By Rebecca Wells
The husband and wife owners of Prairie Fruits Farm and Creamery did not start out here in Illinois. When Wes was offered a position at the U of I in 2004, he and his wife Leslie made the decision to move and buy a generous plot of land in Urbana to start a fruit tress orchard. They also purchased four dairy goats that year. In 2005 they were licensed as a Grade A goat dairy and farmstead creamery. They’ve been making their own artisan goat cheese, yogurt and numerous flavors of freshly made goat’s milk gelato ever since.
My family and I were fortunate enough to get a sneak peak of what they have in store for us this summer.
The short drive through the country to get to the farm is lovely. As we got closer, I felt as though we were driving through a sea of vibrant golds and greens. As we pulled in, Leslie was there with a cheerful greeting and directed us to a parking spot. My husband and the kids were off to meet the goats, while I started my guided tour. The guided tours are free for children 3 years and under, $5 for children 4-10 years, and $8 for adults. They also offer hours for free self-guided tours.
We began by walking down the freshly laid mulch path that led around the outside seating area and past numerous gardens. We passed a fragrant herb garden, a newly planted tasting garden where visitors can pick and taste fresh produce, and a garden used for their farm to table dinners. They invite local chefs to the farm once a month who create delectable four course meals. Whether you’re looking for a date night dinner or a fun afternoon adventure with the kids, you’re sure to find it here.
Next it was on to the goat barns, the first being the kid barn. The goats sounded so much like actual kids calling out that it brought a big smile to my face. They all seemed to be ravenous as they let out cries of delight and feasted on their abundance of hay. It was an adorable sight that my sons soaked up with pure joy. Right next door the second goat barn is being prepared for the adult goats.
A grassy dirt path continued behind the barns and back to the pastures; complete with what I have dubbed the goat playground. It was such a calm and serene moment looking out over the pastures. Every so often I would see a little group of goat faces poking though the grass as if to say hello.
The milking parlor was next on our tour. It was chilly as we stepped into the little room. I got to see where the milk is collected and sent to the creamery to be made into all sorts of tasty products. A viewing window will be coming soon so that visitors can see the goats during milking time.
We walked down the path a bit and arrived at the you-pick orchards. The glossy green leaves against the bright blue of the sky was a sight to behold. It was a beautifully clear midwest afternoon. The lush orchard is made up of apple, pear and peach trees. I’m delighted to report that there will be sweet juicy peaches for the picking in just 3-4 weeks.
As we moved on Leslie pointed out an over grown area up ahead. This area will be cleared to make a path to the front lawn. The lawn will become a kids play area. There will be hay bales, tunnels and hammocks for relaxing and taking in the view.
We walked past a large red and white barn as we discussed the new farm store, The Real Stand, being created inside. Not only will they be selling their beloved cheese, gelato and yogurt, they will also offer a variety of local farm products. The store will stock local meats, veggies, other fruits, fresh local eggs and eventually hand-crafted soaps and raw milk. They are working on getting certified to sell raw milk which they will sell in bottles. All of the products sold will come from local farms that uphold the highest standard of agriculture and livestock care. “Here you know how your food was raised and made” says co-owner Leslie.
Our final stop on the tour was the beautiful dining barn where they host farm to table dinners. I looked up at the wooden beams and lights strung across the ceiling as I daydreamed about the scrumptious meals and delightful laughter that must regularly fill the space. While I was looking around I spotted a real live gelato maker creating and packaging fresh gelato back in their commercial kitchen. She looked up at me with a bright smile. That same bright smile worn by all of the staff I had encountered. There is an air of purpose and joy at Prairie Fruits Farm that you need to come and experience for yourself. Before we left my kids picked out two different flavors of gelato to bring home. I admit one of them may possibly have been for me.
My family and I had a fantastic time visiting the farm today. We can’t wait to go back for a farm to table dinner. First and foremost Prairie Fruits Farm and Creamery is a working farm. The owners ultimate goal is to create a tranquil spot to relax, have great food and spend time with family and friends. They’re open for self-guided farm visits and farm product purchasing Wednesday through Friday, 11:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. and Saturday-Sunday, 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.
Rebecca Wells is a Champaign-Urbana townie who stepped back from her career as a preschool teacher to stay at home with her two spirited boys. She has been a local food blogger for three years now and is thrilled to be pursuing her dream of food writing. Her other passions include cooking, singing and playing guitar with her handsome husband.