Rich had split the collection of vegetables in half and set them on our table at our Lake Geneva café. He and Vijay arrived to show us what they grow and the magic of Brook Farm. “You see what you can get from Walmart and what comes off of a farm down the road,” he said holding them up for our inspection. “Which would you want to slice and eat?” It was a rigged deal and he knew it. The fresh tomatoes from Brook Farm were a deep natural red, irregularly shaped, firm to the hand, and very fragrant. They tasted like summer. The Walmart tomato reminded us of a Christmas ornament, a perfectly round Styrofoam ball died red, and it tasted like it. Young was already thinking about a classic Caprese Sandwich with fresh mozzarella and basil, topped with a sliced Brook Farm tomato.
Located in the center of the Big Foot Prairie in McHenry County, Brook Farm is part of two former dairy farms on land pioneered in the 1840′s. The farm’s rich prairie soils developed in parent materials left by the departing Wisconsin ice sheet. Only a few regions around the world match the quality of this farmland.
Farmers Rich and Sonja have been farming on this same acreage near Harvard, Illinois since 1975. They have built the Brook Farm farming operation from the ground up including building the greenhouse and barn by hand. They pride themselves on the reputation they have gained for their high quality flowers and delicious vegetables.
They also have gained a reputation for using ergonomically designed equipment. You will find little to no John Deere green or Case International Harvester red. Rich designs and builds much of what he and VJ use to plant and harvest, often times using bicycle tires and recycled fence parts welded into contraptions imagined by Dr. Seuss. Most of all, they take great care of the land that supplies them all of their crops. As they are fond of saying, “We believe sustainable agriculture is the foundation underlying our economy and mankind’s future.” A visit to their solar paneled barn will offer just a glimpse of the actions they have undertaken to prove their beliefs.
In an effort to sustain their farm long after they have hung up their pitch forks, Rich and Sonja have brought Vijay and Beth Naryanan and their 3 daughters into the operation. The Naryanan family brings many hands and backs to the farm to plant, weed, harvest, clean, and process all of the plants. With Vijay’s background in construction management, he also has the ability to help coordinate farmers’ markets, planting and harvesting, and the ongoing construction on the Brook Farm. Meeting VJ and Beth and their girls inspires a smile every time. You just know that their love and enthusiasm for life grows great vegetables.