Stop me if you've heard this one, a city boy and country boy walk into a barn...
Beginning in December of 2012, God began to lay the foundations for what we currently in July of 2014 call First Fruits Homestead. Two men, the city boy and the country boy, shared nothing in common, except their attendance at the same church and Sunday school. In January of 2013 having no experience outside of their own research the two men butchered a hog.
God then laid it on their hearts to begin growing produce to provide for our two families. This took life in an unconventional way, an aquaponics greenhouse; which will allow us to grow food year round without electricity using fish to provide needed nutrients and increase the Illinois growing seasons from two to four. We soon realized that if this greenhouse produced the maximum amount of food possible we would have more than enough for our two families. So what do we do with the excess? We could store it, sell it, and share it! The beginnings of a ministry took shape.
The homestead approach began to take life earlier in 2012 when ducks came to the farm, providing fresh, delicious eggs for our two families. Then the construction of the greenhouse began in September 2013. In May 2014 the arrival of our Dexter cattle herd, plus one surprise keeper a Scottish Highlander named Rosie joined our farm. Chickens, more ducks, and even a new farm dog have since been added to this growing homestead, we affectionately call First Fruits Homestead.
2015 was our first Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) season. While, the spring season proved to be difficult with the driest May on record and June raining every day of the month we preserved and offered an amazing late summer/fall season. We are excited to continue to learn and offer more nutritious, flavorful, colorful and locally grown produce in the years to come.
Jerry was born and raised in Phoenix, AZ until he was thirteen years old. When his family decided to move back to his mother’s home in Indiana, he had a rough adjustment to the Midwest lifestyle. He was once asked by a teacher where beef came from. She did not appreciate his answer, “the grocery store.” The teacher thought he was being a smart aleck, but he was being honest! Things have changed immensely for him since that day. Not only does he know where beef comes from, he has butchered 3 hogs and 1 cow to provide meat for the two homestead families.
Jerry has had a very successful 15 year career in education. He started his career as a teacher and football coach for Charleston High School, then assistant principal at Charleston Middle School, and now his current position, principal for Sullivan Middle School.
Feeling a call, undoubtedly from the Holy Spirit, to provide for his family in a different way, Jerry has added construction skills and farm chores to his repertoire. Along with his wife Lauren, their four children, and their dear friends the Sweitzer’s, he has started a journey to teach their children where their food comes from.
“It truly is a blessing to teach and learn in God’s classroom.”
Lauren (Marvin) Calandrilla was born and raised in Charleston, IL. Her family has a rich farming history in Menard County, but she herself has been removed from farming for almost two generations. As a young child, she loved to visit Lincoln Log Cabin, and longed to be able to live there. Now that childhood aspiration is taking on a modern twist, with First Fruits Homestead.
Lauren has witnessed the wonderful effects of farm life on her husband Jerry, herself and their children. She has seen farm kids born and made of their own children. Their oldest children, being timid to touch or hold anything dirty or bigger than them, have become regular farm kids, that collect eggs and almost always require a clean change of clothes before heading home from the farm. While at the farm she has to keep a watchful eye on her youngest son to make sure he hasn’t escaped into the cow pasture, which has happened, or that he isn’t trying to climb over or under the gates to get into the barn.
“My children now have the luxury of living the same way my grandmother grew up. Collecting eggs after school and helping her family take care of their cows, hogs, and sheep on her father’s farm. In our go-go-go culture, I truly believe that living on a biologically diverse farm is a luxury that few people indulge and enjoy. This is what God has intended for our family.”
Owen is our resident country boy or, in his words, a self-proclaimed simple life connoisseur. He grew up in a simple life on a small farm in Neoga and made a living by swinging a hammer (i.e, carpenter). He graduated from Eastern Illinois University with a degree in Industrial Technology and landed a good career to provide a better life for his future family. After graduating from EIU, Farmer Owen worked his way up to a very well paid position in his field, all the while getting married and having three beautiful kids.
Since the inception of First Fruits, Farmer Owen has learned there is nothing better than not getting what you want but getting what you need and being able to spend your time with the ones you love, raising your children together, and instilling in them God, Love and work. First Fruits Homestead is everything Owen had but didn’t know he wanted. To see the miracle of creation with all of God’s grace and love on display every hour of everyday is literally a piece of heaven on earth.
"The simple life is a daily reminder to thank Him for this farm, family and above all His grace through Jesus Christ. Apart from Him we can do nothing."
Jessica (Loerop) Sweitzer was born and raised in the Southwest suburbs of Chicago. At a young age she started to express an interest in living in a small town with a slower paced lifestyle. This dream was realized when she married Owen in 2005 and moved to Mattoon, IL. Together, in 2009, they purchased the property in Charleston, IL which now is the home of First Fruits Homestead.
Jessica has a background in marketing and has successfully organized many community events, and she hopes to utilize these skills for special events on the farm. Farming is in her blood as her maternal Grandfather owned and operated a small farm near Chicago. Jessica enjoys taking care of the gardens and reaping the benefits of growing food for her family.
"My greatest desire is to teach my children the importance of working the land, working together as a family, and the value of giving. The homestead gives us daily opportunities to show love to our neighbors, care for animals, and to spend time together as family. I believe First Fruits Homestead is God's calling for our family."