ERIE-- Carla Jaquet stands in the shade of an apple tree on her 2-acre farm northwest of Erie. A guinea fowl scampers by and squawks. The bird has eggs in a nearby tomato patch.
Jaquet, 51, runs Wild Hare Farmers, a small, family farm, with her son, 25-year-old Corey Jaquet, who has taken to watching over the nearly 75 chickens. Last week, Carla and Corey were surprised with a $2,500 check from Royal Neighbors of America.
This year, Royal Neighbors of America awarded checks for between $500 and $7,500 to 113 women, for a total of more than $100,000, said Rita Toalson, the women-led insurance company's managing editor.
"It's really is about empowering the women and how they can go further and empower someone else," she said. "And in Carla's situation, she has her business with her son, and she'll go that extra mile and help people with what she does on her farm."
Corey Jaquet has Rubinstein-Taybi syndrome, a rare genetic disorder that includes autistic tendencies. About 7 years ago, when he was graduating high school, he announced that he wanted to be a farmer.
"We had to look at how we were going to make that possible for him," Carla Jaquet said. "And so I went back to school and started with a horticulture degree and decided that just 2 years of education wasn't going to be enough. So I went on to Western (Illinois University)."
She earned a degree in recreation, parks and tourism administration, with an emphasis on agritourism, and a minor in environmental management, she said.
Wild Hare Farmers sits on land that's been in Jaquet's family for nearly 50 years. The venture is in its second year, which means in Year One, Jaquet had to deal with the drought.
"I like to say we were practicing that first year. It was baptism by fire with the drought and all that high heat," she said. "It was miserable. My mom said, `You're so hardheaded."'
While not certified organic, Wild Hare Farmers follows organic standards. Jaquet also tills the land by hand, which is what she was doing Wednesday, the day after one of the farm's nine peacocks gave birth to four more.
Wednesday afternoon, the mother peacock was sitting with, and protecting, her newborns in an old truck bed that had been separated from its cab.
In addition to the peacocks and the chickens, the farm has barn cats, three guinea fowl and several varieties of tomatoes, apples, beats, green beans, squash and alfalfa, among others.
Wild Hare Farmers is a cooperative, so it sells its produce, eggs and crops to locals, who have paid for shipments at regular intervals.
Jaquet has a row of corn she had been waiting 2 years to get the seeds for. It's glass gem corn and its kernels alternate between yellow, blue and gray. It's a native heirloom seed, which Jaquet said she wants to help preserve.
With the money from Royal Neighbors of America, Jaquet will buy seeds and other supplies, she said. Eventually, she'd like to get a tractor, a drip irrigation system and grow flowers to sell.