Helen's Mulberry Lane Farm Journal
Several newspapers have covered our farm over the last week or so. I thought I would print one that Dan Cusack wrote for MSTNDaily.com. Thanks Dan!
Mulberry Lane Farm; Organic Farm Is A Family Thing
Nestled away between Interstate 57 and Route 45 in Loda is the one of the best kept secrets in all of Iroquois County.
For eighteen years, the Aardsma family has maintained and cultivated Mulberry Lane Farm, the only organic strawberry farm in all of Illinois.
Signs along the route will direct travelers to the location. Helen Aardsma said some are underwhelmed by the size of the farm when they arrive, (only 1.4 acres!) but once they eat the strawberries and see the quality of their product they become believers.
Mulberry Lane Farm is an organic farm and “health food store.” They sell organic fruits, vegetables, meat and other food supplies from a store on the property at 414 Mulberry Street in Loda.
This weekend, the farm will begin three weeks of U pick strawberries. Customers can come to the farm and pick organic strawberries with a minimum purchase of 5 lb. per two pickers. There is no minimum for children under 10 years of age, if accompanied by an adult over eighteen. U pick strawberries are $2.99 per lb., while pre-picked strawberries are $4.99 lb. The price for pre-picked strawberries decreases as the season progresses.
If anyone is interested in U Pick, call ahead and do not assume the strawberries will be there. Aardsma said people travel from all over the Midwest to pick in the garden or get their hands on the organic strawberries.
“People love the U pick events,” Aardsma said. “The kids enjoy it; they get to see our farm and see the animals. It is a great family activity.”
Helen Aardsma runs the farm with her family. She said the farm began as a way to provide food for the family and to give her the opportunity to stay at home to raise her children.
The Aardsma family has ten children and each was home schooled. During the winters, the children would focus on schoolwork and during the summers they would work on the farm.
“It allows me to have a career, but it also allows me to be home with my kids, which is really my priority,” Aardsma said. “We homeschool our children, so work was all part of their training. They serve customers, make bread, have their little egg business and work on the farm.”
Her children range from fourteen years old to thirty-seven years old. The family has eighteen grandchildren, but that number continues to grow! Only three children still live at home, while some who are married and have moved out still come by the farm to help from time to time. This is especially true during the busy seasons.
“I think it has provided a good work ethic for the family and the kids have had to work really hard, but it has been very rewarding in that we get to eat good, quality food and be together,” Aardsma said.
Her husband, Dr. Gerald Aardsma, has a Ph.D. in Physics from the University of Toronto, Canada, and does his own private research from the home. He is an author, scientist, and biblical chronologist. Dr. Aardsma is currently involved in Bible/science research into the cause of human aging. He publishes articles on The Biblical Chronologist.
He works primarily on his research, but Helen Aardsma said he loves to farm and it is a great getaway from his intense, intellectual work.
“He is really the brains behind the garden,” Helen Aardsma said. “He has graphs, Excel charts and everything. He has a schedule that reminds him every day what he has to do in the garden. It is kind of a meshing of the old fashioned technology with the new security cameras and laptops.”
Not only is the Aardsma family self-sufficient when it comes to food supply, the same can be said about the families' businesses.
The Aardsma family sells fresh organic food from the farm, grains and dried foods they buy in bulk, canning lids nationwide from www.MulberryLaneFarm.com and educational materials ( Dr. Aardsma's Math and Spelling Drills) for students of all ages.
Helen and Gerald do all of the work for these endeavors including creating the websites, building the online cash registers, accounting and marketing.
“We set it up exactly the way we wanted it; instead of buying software programs and not using 90 percent of it,” Helen Aardsma said. “We are kind of unusual in that we have the skills to do this. When you are a small business and have to hire people do things for you, it is very hard to make a living.”
The money raised from the farm helps finance the Aardsma's Christian writing ministries. Check out Aardsma Research and Publishing.
“We are both writers in Christian Ministry,” Aardsma said. “This is called tent-making; providing our own income by working ourselves. Our main priority next to our family is our Christian ministry. Mulberry Lane Farm supports us so that we can write and do our research.” Helen's ministry website is The Mother's Companion, "Encouraging Christian Women in the Art of Mothering."
How It Works
Back breaking labor goes into maintaining the farm. Mulberry Lane does not used pesticides or herbicides, and uses colleccted rainwater to water the plants. Each weed is picked by hand to maintain a fresh look and a healthy farm.
“You have to be small to be organic,” Aardsma said. “With the strawberry plants you have to replace a row every three years. So it is like having a garden of perennials. That means we have to go through and weed by hand. The big growers have sprays. We don’t.”
Last spring, a frost wiped out strawberry crops across the Midwest. Mulberry Lane Farm was able to cover their strawberries and had the only batch in the entire state of Illinois. Because of the shortage, people came from all over the mid-west to pick.
They also raise two calves, three pigs, meat chickens and egg laying chickens. They sell the meat and also use it as a food source for their own household during the year. The animals are also raised organically. The animals eat food scraps and leftovers from the farm that are over ripe or cannot be sold for various reasons.
“The animals are butchered by a USDA inspected butcher,” Aardsma said. “The meat we sell is the same meat that we eat. I am convinced if it is good enough for me, it is good enough for our customers!”
The animals provide another service as manure is used as fertilizer for the plants.
“It is called sustainable agriculture; things go in one big circle,” Aardsma said.
Customers know they are getting the freshest food imaginable when they stop in for a purchase. Aardsma takes the order and goes directly outside to pick it from the garden. She said 50 percent of the customers are just people coming through town, while the other 50 percent are regulars who come once or twice a week.
The increasing popularity of organic diets and the push to buy local has really grown the business.
“You have a younger generation who are having fewer children and can afford to give them the best of everything. I think organic and non-GMO is a big part of that,” Aardsma said.
Strawberries are not the only thing grown at the farm, although they are the most popular. They also grow black raspberries, potatoes, corn, green beans, rhubarb and lettuce among dozens of other items.
On Friday’s and Saturday’s they sell homemade rhubarb pies, homemade French bread and other baked goods. All of these items are made with materials from the farm.
The U pick strawberries begins the first week in June and will last three full weeks. Strawberries can be reserved for pick-up, but one must call ahead. If one plans to U Pick, call ahead because it is first come, first served. Those who are interested can contact the farm at (217)386-2690 or e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Mulberry Lane Farm is open Monday to Saturday 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Mulberry Lane Farm strawberry fridge magnets
made by my daughter-in-love, Esther.
Now for sale in our store!