June 12-- Former chef Marc Bernard said Rustic Road Farm in Elburn, Ill., that he owns with his husband is sort of a dream come true.
"I was a chef and a managing partner with the Lettuce Entertain You group for about 15 years," Bernard said. "Years ago I actually went to Cornell University and studied ornamental horticulture, but I have always wanted to have a farm."
Things have went so well at the farm at 1N292 Brundige Road that he and his husband Luis bought in 2012 that it keeps on growing, thanks to the interest in organic and natural foods.
"We started with a couple of acres and then we leased three and then eight and then 12 and then we added 10 more," Bernard, 57, said. "We're now at 32 acres and we're letting about a dozen rest this year. I think we have all we can handle."
Bernard said his husband elected to finish his master's degree in early childhood development while things got going on the farm. The first year or two, a couple of acres were developed and enough food was produced to pay for Luis' schooling.
"I worked out a deal with the Lettuce Entertain You group where I was growing food they would sell in their restaurants," Bernard said. "A lot of restaurants order their stuff from food companies ... and it makes it a lot easier, but I was fortunate to be working with other chefs and partners that cared about their food."
Luis Bernard, 41, said he immigrated here 20 years ago from Mexico. He said owning a farm has come with a severe learning curve.
"This is physically demanding and there are long hours, but the time goes fast," he said. "We had our own food back in Mexico but I've had to learn a lot of new things."
After a while, neighbors of the Bernards were asking to buy their food and hoping they would open a farmstand.
"It was the last thing I wanted to do," Marc Bernard said. "Finally we said, OK, let's do it, and we liked it. It turns out, it's the thing I like the most. People tell us all the time they want clean food and that's what we're giving them.
"We don't have to, but we're planning to be certified as being 100% organic by the USDA, who sends out a third-party certifier," he said. "They do all the paperwork and we weren't going to do it, but there are a lot of dishonest folks out there trying to capture the business."
The farm's food line has expanded exponentially and currently boasts about 150 products, Bernard said recently during opening day at the Aurora Farmers Market, where the farm now has a booth.
He said 60% of the farm's business now comes from farmers markets and the consumer supported market-or CSA-where folks buy a share of weekly produce throughout the season.
"Another 20% comes from our egg sales, another 15% from the pigs we raise that are turned into bacon, chops, sausage and roasts, and the final 5% from honey," Bernard said.
A chef who trained at the Dumas Pere culinary school formerly in Glenview, Bernard has also parlayed his skills into turning out more than 20 varieties of homemade seasonal soups using ingredients from the farm.
Both employees that work at Rustic Road Farm and its customers said they embrace the organic movement.
"I used to tend bar and now I've worked here two months and I love it," said Shawna Serrato of Geneva. "I work with the goats and the chickens and to me organic is not a trend, it's a tradition and it's too bad people don't embrace it more and take care of themselves. People come and buy one bag of greens and see how real the food is. There's a great community vibe here."
Jenny McClain of Campton Hills counts herself as a regular customer, saying she makes weekly pilgrimages to what she now just calls "the farm."
Recently, she was there with her daughter Sarah Ruth, 9.
"We used to live in a more populated area in the 'burbs, and now we're just three minutes away from here and we come winter and summer," McClain said. "I'm surprised the chickens don't greet me by name."
Sarah said she enjoys both the animals and the food.
"I love the baby goats ...," she said, adding that the food from the farm "is more natural."
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