Sycamore’s rich history boasts deep roots in agriculture and that’s not changed over the years. Farmers today are continuing to thrive as they adapt their businesses to new challenges.
“From an economic standpoint, farms have always been an economic driver in DeKalb County,” said Greg Millburg, manager of the DeKalb County Farm Bureau. “We have family-owned farms that go back to the mid-1800s and even earlier.”
One of those family-owned farms that has been passed down through multiple generations is the Theis Family Farm and Greenhouses, operated by Barb Pondelick and her son, Robert.
Robert Pondelick said the farm grows and sells all types of vegetables from asparagus, to strawberries, zucchini and more.
“We have really beautiful greenhouses and are a premium grower of quality growing plants that aren’t premium priced,” he said.
Tomatoes and sweet corn are a family tradition that continue today to appeal to the taste buds of the farm’s loyal customers.
“Grandpa took a lot of pride in his tomatoes and sweet corn and we carry that on today,” Robert said. “Our sweet corn is top-notch eating quality.”
The farm operates a farm stand during the spring, summer and fall and sells its produce wholesale to restaurants and at local farmers markets in Sycamore, DeKalb, Oswego, Plainfield and Aurora. It also has recently started selling Christmas trees and wreaths.
The Ward family, who own and operate Old Elm Farms and Dayton Farms in Sycamore, have been around even longer. They have been farming in DeKalb County for seven generations. Dayton Farms dates back to 1837 and Old Elm Farms goes back to 1905. The farms are operated by John, his wife, Betsy, their son Steve and his wife, Jolene.
The farms’ specialties include raising hogs – about 10,000 a year currently – and growing corn, soybeans and wheat. The hogs are sold to a packer that distributes the pork all around the world. The soybeans and wheat and two-thirds of the corn are sold to local grain elevators. The remaining third of the corn raised on the farm goes to produce the ethynol, an additive found in gasoline and other products.
The Wards are teaching their four grandchildren about farming. Two of their grandchildren are in the Future Farmers of America at Sycamore High School.
“It’s a good way of life,” John Ward said. “Everybody’s involved. Everybody pitches in. Neighbors help neighbors.”
John enjoys watching things grow, whether it is the crops in the field, the hogs in the barn or the landscaping around the house.
“I take pride in seeing what we can harvest and what we did right or what we need to correct for next year,” he said.
Millburg, who estimates there are about 900 farms in the county, said many local farms are continuing to thrive by incorporating new technologies into their businesses.
“Everybody’s jumped on the technology bandwagon,” Millburg said. “They’re using new seed technologies to create drought- and insect-resistant seeds and using GPS systems to collect data.”
Those systems that collect data provide information that is critical to a farm’s operation.
“They can tell them what’s being produced and how much is being produced on a particular acre,” Millburg said. “It has made farms more efficient and more productive. In the end it’s helped farmers increase their net revenue at the end of the year.”
Millburg said farms are evolving to meet the needs of a changing marketplace.
“Some are getting into niche markets like organic,” he said.
Not all farmers have been in the area for successive generations. Some are just starting out. One of those is Farm and Flora, which is owned by Kari Cieslak and her husband, Brad.
“We’ve just started. It’s a new operation for us,” said Kari Cieslak who also has a full-time job. She works as a flight nurse and Brad is in sales.
The couple, who are parents of three boys, moved to their 10-acre farm in March 2018. They are planning to dedicate about half their acreage to Scottish Highland Cattle for grass-fed beef and the other half to flowers and vegetables.
“We’re first generation,” Kari said. “We’re just figuring this out.”
Kari Cieslak completed a year-long course on farming and has a mentor who is helping them navigate their farming business.
They plan to start selling flowers at the Sycamore Farmer’s Market and then see where farming takes them from there.
“This is going to be a new adventure for us and we’re doing it as a family,” Kari added
Farms and Agriculture in Sycamore IL
DeKalb County Farm Bureau
1350 W. Prairie Dr.
Theis Farm II
6N953 County Line Rd.
Farm and Flora
1835 W. Motel Rd.
Hristovi Family Farm
10922 Old State Rd.
Larson’s Country Market, Inc.
1968 E. US Rte. 34
Yaeger’s Farm Market & Greenhouse
14643 IL Rte. 38
Jonamac Orchard, Inc.
19412 Shabbona Rd.
CHS Elburn Coop
108 N. Main St.
Martin, Goodrich & Wadddell, Inc.
2020 Aberdeen Ct.
Blain’s Farm & Fleet of Sycamore
1300 DeKalb Ave.