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Flowers, Fruits, and Frass

Fairbury farm family finds purpose in land stewardship, community connection, and faith 

Sunset over field

BLOOMINGTON, Ill. – The next stop in my tri-county farmer interview series brought me to Garden Gate Farm in Fairbury, Illinois, to talk to the Rinkenberger family. On the way up the driveway, I smelled freshly blooming lilacs, saw a handful of pigs in their pen, witnessed many vegetable transplants ready to plant, and heard cows, chickens, and even peacocks! I was greeted by a large white Great Pyrenees named Libby, who vetted me thoroughly before allowing me to pet her.  
Beth and Doug Rinkenberger own and operate Garden Gate Farm, a rehabilitated, repurposed 100+ year-old dairy farm they have turned into a diverse farm destination.  
Doug grew up on his family’s dairy farm in Paxton, Illinois, and from an early age, helped wherever and whenever he was needed. Beth’s mom always had a big garden and canned whatever she could, and her dad dabbled in livestock. Her father grew up “in town”, but he attended the School of Agriculture in Morris, so whenever he had any free time, he was “orcharding, messing around in the garden, and raising animals,” said Beth. Their collective backgrounds in animal in plant stewardship were a great match! 
I asked them how they ended up on the farm they’re on now in Fairbury, IL, and it turned out that they were living close by when the farm went up for auction. They pictured what their life could be like on the farm and made the jump. As Doug said, “When opportunity knocks, you let it in!”  
In early 2009, Garden Gate Farm was born. As a kind of farm incubator, they joined Stewards of the Land. The Stewards of the land was started by the Travis family and consisted of several Fairbury, IL – area fruit, vegetable, and livestock farmers who wanted to supply their local community grocery with fresh, healthy food. Beth and Doug began their part-time farming careers by marketing their crops through the Stewards of the Land. 
The first crops they sold were excess produce from their family garden, including multicolored carrots, green beans, heirloom tomatoes, peppers. What they couldn’t eat themselves, they sold. “Everybody loves a tie-die tomato that was on the vine yesterday!” said Beth.  Doug and Beth’s four daughters – Abby, Carrie, Cassie, and Brianna – began working on the farm as soon as they were physically able. 
In 2010, Garden Gate Farm received a surprise “boatload of turkeys” as described by Doug. He elaborated, “First thing we did was put them out on pasture. They were hens, which don’t yield as many pounds of meat at harvest as toms. Someone from the feed mill I was working at asked me if I knew anyone who wanted a bunch of hens for a bargain; I said we’d take them!”  
The girls went on to raise the birds on pasture with a non-GMO diet. They sold most of those turkeys by Christmas that year, so they got more the next season – this time toms, for better meat yield. “Our girls ended up becoming basically small turkey farmers!” exclaimed Doug. Year after year, their broad-breasted white turkeys have been popular in cities across the state. 
By 2015, the farm was financially stable enough to support full-time farming. Garden Gate Farms now distribute their own farm products themselves, through delivery runs that crisscross the state. “Primarily we now grow asparagus and rhubarb, herbs, hearty greens like Swiss chard, sorrels, etc., heirloom multicolored tomatoes, edible and decorative flowers, root vegetables (beets, radishes, carrots, potatoes), and turkeys”.   
Their Fairbury-grown products have made it into famous Chicago restaurants – like Frontera Grill, the Girl and the Goat, and Carnivore. But just as much of their business comes from chef deliveries in Springfield, St. Louis, Champaign, Peoria, Bloomington, Quincy, and elsewhere. During the pandemic, they added about 30-40 household deliveries across the state to that list – and the demand has been consistent, post-pandemic. 
Doug and Beth are proud grandparents of 8, with two more on the way! Now when they aren’t farming, or delivering products, they are introducing the next generation of their family to the diversified small farm and farmstead lifestyle.