What started as a way to teach her son about the importance of farming has grown into a full-time business for the Erie woman who first put down the farm’s roots a decade ago.
Wild Hare Farmers, a small farm in Erie owned by Carla Jaquet, is a family-based cooperative that brings healthy food to its customers.
Jaquet, 55, started the operation in 2007 as an educational tool, but it wasn’t long before it evolved into a part-time business. In 2016, it became a full-time, year-round operation.
Jaquet said it’s important to the people involved with the operation that the farm maintains its role as a good steward of the Earth, as well as a place that provides a healthy, natural source of food for customers. She uses only natural, environmentally safe products in the gardens.
Wendy Gustaf, 48, who lives outside of Erie, became a customer of Wild Hare Farmers in the spring. She usually purchases produce once a week or once every other week.
“I like the idea of knowing where my food comes from,” Gustaf said, adding that she wants to support local businesses,
Gustaf shops the farm online. She orders the produce and then she and Jaquet arrange a date and time for the food to be picked up.
“Everything I’ve bought has been delicious,” Gustaf said.
Kim Dollieslager, 55, of Erie, has been a customer of Wild Hare Farmers since around 2007.
Dollieslager purchases produce twice a week from the farm, and she enjoys the tomatoes and radishes the most.
She purchases from the farm because she knows Jaquet uses organic methods.
“I trust her growing practices,” Dollieslager said.
Jaquet started a pilot program this year that let’s customers order produce online through the Wild Hare Farmers website. Customers can arrange for delivery or pickup in Erie or can meet Jaquet on Saturdays at the Morrison Farmers Market.
Only about a half-dozen customers use the system now, but there’s a reason for that. Jaquet is trying to fine-tune the system. She said what’s important right now is to be able to supply the demand.
The farm also started using a high tunnel, which is an unheated structure that protects produce from the weather, in hopes of prolonging the growing season.
A family affair
Jaquet’s son, Corey, 28, of Erie, has always been part of the farm. After he graduated high school, he expressed an interest in farming.
Jaquet got a degree in horticulture from Black Hawk College East Campus in Galva. She went on to Western Illinois University and earned a bachelor’s degree in recreation, parks and tourism administration with an emphasis on agri-tourism and a minor in environmental management.
Corey has 12 hens, and their eggs go into the muffins he bakes for the Morrison Farmers Market – with a little help from Mom. He’s also is the top salesman for kale – and he knows his product, too. He said he likes it because it “makes him strong.”
Corey, who has Rubinstein-Taybi syndrome, a rare genetic disorder, also helps with the planting and harvesting of his pumpkin patch.
The land is owned by Jaquet’s mother, Gloria McKenna, 74, of Erie. It has been in the family for more than 50 years.
Other family members help too, including Jaquet’s granddaughter, Zoey Stuart, 5, of Morrison, who grows her own flowers and sells mini-bouquets at the Morrison Farmers Market.
The experience has helped Zoey learn how to coax a plant out of a seed as well as how to budget money.
Jaquet’s youngest granddaughter, Millie Stuart, 2, of Morrison, is the official mud pie maker.
Jodi Youngberg, 47, of Erie, is Jaquet’s sister, and helps with planting and maintenance of the farm’s landscape and flower beds.
Many other people help with preparing for the farms annual open house – this year’s is Sept. 30. and regular maintenance and production.
Jaquet said one of the most rewarding parts of the operation has been what her family has learned and how engaged they’ve become with the process.
What Jaquet has learned
Jaquet said it’s important to never be closed-minded, because there’s always something to be learned.
Since starting the farm, she’s learned that farming’s unpredictable. There’s no guarantee what Mother Nature will hand her during the growing season.
Then, there are the customers. She said it’s rewarding not only when they buy products, but when they take the time to really appreciate the farm. Some customers don’t have time to garden or don’t have the resources or land available to them to garden. Some are no longer able to garden as they’ve grown older, and they rely on Wild Hare Farmers for fresh, local produce.
Produce and events
The farm’s inventory can change weekly, so Jaquet posts updates to Facebook. Items available can also be found at the “Farm Store” on the farm’s website. She’s also working on a weekly email blast to highlight what’s available; those interested can sign up via the “Contact Us” page on the website.
Among her the farm’s offerings – depending on the season, of course – are tomatoes, cherry tomatoes, green beans, sweet corn, kale, bell peppers, onions, hot peppers, cucumbers, fresh herbs and zinnia. They’ll also have freshly brewed organic coffee by the cup Saturdays at the Morrison Farmers Market.
From a project born to help a son to a full-time business, Wild Hare Farms has grown right along side its inventory. It’s no surprise, though, given that there’s such a dedicated family behind the operation: A mother’s land, a mother’s business and, of course, the most important mom of all: Mother Earth.