Built from the ground up: Wiltse Farm

By on July 8, 2011

by Lynn Meredith
MAPLE PARK—Farmers markets are flourishing around the country as more and more consumers are heeding the advice of health experts to eat foods that are locally grown. This advice is nothing new to the Wiltse family of Maple Park, who have been growing and selling produce since 1914.

This Sunday, the public is invited to an open house and a chance to learn about the history of the farm and see how fresh produce is grown.

For three generations, the family has planted, tended and harvested its own produce and sold it to people of the area. Kate Wiltse grew up going to farmers markets and working in the family produce business. It all started when her grandmother decided to raise vegetables on a farm near Batavia. Her mom, Marie Wiltse, continued the tradition, selling at a stand on the farm in Maple Park. Today Marie, along with Kate, her brother Joe, and sisters Patty, Deb and Mary, all run the business. You may even say it runs in their blood.

“We say to each other that it has to (be in our blood),” Kate quipped. “Because who would do this?”

Starting in February, they begin planting seeds under greenhouse protection. The season gets busier and busier as asparagus, then strawberries, and then more and more vegetables reach maturity and are harvested. The season begins to peak around the third week in July, when the sweet corn starts rolling in. It winds down with pumpkins in the fall and ends at Halloween.

The open house will give the family a chance to talk with customers before it gets too busy with sweet corn.

“It’s a chance for people to ask questions and actually talk to us. We get so busy with sweet corn that we’re not always available,” Kate said. “All the family will come out. We can show people where (produce) comes from.”

Wiltse’s will display the equipment they use in planting and tending the plants, such as the transplanter for vegetables and the junior planter that is hand-pushed. They will explain the stages of plant growth, so that the public can begin to understand how food is grown from seed to harvest. There will also be pictures from the farm’s history.

This year the farm is adding more opportunities to pick your own vegetables. They just finished pick-your-own strawberries. They will now add U-pick tomatoes and U-pick flowers. The zinnias and snapdragons need a good rain and a couple more weeks and they will be fully ready for cutting. In the fall, pumpkins can be selected from the field also.

With the sweet corn tasseling, the 40 acres planted with sweet corn will start coming in, just a little behind schedule this year.

“Everything (in this business) depends on the weather. Last year, the sweet corn was ready on the 18th. We’re about a week behind. We had a cool spring,” Kate said.

Since putting in greenhouses 10 years ago, Wiltse’s has done more and more bedding plants, field produce and even landscaping, run by Kate’s husband, Troy Misch. They continue to learn through networking and cooperation with other growers and classes at Kishwaukee, trade shows and conferences held by the Illinois Specialty Growers Association.

After a season of growing flowers, lettuce, radishes, broccoli, cauliflower, beets, snow peas, tomatoes, cabbage, green beans, onions, asparagus, strawberries, pumpkins, sweet corn and more, how does the family spend its downtime each winter?

“Clean house, clean house, clean house,” Kate joked (or maybe not). “I do family stuff and paperwork. I go to trade shows to buy seeds and see new varieties.”

Now picking:
Sweet red candy onions,
walla walla sweet onions,
yellow sweet candy onions,
cauliflower, broccoli, snow peas,
red leaf lettuce, green leaf lettuce,
bibb lettuce, romaine lettuce,
beets, green onions, radishes
and more

Wiltse’s Farm Produce Open House
Sunday, July 10
11 a.m. to 3 p.m.
50W379 Route 38, Maple Park.
Customers and friends are welcome to stop by and meet with the
Wiltse families and share stories
and conversation of the
past, present and future.
Refreshments will be available.
For more information,
call (815) 739-6179 or visit