Local Foods & Small Farms

Americans have never been more interested in understanding where their food comes from and how it was grown and prepared. From the use of pesticides during the growing season to the practice of composting food waste, there is a lot of information available through Illinois Extension that provides insight into how fruits, vegetables, and food products move through their life cycle. The Local Foods & Small Farms program provides resources to help consumers and producers better understand their role and responsibilities within the local food movement. 

Looking for an answer to a specific question?  Contact our local foods & small farms educator, Grant McCarty, to learn more about how Illinois Extension is prepared to help.

Local information you can use

McCarty has authored a series of concise yet insightful articles aimed at providing expert assistance, resources, and educational opportunities to commercial specialty growers locally. His area of focus is on tree fruits (apples, pears, cherry, peach), small fruits (brambles, blueberries, strawberries), and vegetables. Within these crops, his outreach is in general production, training-pruning, insects-diseases, and soil health. Each year, he consults with nearly 120 specialty growers and farmers at different stages of their farming journey. 

June 12, 2024 - Tart cherry season begins in Northern Illinois

While it may seem early, tart cherries are almost ready in backyard and commercial orchards in Northern Illinois. The tart cherry harvest season will begin in the next two weeks, towards the middle and end of June, maybe even sooner.

“June remains an active month for specialty crops. At farms in Jo Daviess and Stephenson counties, we wrap-up rhubarb and asparagus, start strawberry season, and then follow that up with tart cherries” states Grant McCarty, Local Foods and Small Farms Educator, University of Illinois Extension. “We don’t see as many tart cherry u-pick orchards, but you may find them at your local farmers market or certainly in the backyard.”

Like their name denotes, these cherries have a sour quality to them that makes them ideal for baking, cooking, and using in recipes that are combined with sugar. They tend to be very juicy with a good amount of acid in them. These cherries, also called sour, are in the stone fruit family which includes peach, apricot, plum, and others. “Commonly, tart cherries are the only consistent member of this family for growers in Northern Illinois as they can withstand the cold climate each year and you just need one tree for a yearly crop. Sweet cherries can be more difficult to grow in our region as most varieties require more than one variety for cross-pollination.” McCarty continues.

A ripe cherry is ready to be picked if it has the right color, firmness, and comes off the stem easily. Cherries do not ripen further after they have been picked. “You may find that you may want to keep these cherries on the tree a bit longer in order to develop; but if you wait too long, birds may get to them before you can”