By CINDY LADAGE
NORMAL, Ill. — The owners of Rader Family Farms have transformed their operation from a traditional grain farm and small honor-system pumpkin patch, to a destination receiving visits from more than 5,000 schoolchildren last year.
Linda Rader shared her family’s story: “We are still grain farmers. My husband, Lynn, and our two sons, Adam and Arin, farm the ground. About 25 years ago, on a whim, my husband planted pumpkins and had a great harvest.”
Setting out a few extra pumpkins for sale wasn’t a big jump because as she said, “We have sold sweet corn for some 30 years, so people were used to coming here. We ran it on the honor system until four years ago. People loved that.”
Expansion came with the Pumpkin Blossom Gift Shoppe and Café. “Four years ago we built this barn and went from the honor system to Visa,” Rader quipped.
The barn has been expanded to include a coffee shop. When Borders bookstore went out of business the Raders bought its coffee shop supplies and incorporated it all right into the barn. “We just added it last year,” she said. “It has been very well received.”
Everything at Rader Family Farms is connected to their farm roots, like the rustic Massey 44 tractor that works as iron art outside the barn. There is no cost to view the decorated pumpkins and the visit to the barn, but there is for the children’s activities and corn maze.
The Rader Family Farms pumpkin patch has become a “must see” stop for schoolchildren and others. The Rader family also host corporate events.
“Companies bring their employees gift cards for perks, then they can come out and we let the company know how many we received. The people like that. We have even had some corporate events where companies had team-building exercises going through the maze.”
Boy and Girl Scouts visit fairly often and the Raders are planning a barn dance for youth groups from area churches this fall. “Some of my staff went to a barn dance and said their kids had the best time. We want to offer something fun in a nice, clean environment,” Rader said.
While most activities take place during the day, on two nights the Raders offer extended hours beyond closing time. “On October 27 and 28 we open after hours for Flashlight Maze,” she explained.
The farm has themed days, with Mondays serving as “Mom and Me” day – moms get in half-price with a paid child admission. Younger women evidently love the farm, because Rader pointed out, “Young moms on Facebook are our best advertisement.”
Wednesdays, everyone gets in half-price and on the weekends there is a stage with live music. The corn maze is a popular attraction for the older kids and adults. “Our big 10-acre corn maze this year is sponsored by Monsanto. They are celebrating 100 years of business,” Rader explained.
This truly is a family operation. Linda and Lynn started the operation and their daughter, Amy Hughes, is over retail operations and is the field trip coordinator. “Every day we have field trips, but Monday. This year we have scheduled home-school students after 2 p.m.,” Linda Rader said.
Amy’s husband, Matt, also assists. “My son-in-law does the website and technical stuff,” Rader said, awed by his ability to program anything and his willingness to help with more.
Arin and Adam both farm and assist with the pumpkin patch on a daily basis, besides holding down full-time jobs. Rader’s hope is this will grow enough that someday, they can focus on the farm alone. Arin’s wife, Abby, is a teacher and Adam’s wife, Shannon, is a nurse and the farm’s marketing person.
“This is a big year,” Rader said, noting that she has been stepping back.
“I oversee; the family is doing a lot.”
The Raders have eight grandchildren and enjoy spending time with family. The staff who work with them also become like family. They hire approximately 100 employees during their short season, using students, as well as teachers for field trips.
The field trips begin in the schoolhouse, an old farm electrical building, with an educational film. During the hayride the guides teach a scripted story about the different kinds of corn and children get to visit the animals. “We have donkeys, goats, lambs, pigs and rabbits,” Rader said. “Our rabbit village is adorable.” There’s also a U-pick pumpkin patch and crops education.
“Agricultural education was the emphasis when we developed this year’s crop circle,” she added. “We planted eight different crops of Illinois (corn, soybeans, sunflowers, sorghum, canola, flax, alfalfa and wheat). We had to water constantly this year.”
With this year’s drought some of the crops didn’t do as well; the guides simply incorporate this, citing what happens when there is not enough rain.
Offering a physically and spiritually clean environment, where the motto of the day is to “Smile and Make Somebody’s Day,” is Linda’s favorite aspect of Rader Family Farms. Rader Family Farms is open six weeks, from Sept. 15-Oct. 31, Monday–Saturday from 9 a.m.-6 p.m., and Sundays from noon-6 p.m.
Located at 1238 Ropp Road in Normal, their phone number is 309-275-8765. Then, the farm reopens the weekend before Thanksgiving for a craft show. For details, log onto www.raderfamily