In 1883, first generation German immigrants Ferdinand and Anna Nagel bought 100 acres of farm ground in DuPage County and named it Oakwood Farm. In 1914, the farm was passed down to the Nagel’s only son, Edward, and his wife Elizabeth.
Edward and Elizabeth raised five daughters on the farm and, in 1941, one of those daughters, Ramona, married Victor Feltes and the couple began producing and direct marketing seasonal produce form a small roadside table.
They also renamed the farm to Sonny Acres after Victor and Ramona had their seventh of eight sons and on daughter.
“From those early roots, we turned into one of the largest agritourism destinations in northern Illinois,” said Tom Feltes, who currently manages the farm. “We have a greenhouse operation to grow fresh produce for the summer, and then we have our largest attraction, our fall festival. We’re also going into the Christmas tree business with trees we have important from Michigan.”
Tom and his family sell tomatoes, sweet corn, peppers, gourds, ten varieties of squash, 30 varieties of pumpkins and Christmas trees.
After all that time and growth of the business, Sonny Acres farm is still a family-run farm.
“We are a corporation,” Tom said. “I’m one of the managers. Another brother helps with the business and the rest of the brothers sit on the board of directors. But the main decisions are made at the kitchen table. The kitchen table is still the board room.”
For Tom, working with family is just one of the perks of his decision to stay in agriculture.
“I enjoy that I’m not in a typical office environment,” Tom said. “I’m outdoors and I’ve got my fingers in the soil. I’m growing and harvesting and I enjoy that. Plus, I’m in business for myself. I’m not working for someone else and I’m my own boss, which can be very rewarding. And I’m involved in a family operation.”
“I really like to interact with my customers,” Tom added. “Businesses are built on repeat customers. You want them to come back again and again, so it’s important they see your face. I try to give my customers a good product at a good price so there’s value. I offer a product which is locally grown because a lot of consumers now, they could go to Jewell, but Jewell doesn’t have the kind of pumpkins I grow. People want to shop more locally versus going to the big box stores and that’s where my competitive advantage is — service and offering them a better product.”
For the full Faces Behind Your Food Series, check out the links below:
- Intro: 30 Days
- Day 1: Managing…everything
- Day 2: Building Relationships
- Day 3: 50/50
- Day 4: Irons in the Fire
- Day 5: Loaded Up and Trucking
- Day 6: Variety is the Spice of Life
- Day 7: Beef. It’s what’s for dinner.
- Day 8: You have got to start somewhere.
- Day 9: The earth that calls me.
- Day 10: Teaching changes the way I look at things at home.
- Day 11: A Family Affair
- Day 12: Diversification.
- Day 13: Bigger is Better
- Day 14: Working for the Weekend
- Day 15: Three Generations of Pauling Brothers
- Day 16: “Quality and consistency is what makes us great.”
- Day 17: Community Supported Agriculture
- Day 18: “We wouldn’t sell something to our customers that we wouldn’t eat ourselves.”