It’s no secret that Champaign-Urbana is a micro-urban oasis among the corn and soybean fields of Central Illinois. Over the years we’ve lived here, we’ve come to embrace the seasonality of agriculture and how it impacts our economy and enriches our lives – not to mention how it impacts our tummies. We’re lucky that we don’t have rely solely on farm-to-table restaurants to ensure we eat locally; we can go visit farms, as well as farmers markets, and put their food directly on our own tables.
Many farms in and around Champaign-Urbana have decided to open their doors, barns, and fields to the public. Some are more obvious than others, such as u-pick farm: there’s something about going into a field to pick that perfect pumpkin, apples or strawberries.
We’ve put together a list of Champaign-Urbana area working farms where the public can visit and families can enjoy some fun together. These all range in terms of “how open” they are, so please read carefully. Some are open seasonally; others have specific dates for open houses.
1) Prairie Fruits Farm, Champaign. Probably the most popular time to visit Prairie Fruits Farm is during the spring, when the kids — aka baby goats — are born, making for some truly photogenic moments. But PFF is open for more than just its popular brunch with the babies. Prairie Fruits Farm has open hours where you can a scoop of that delicious goat milk gelato, and still see the goats, and other options, from spring into the fall. And then there’s the famous farm dinners, too, but save that for a special date night. Say hello to their dog Blue for us.
2) Curtis Orchard, Champaign. Curtis Orchard is well known for donuts and cider. But did you know they have honey that was voted the world’s best? And those honeycrisp apples! If you look past the window dressing (and we love the window dressing!), you’ll see that Curtis Orchard is a working farm at its finest. Our review. Open July 20-end of December.
3) Visit an alpaca farm. Alpaca farms near Champaign-Urbana include Sundrop Farms is in Bement, which is outside of Monticello and southwest of Champaign; they have a farm store where alpaca yarn and other homegrown items are for sale. They have days when the animals can be visited, so check their Facebook page (the last weekend in September is their big event). Timberview Alpacas is in Clinton, and offers alpaca yoga. For real.
4) Check out Champaign-Urbana Area U-picks. Taking kids to pick their own food is a really good lesson, especially for little ones, that lots of food doesn’t come from the grocery store. It’s also just fun – there’s nothing like eating that fresh-picked fruit! We’ve got lists of places where you can pick strawberries, blueberries, peaches, and more. Seasonal.
5) Try a Sunflower Maze. Recently our own Mindy Borden profiled the gorgeous sunflower farm in Paris (Illinois, not France.) Typically open in July, the sunflower maze has a short window (read the review!). However the farm has a store and is open for tours, bonfires and other on-farm fun.
6) Try a corn maze. Nothing says fall like walking through a corn maze. And people travel for miles to traverse the Hardy’s Reindeer Ranch corn maze, which covers 10 acres and can take 1-3 hours to get through. Fall is high season for corn mazes, no surprise there.
7) Pick your own flowers. Recently we picked our own lavender at Two Sisters Farm in LeRoy. It wasn’t a very long outing – there’s no frills on that farm, no tourist reason to be there – but it was a fun outdoor family bonding activity. Moon Grove Farm in Mahomet offers pick-your-own-flowers on a limited basis, so check out their social media to plan ahead.
8) Amish Farm Tours. If you want to see something completely different, sign up your crew for an Illinois Amish Farm tour/dinner. While the farm isn’t the center of the tour, it is huge character in the production. Check out this article for more information on how to arrange such a visit.
9) Prairie Farm, Champaign. This isn’t your traditional working farm – it’s run by the Champaign Park District, and the animals there are “borrowed” for the summer. But it’s a great way to introduce kids to animals and agriculture. Free admission daily 1 p.m. to 7 p.m. The petting area is open daily from 3-5 p.m. and is also free. Best kept secret: the camps where kids can work on the farm!
What Champaign-Urbana area farm adventures did we miss?
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