Is there anything as lovely as a field of Zinnias at Rendleman Orchards?
The acre field that my friend Rose Hammitt and I drove south to Alto Pass, Illinois to see is the brain child of Michele Sirles, Vice President of Rendelman Orchards. The orchards have been in business since 1873, but this is the first year for the Zinnia field!
The field and the orchard is a great opportunity for families to reconnect with agriculture. “People are seeing the latest harvest go by,” said Michelle. “People are so disconnected from the farms because so many farms have disappeared. Everyone used to have an aunt or uncle with a farm that they would spend time with during the summer.”
Today that isn’t so and the orchard, the Zinnia field and Rendelman Orchards farm market help reconnect visitors with the importance of farming. Plus, it is just plain fun!
Farm Market at Rendelman Orchards
Rose and I met up with Michele in the Farm Market building which she said they built 16 years ago. “I have been here for 29 years and this is my 5th year full time in the business,” Michelle said.
After her last daughter went off to college, Michelle joined the team full time. Her husband Wayne’s family has had the orchard business and she was excited to turn her marketing experience into designing a new logo and creating a private label program for their products.
“We are the 5th generation and this is our 146th year in business,” Michelle explained.”
They have long been a wholesale orchard and lately have been also concentrating on the retail aspect. The Zinnia field is one of the new retail additions. “When I first joined five year’s ago, Wayne’s mom Betty was the harvest crew boss and part of the harvest quality control. This is Betty’s first year fully retired. Since they (Ren Wayne’s dad along with Betty) retired, I took over the farm market.”
Our Tour at Rendelman Orchards
Michelle loaded Rose and I up on an ATV and away we went for our orchard and flower field tour. We drove by a cool 1873 sign that was HUGE. “This winter we put up the sign. It will be the entry this fall to our corn patch!”
This was the agri-tainment area where they also had a fun chicken coop. Michelle said she was amazed by how popular the chickens were. “Customers were just crazy over the live chickens. Nine out of ten said they had never seen live chickens!”
In this area they also had a barn with the American Flag painted by a local artist. There was an area with a few borrowed goats and a surprise baby goat that they had a fun naming contest! The name Rennie was the winner!
Near this area is there you pick pumpkin patch, and then there is a yellow brick road of Zinnia flags to follow to the Zinnia field! All you see once you get there is color, a glorious riot of color!
Here there is a pole with scissors so you can cut and purchase flowers to take home. There is a path you can walk into the field of Zinnas. “We used a mower to make a path,” Michelle added.
Zinnias were chosen because they are so long lasting.
Next year they plan to plant this again because it has been so popular. In fact they even have a butterfly bench where you can sit and take pictures. Every morning Michelle has seen photographers and visitors headed for the field!
Rendelmans also plan to add a butterfly habitat as well. In the fall the sunflowers will bloom. Last year the theme was Sunflower Fields Forever!
Events at Rendelman’s Orchard
With local farm markets a big deal and the farm house movement, Rendelman Orchards market has been a very popular place. What also brings in the crowds is Michelle’s events that she has created like the upcoming Fashion at the Farm which will be held on Saturday, September 21 from 9-4. “I have become the event planner for weekend events!”
This event is an expansion of the idea of seeing young girls all dressed up coming out to the sunflower field last year. They realized they were coming to take their picture and they were receiving photos on Instagram and twitter of lovely pictures in the Sunflower field. When they saw all the cool outfits they teamed up with some of the local boutiques and the Fashion at the Farm is the result.
This year, there is the Zinnia field where many a picture is being taken and soon the Sunflower field will bloom in early fall! Another cool fall item Rendelman Orchards is offering is a photo op with a jeep next to an old gas pump this fall with the theme, “Life is a Road Trip.”
Some events are as simple as peach slushies during peach season on the weekend, then during apple season, apple slushies and the ever popular apple cider donuts that bring visitors from hours away!
Continuity with the past
While bringing in a bit of retail has changed things a bit, the marketplace also reflects the past. “The roof is from Wayne’s great-great grandpa’s barn and the rusty awnings are from the Great Depression off our mule barns. The barns that Grover Rendelman brokered mules with saved our farm. Around the store are black and white photos of generations of Rendelmans!”
Walking around the market you will also see items displayed on Helen Rendelman’s Hoosier cabinet from the early 1900’s. “We have used wooden nail kegs and other items in the market as well,” Michelle shared pointing out the old picking ladders that were serving as shelves.
From a recent trip to Germany with the Illinois Farm Bureau, the Rendelman’s decided to partner with some Illinois companies. Then they created what Michelle called super local products. They came up with some Apple Brats, Peach Ice Cream and more! “I’m speaking at the German Embassy about how this trip helped our business. the goal is to get farmers to think hyper local.”
Teaming up with other Illinois businesses were a win win for all. They have a few products that are strictly their own, their apple cobbler and crisp mix. These are their private recipes and are mixed onsite.
To learn more about the orchard, log onto Rendleman Orchards website. You may want to stay at nearby Cave Creek Cabins that are located just a quarter mile away. These cabins offer a chance to enjoy a quality stay nearby and take in some of the other great things to do in Southernmost, Illinois.