The field, which contains more than 20 sunflower varieties, creates the perfect backdrop for family selfies and Instagram-worthy shots. Kuipers says she’s excited about incorporating more fall flower varieties into the 7-acre garden this season.
“We’ve got a couple of acres of zinnias out there now. So, besides picking sunflowers, you can add those to your bouquet.” Tickets to enter the festival start around $11 and can be purchased online at YouPickFun.com.
This year, guests will also enjoy expanded shopping options on the pumpkin side of the farm.
“We have a lot of yard ornaments and fall decorations in the store,” Kuipers says. “And of course, all the signature products we make here at the farm – like the apple cider doughnuts, our hard ciders, wines, caramel apples and fudge – will also be available in the store.”
Kuipers says she’s noticed that families tend to have so much fun they stay much longer than planned. So, offering doughnuts and other take-home items near the pumpkin patch makes last-minute shopping more convenient.
Of course, all of Kuipers Farm’s usual family favorite activities return this fall, including the Farmview Railway Train, jumping pillow and apple blasters.
“The train takes you three-quarters of a mile around the orchard side of the farm,” Kuipers says. “It’s a huge hit with kids and adults.”
The apple blasters, which are air-driven cannons, proved very popular during their debut last year.
“You get a bucket of apples and shoot them out at targets in the field,” Kuipers explains. “It was kind of funny to watch the kids trying to get a shot and then hear their dad saying, ‘No, I’m not done.’”
Also returning this year are the pig races and live musicians on the weekends. Any day of the week, visitors can also ride down the mountain slide, get lost in the corn maze, visit the cute farm animals and climb on the “crazy combine,” just to name a few attractions.
No trip to Kuipers Family Farm would be complete without a stroll through the Orchard Shop. “We stock the shop with many locally produced items and gifts,” Kuipers says. Guests can pick up made-from-scratch doughnuts, pies, apple cider and other sweet treats from the store. “You can even order Thanksgiving pies online and pick them up the day before,” she adds.
The Orchard Shop is also the place to go for fresh-picked apples, and the farm grows more than 40 varieties.
“On our website, you can scroll over each apple variety and get a description of what it tastes like and what it’s best suited for,” Kuipers says. “You can sign up to get notified when that variety is in store or in the orchard so you can pick it yourself. This way, you don’t miss out on your favorite one because, with so many varieties, they’re not in the store for very long. You’d hate to miss out.”
Kuipers says that Honeycrisp and Fuji apples are popular, but if you’re feeling adventurous give EverCrisp or Zestar apples a try. Both are crisp and sweet.
Before you head home, wander over to The Farmstand on the pumpkin side of the farm and take your pick. Whether it’s for decoration, pie-making or carving, there are plenty of pumpkins to choose from. While small pumpkins work best for pies, look for the big ones when you want to make a jack-o-lantern.
Kuipers has a few tips for not only picking the right pumpkin but also keeping it looking fresher for longer. “If you get a pumpkin off the vine, make sure it’s the color you want because a green pumpkin probably won’t ripen up after it’s picked,” she says. “My recommendation is that, before you carve it you make a weak bleach water mixture and wipe off the surface. Do the same with all of your carving utensils, just in case there are any bacteria on them. This will help slow down molding and disintegration.”
She adds that keeping the pumpkin in a cool, shaded spot away from hungry squirrels will also prolong its shelf life.
During the fall season, which runs from Aug. 26 to Oct. 31 this year, Kuipers Family Farm is open daily from 9 or 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. The store remains open Thursday through Sunday, with reduced hours from Nov. 2 until the day before Thanksgiving. The best way to get up-to-date information on hours and events is on the website.
Kuipers is looking forward to another fall season welcoming families to the farm.
“It’s a great place to come out, stay connected to agriculture and enjoy each other’s company,” she says. “When you live here, sometimes you don’t realize we are one of the best areas for growing in the United States. People are so far removed from farming nowadays, and I think it’s important to show kids the bigger picture so they appreciate and care for it. That’s our mission.”