Tom Feltes (left) and Bob Brackmann check out the sweet corn available at Sonny Acres. “I share crop the sweet corn,” Feltes said. A variety of fruits and vegetables are for sale at the Country Shoppe at the farm along Route 64. The agri-entertainment farm sells different products during each season and kicks into high gear during the fall with activities including the popular Haunted Wagon Ride that winds through a five-acre woods.
Tom Feltes (left) and Bob Brackmann check out the sweet corn available at Sonny Acres. “I share crop the sweet corn,” Feltes said. A variety of fruits and vegetables are for sale at the Country Shoppe at the farm along Route 64. The agri-entertainment farm sells different products during each season and kicks into high gear during the fall with activities including the popular Haunted Wagon Ride that winds through a five-acre woods.
CAROL STREAM, Ill. — Farmers in a more urban county such as DuPage need to take advantage of changing situations.

“We need to think outside of the box,” said Bill Pauling, a third-generation farmer at Carol Stream. “We grow corn, soybeans, hay, oats and wheat.”

Pauling, together with his brother, Larry, actually farms in three counties.

“We have a 26-acre field in Cook County, about 300 acres in DuPage County, and we go to DeKalb County for 400 acres,” he said. “About 10 years ago, I was farming a 120-acre piece in Cook County.”

The Pauling brothers make small square bales of hay and straw and market them mainly to horse owners.

“We don’t like to plant oats too often, but our wheat froze out this year, so we put in oats to get the straw,” he said. “We lost a little over 100 acres of wheat.”

Taking advantage of opportunities is important for farmers in areas where the urban population is growing.

For example, Pauling had some rain-damaged hay that he didn’t think he was going to be able to sell. The hay was stored in a barn that was set to be torn down.

“We decided to move it, and then we got a call from a person who wanted to rent 1,000 bales of hay for a go-cart race,” he recalled. “Then the place where they tore down the barn needed 700 bales for retention, so we took it right back to where we hauled it from.”

In addition to serving on the county soil and water board and the FSA committee, Pauling is in his first year as the president of the DuPage County Farm Bureau.

“I’m a third-generation president, and my mom was on the board, too,” he noted. “I have been on the board for about 15 years, and I also was the vice president for a few years.”

Some of Pauling’s biggest challenges for his farming operation are the size of his fields, their locations and the logistics of moving equipment.

“We’re not doing 50-acre fields,” he said. “We have a five-acre field here, a two-acre field there and a 10-acre field over here.”

However, traffic is not as much of a problem now as it was 30 years ago when most roads were two lanes.

“Then you couldn’t get off the road to let the people behind you get by,” Pauling said. “Now we’ve got four-lane roads so we can get over and people can get around us.”

Small-Field Farmer

Bob Brackmann, who also farms many small fields, plans his equipment moves so he doesn’t hold up traffic.

“It is difficult to move equipment, but there are a lot of four- and six-lane roads, so I don’t really hold up traffic,” he agreed. “I hold up more traffic in Kane County on a two-lane road than I do in DuPage County on a four- or six-lane road.”

Brackmann lives in St. Charles, farms some land in Kane County and most of his acres are in DuPage County.

“I’m an urban farmer, everything I farm is in an urban area,” he said. “I farm 800 acres including custom work, and I grow corn and soybeans.”

The Brackmann family came from Germany in 1856 and settled in unincorporated Lombard, which now is Glendale Heights.

A lot of development occurred in the western part of DuPage County from the mid-1980s to 2005, Brackmann said. “Farmland in DuPage County was disappearing pretty quickly.”

Watching the development of farmland into houses, stores and businesses can be disappointing, he admitted.

“And other times you understand,” he added.

“I lease the majority of my ground, so I understand the land was bought by an investor, builder or developer with the intention of developing that property,” he said. “You feel bad when you lose ground, but you can understand it.”

Brackmann continues to manage part of a farm that was the first farm his dad leased in 1960.

“We’ve been farming this piece of ground for well over 50 years,” he said. “It was a 160-acre farm at one time and now there are about 55 acres left.”

Many property owners in DuPage County want their land to be farmed to maintain their farmland assessment, Brackmann explained.

“That saves people quite a bit of money,” he added.

“I have some small pieces of two, three and 10 acres that I have to travel a distance to get to,” he said. “I actually get paid to farm those because of the cost of moving equipment.”

Sonny Acres

Sonny Acres is just one mile from the intersection of Route 59 and Route 64. These busy highways are a double-edged sword for the farm’s owners, Tom and Ellyn Feltes.

“Those roads bring business to our farm and growth to our operation,” Tom Feltes said. “But our farm was once about 220 acres and now we have 30 acres.”

The Feltes family settled in West Chicago in 1883 after emigrating from Germany.

“I’m the fourth generation and my mom, Ramona, is 97 years old,” he said. “My mom is the oldest Farm Bureau member in DuPage County.”

The fifth and sixth generations of the family already are involved with the operation that markets different farm products during each season.

“We have two greenhouses where we raise about 6,000 flats of bedding and vegetable plants,” Feltes said. “We have over 20 varieties of tomatoes and 15 varieties of peppers — both sweet and hot, as well as hanging baskets.”

During the summer, a variety fruits and vegetables are sold at the Country Shoppe.

The agri-entertainment farm kicks into high gear for the Fall Festival, which starts in September and runs through Oct. 31.

“That’s about half of our business, and we will have about a quarter of a million visitors,” Feltes said.

Visitors can enjoy the Kiddie Koral, pony rides, petting zoo, hay rides and all kinds of food, such as roasted corn, apple cider, taffy apples and elephant ears. In addition, a lot of fall items are available, including pumpkins, gourds, squash and Indian corn.

“Our biggest attraction is the haunted wagon ride that goes through our five-acre woods,” Feltes said. “It includes 30 costumed characters, lights, sound and fog. It is quite a show and the kids love it.”

Sonny Acres sells Christmas trees, wreaths and roping during the winter.

“Winter is my favorite,” Feltes said. “We sell seven species of trees — Frazier fir, balsam fir, Douglas fir, Scotch pine, white pine, Black Hills spruce and blue spruce.”