The Flaming Fury of Windy Acres

08/27/2011

Food, Local Farms

I will tell you right up front that Flaming Fury is a peach.  The best peach I have eaten in 20 years in Illinois, the best peach I have ever tasted north of South Carolina.  Two Sundays ago, I had an appointment at Windy Acres Farm in Geneva, Illinois.  Windy Acres is an emerald gem of a farmstand, nestled in a very congested, high traffic area, off Fabyan Parkway west of Randall Road.  It’s set back off the road away from traffic noise, behind a little manmade pond with a red swingset next to it.  You can watch for Mr. Corn dancing by the road in his fuzzy green and yellow outfit.  He’s hard to miss.  The farm is family owned and operated by Wayne and Daryl Srail and their kids. 

The peaches were one of several delicious goodies I picked up that day, and when a bit into the first one a couple of days later I swooned.  I called the farm right away and asked what that amazing, sweet, drippy, burning sunset of a peach was called.  “Flaming Fury” was the answer!  The flavor justified the name.  Flaming Fury came from a farm in southern Illinois, and my calendar is marked for August 10th, 2012.  I have a plan!  Next August, I will call to find out what day Flaming Fury peaches are expected.  Then I will call in sick to work, arrive at the farm early — perhaps park my car outside the gate a little before dawn.  I will wear pajama bottoms and an old t-shirt, because I am going to get messy.  As the sun rises and I see activity, I will crawl under the fence and around the pond.  Perhaps a morning mist will cover my approach?  When the farmstand opens I will be at the counter, armed with a week’s pay in cash.  I will find a spot in the sun and have the teenagers surround me with crates of peaches.  (They will run from the crazy peach lady at this point and that’s okay.)  I will bite into the first peach on an August morning and let the juice run down my chin.  I will slurp and I will smile and lean back and groan and finish that first peach, then take another.  I’ll shop carefully among the crates, pick the next: the peachiest, fuzziest, warm from the sun, slightly soft-when-pressed fruit.  I will smile and lean back and bite into that one.  The juice will reach the collar of my t-shirt by the third peach.  I will continue until it’s difficult to move.  Eventually, I will attract yellow jackets.  I will have enough to share, by tossing pits with peach bits intact 10 feet away from my juice-covered person.  I’ll have at least nine more crates for myself.  I may even attract customers as word spreads about the crazy peach lady.  At some point, these nice people will want to call my husband and request a peach intervention, or ask him to at least come get the crazy peach lady out of their parking lot.  I shall loll in the sunlight and wait for John to help me to the car in my peach-drunk state.  Once I sleep it off in the hammock in the shade of Burr Oaks, I’ll make peach cobbler, peach pie, peach smoothies, and have peaches on ice cream.  That’s my plan.

Back to reality:  When I got there, I saw the first mums of the season.  Yellow, rust, and burgundy, row after row.  Cheerful things, mums.  At Windy Acres, they don’t grow everything they sell, but they grow a lot of it and the variety is wonderful.  As each comes into season, they have tomatoes, zucchini, yellow squash, watermelon, musk melon, white onions, yellow onions, purple onions, pears, and peaches.  They have okra, cauliflower, brocoli, kohlrabi, black-eyed peas, and crowder peas. (Eureka!  A source for crowder peas in the north!)  Windy Acres also carries ciders, jams and jellies, relish, syrup, and salad dressings.  In the fall, they sell  homemade apple cider doughnuts.  Since my visit, I’ve learned the doughnuts are a well known treat in the area.  Apparently, I am the only person for miles who has not tried an apple cider doughnut.  All the products were presented in an attractive way and the farmstand was neat and clean.  There were several teenagers working there, along with the Srail’s kids.  Everyone looked happy and relaxed.  I like that about a workplace.   

I introduced myself to Jaime, the smiling, pretty, youngest Srail daughter.  I told her I would stroll, enjoy the color, and take some pictures while I waited to meet her Mom, Daryl.  Fifteen minutes later, Daryl found me as I was picking out peach jam with pecans in it from a farm in Georgia.  (No self-respecting Southerner could walk by that jar without buying it.)  Anyway, Daryl and I sat down on a porch swing to talk, and her husband Wayne joined us.  Daryl had customers to tend to, so turned me over to Wayne.  He said they opened the farm business 28 years ago.  They have four children, all of whom are grown and stick around to help, though all but one have off-the-farm jobs as well.  There are 3 daughters and 1 son, a dog, and 3 turtles that live in the house.  The three I met (kids, not turtles) were bright, happy, and articulate; I assume the fourth is as well.  This, in my opinion says something nice about Mom and Dad.  Wayne told me he grew up in his family’s tavern in Lisle in the 50’s and 60’s and he knew every song on the jukebox.  He spoke very fondly of his childhood and having a close family and I could tell he likes having the kids involved in the farmstand business.

The Srails sell produce at 15 local markets.  “Dang!” I thought.  That’s a lot of work.”  Daughter Jaime works several markets per week: South Elgin on Wednesday, Burr Ridge on Thursday, Bartlett on Friday, Wheaton French Market on Saturday, Geneva French Market on Sunday.  She told me it takes two hours to set up at each, and about the same to break down.  They own one big truck and rent several as needed each week.  Wayne said they face a lot of competition from Michigan farms and it frustrates him.  For example, the same blueberries that fetch $1.50 a pint in Michigan go for $4.00 here, so the Michigan farmers are at all the Illinois markets across the aisle from Windy Acres.  Can’t say I blame the Michiganders, but I understand where Wayne is coming from.  The Srails sell tender vegetable seedlings and perennials in the spring at Chicago markets and do a brisk business.  They grow a lot of hot peppers; in fact they have a new one for sale this year.  It’s a Bhut Jolokia from India — the world’s hottest pepper!  It hits the 1,000,000 mark on the Scoville scale.  I looked online: below it on the scale is the wimpy red habenero; above it, law enforcement grade pepper spray at 3,000,000 plus.  I hope one of you will try it and tell me about it.  (Bhut Jolokia, not the law enforcement grade pepper spray.)  I got a little sweaty just reading about it, so I will own my chicken-ness and take a pass. 

I would like to take a moment at this time to plug Farmer’s Markets and remind everyone that farmers go through the same process each week, multiple times, rain, snow, or shine.  Get out there with your umbrella and support them.  You won’t melt and there are few things more cheerful than bins of bright fruits and vegetables on a rainy day!  Rainy days are slower, so present a good opportunity to chat and get to know your local suppliers.

Windy Acres sells a lot of corn.  It is kept behind the counter and there is a handsome ear with peeled back husk on display for shoppers to ogle for quality.  They used to put the corn out in the bins with the other veggies, but shoppers have a tendency to pull back the husks for a look.  Many even gouge with a fingernail to check for… what?  Some ancient family secret corn test?  Then no one wants THAT ear.  Solution, put it all behind the counter.  (it was gorgeous yellow and white corn, by the way)  At the Downer’s Grove Farmer’s Market, the farm goes through 200 dozen ears of corn every week!  The youngest Srail, Scott, told me a funny story about a farmer’s market in Wheaton.  Windy Acres buys produce from southern farms in the early spring to sell at Illinois markets.  On a typical, cold, blustery, Illnois April morning a customer asked, “Is this corn from your farm in Geneva?”  In Illinois in April, there is nothing growing but desire for warm weather.  I got a chuckle out of that.

Windy Acres creates a petting zoo in the fall and school kids from the City come out in bus loads.  They serve a $6 box lunch to the kids that includes a toy or coloring book.  They take the kids for a wagon ride around the farm, let them pet and feed the animals, talk about what produce is grown, let them pick a little pumpkin to take home.  They have sheep, goats, ducks, chickens, and are adding geese, rabbits, and pigs this year.  They have a half dozen bouncy tents, and a maze for the kids.  They light the place up a night, so the wagon rides continue until 9:00 p.m. if the customers are there.  Wayne said they’re feeling the pinch from budget cuts as schools squeeze out farm visits.  What a shame!  This may be the only opportunity some kids have to see a pumpkin glowing orange in the field, or see a sheep and run their fingers through lanolin-soft wool.  I was invited to come back the 3rd week of September for a tour of the petting zoo and a doughnut and you can bet I will be there!

I asked how much land they work.  Wayne said the rent the adjacent 8 acres, and another 10 acres down the road.  They own 18.5 acres and are thinking about renting or buying more land.  They put out 3-4,00 hybrid tomato plants each year.  There are plans to put in a new veggie washing shed.  Wayne said they have 15 local teens working the counter and markets during the summer.  Now that school is back in session, they are hiring fall help for the petting zoo and markets.  They also hire field help for the summer months.  During the winter, they run firewood and snow plow businesses.  

I asked if there was a CSA option and Jaime told me that they do things a little differently. If you sign up for their Produce Box, they will email you a list of available vegetables each week, and you order the veggies you want in the quantity you like. They will have it washed, packed and ready for you to pick up. This appeals to me a little more than the CSA thing because: A) It’s on my way home from work, and B) I can pick and choose based on what I feel like eating right now, and C) I control the quantity.

 Wayne had to get back to work.  Amanda, the oldest daughter, came by to chat for a while.  She is a high school teacher.  She lives in a nearby town and spends her weekends helping out on the farm.  She and her husband are also San Francisco Giants fans, and make an annual trip to California to attend a game.  (Sounds like a fun trip!)   Another Srail daughter lives in Chicago and is a singer, actress, and waitress.  She, too comes home to work the farm when she can.  

I enjoyed meeting this family and was grateful they gave me so much time.  Before I left, I purchased yellow squash, cucumbers, zuchini, tomatoes, peaches, an onion, my pecan and peach jam and some plain peach jam.  I got a jug of peach cider (which makes an excellent peachy cocktail) and some lovely little yellow pears with a delicate pink blush.  The pears made an excellent lunch all week, paired with pecans and goat Gouda.   I also made a squash casserole, layered with cheese, onion, and tomatoes and eggplant from my garden.  Quite yummy!  Stop by and give Windy Acres a try – it’s worth a special trip.   Please tell the Srails that Mary the Mental Farmer sent you.

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One Comment on “The Flaming Fury of Windy Acres”

  1. Jennifer Richardson Says:

    I LOVE coming along on these field trips with you!
    You write it all so well….such a treat for my senses.
    Really, thanks for the awesome share.
    -Jennifer

    Like

    Reply

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