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posted: 10/18/2013 5:28 PM

'The Farm' in its 50th year selling fresh produce

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  • "You couldn't get it any fresher unless you grew it yourself," said Donna Smits, of The Farm in Carol Stream. The family owned business is celebrating its 50th year selling fresh seasonal produce in DuPage County.

       "You couldn't get it any fresher unless you grew it yourself," said Donna Smits, of The Farm in Carol Stream. The family owned business is celebrating its 50th year selling fresh seasonal produce in DuPage County.
    Bev Horne | Staff Photographer

  • Joanne Karris of Carol Stream picks out a pumpkin for her grandchildren during a trip to The Farm in Carol Stream, which is celebrating its 50th year selling fresh seasonal produce in DuPage County.

       Joanne Karris of Carol Stream picks out a pumpkin for her grandchildren during a trip to The Farm in Carol Stream, which is celebrating its 50th year selling fresh seasonal produce in DuPage County.
    Bev Horne | Staff Photographer

  • Beth Shadid of Winfield picks out heart of gold squash at The Farm in Carol Stream, which is celebrating its 50th year selling fresh seasonal produce in DuPage County.

       Beth Shadid of Winfield picks out heart of gold squash at The Farm in Carol Stream, which is celebrating its 50th year selling fresh seasonal produce in DuPage County.
    Bev Horne | Staff Photographer

  • Employee Zach Dvorak weighs the pumpkins at The Farm in Carol Stream.

       Employee Zach Dvorak weighs the pumpkins at The Farm in Carol Stream.
    Bev Horne | Staff Photographer

 
 

From sweet corn to tomatoes and peppers, there is no substitute for freshness when it comes to selling produce.

It is the only way The Farm knows.

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With locations in Carol Stream, Westmont and Westchester, The Farm farmers market has been selling fresh seasonal produce around DuPage County for 50 years.

Derek Smits, third generation in the family that runs the business, said consumers appreciate the confidence that comes with knowing what they're buying was picked in the past 12 to 14 hours.

"I'd challenge any produce business that can match that on this scale," Smits said.

The family business has its roots with Smits' grandfather, Richard Smits.

Richard Smits, raised around a farm, was in the commodities business and did some work on the Board of Trade exchanging soybeans and grains. In 1963 Smits and his family began selling produce in Westchester on the corner of 31st Street and Wolf Road, growing all its crops on 105 acres next to the farm stand.

As the farmland became developed, growing operations were moved near Plainfield, where the family now owns more than 200 acres less than 30 miles from its farmstands.

Some 21 years ago, the Smits family opened up a stand in Carol Stream, at 207 S. Gary Ave. on the corner of Gary and St. Charles Road. The Farm is best known for its corn and tomatoes, which are picked daily from its farmland in Plainfield and around Kane County and trucked to the three locations.

Anything not sold is distributed to food shelters through The Farm's partnerships with local communities.

"When we say locally grown, it is locally grown," Smits said. "I think that's where we see customer appreciation."

The business begins growing plants in greenhouses in March, and planting corn in April. In May, greenhouse-raised seedlings are planted and planting continues throughout the summer to ensure a steady stream of produce. Flowers are a big part of the Westmont location.

The selling season runs Monday through Saturday between mid-July through the end of October. Squash and, of course, pumpkins are big sellers now as the season winds down.

Smits says this has been a good year for the business.

"The conditions early on were cooler, and then it got wet," Smits said. "It's been pretty good."

The Farm employs about 60 to 80 people between the fields and its three locations, with several high school kids from Glenbard West working at its Carol Stream stand.

Smits has seen health-conscious consumers turn back to smaller businesses such as his family's in recent years.

"A lot of people are on the organic kick, with the Whole Foods stores," he said. "We went through the period of 'big box' and now it's gone back to more organic."

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