The Apple of Our Eye
Royal Oak Farm and Fruit Orchard sews the seeds of family fun, food and festivities in Harvard with its annual AppleFest and PumpkinFest.
In Harvard is in the midst of another exciting apple- and pumpkin-picking season and invites families from all around to visit the farm now until mid-November.
And with a range of fun activities for kids and shopping, dining and entertainment for the whole family, Royal Oak is more than just an apple orchard.
Apples and More
Owners Peter and Gloria Bianchini – along with three generations of Bianchinis – run one of the last U-pick-it apple orchards in the Chicago suburbs. Other orchards have either closed or now sell their produce to wholesale buyers. “People don’t just come here to pick apples,” Peter said. “They come here as an event.”
Folks form around Northern Illinois and beyond are drawn to Royal Oak based on its reputation for great food and family-friendly entertainment.
While at the farm, visitors can satisfy their appetite at the bakery and country restaurant. They can bring some goodies home from the gift shop and apple barn.
If the food isn’t incentive enough to visit the farm, the entertainment area is full of activities for the little ones. Children swarm the petting zoo, play area, carousel and the “Royal Oak Express” train.
This year marks Royal Oak’s 7th annual AppleFest. Through October 11 (Columbus Day), Royal Oak celebrates its staple fruit with a variety of special daily activities. This year, expect clowns, music and face painting.
Last year, AppleFest brought in carloads of visitors eager to pick apples.
With more than 20 varieties from Ginger Gold to Red Rome Beauty, families can spend the afternoon strolling through the rows of apples and filling their bags with ripe fruit from the trees.
On cool autumn nights, visitors may huddle around campfires and drink hot cider to warm up. After the leaves begin to fall and the days get cooler and shorter, PumpkinFest will pick up where AppleFest left off.
Royal Oak kicked off its inaugural PumpkinFest in 2007. “We’re trying to be recognized as a pumpkin grower and not just an apple orchard,” Peter said.
Through October 30, the farm is adorned with fall décor while people enjoy food, pumpkin painting and a weight-guessing competition for pumpkins in the Harvest Barn.
The 60-foot by 80-foot Harvest barn will house pumpkins and the U-pick-it operation.“Inside the building, you will find pumpkins, apples, honey, donuts and a beautiful new fireplace with a sitting area to warm up with some hot cider on cool fall days,” said Sarah Bell, special events coordinator. “The Harvest Barn began operating on Labor Day weekend, with the official grand opening for pumpkin season on September 25.”
Seeds of Growth
The Bianchini family took over the 160-acre farm in 1992 when the land was still used to grow corn.
What started as an investment turned into a passion for the Bianchinis. Terry Thorpe, Peter’s friend from bible study, with experience in growing apples, suggested that Peter use the land to grow fruits and vegetables.
“He gave us lots of ideas of what to plant and I couldn’t even picture all the different equipment it would take to grow all of them, all of the markets we would have to be involved in and the time investment,” Peter said.
After narrowing the vision to apples, Peter agreed to purchase several apple trees and see how things panned out. As the few trees multiplied into hundreds, peter took over the operation when Thorpe left.
Running an orchard is the furthest thing from retirement. During a visit to Royal Oak, Gloria was hard at work in the bakery and Peter rolled up in a utility vehicle after checking out operations on the farm.
From the Farm to Your Door
If you can’t make it out to Royal Oak, the farm’s fresh produce can be brought to your front door. The farm ships a range of products that can be found on the website (www.royaloak farmorchard.com) — straight from the farm to anywhere in the nation. Or call 815-648-4141 for more information.
Royal Oak’s U-Pick Season
Now until October 31
Monday-Saturday: 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.;
November 1 to November 13
Monday-Saturday 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.;
for the full fall activities schedule.