This past weekend, we visited our friends and former neighbors in Good Hope, Illinois, Grover and Mary Jo DeCounter. Grover and Mary Jo own and operate Good Hope Gardens, featuring many different homegrown vegetables, fruits, jams, jellies, pickles and meats. After helping Mary Jo unload what was left from her stand that morning at the Galesburg Farmers Market, we were treated to a virtual feast: Heirloom tomatoes, sliced yellow, red and green peppers, barbecue chicken and beef, fresh green beans with bacon, baked potatoes and roasted corn on the cob. Needless to say, it was delicious.

Western Illinois has had a similar growing season to central Iowa – the wet spring caused crops to be planted later than usual, and no rain for the last 30 days created other challenges. Good Hope Garden’s sweet corn crop was later than usual, like ours, but the delectable treat was in strong demand.

Grover enjoys trying new varieties and learning as much as he can about the crops he grows. The sweet corn he served us was the best I’d had, probably due in part to its freshness. He told us that he picks corn every day, and what isn’t sold within a 24-hour time period is fed to their sheep.

High quality, fresh, local, sustainable foods are the foundation of our friends’ business. As Grover says, “For us, it’s not about organic, because sometimes, organic isn’t sustainable. Our garden has to be sustainable.” They use integrated pest management and are careful to protect the environment. When asked by customers about the safety of their farming methods, Mary Jo answers, “Our grandkids are out here every day, and we have absolutely no qualms about letting them pick and eat anything right from the field. Do you think we’d do anything that might be harmful to them?”

It’s not an easy business. It requires long hours and hard work, and Mother Nature doesn’t always cooperate. It also involves dealing directly with the public, which can have its own pitfalls. Still, for the DeCounters, it’s a labor of love. They’re providing great products for their neighbors and customers, and they’re doing it as a family. Their son, Sam, and daughter-in-law, Heather, are teachers, but Heather works at the store on weekends, and Sam helps out when he can, too. So do nieces and nephews. Their daughter, Tammy, is deeply involved in the business, and is building a clientele with her sustainable beef, lamb and hopefully, pork, products. Their young grandchildren love helping out at the store and in the garden, too, even though the oldest is only eight.

For these salt-of-the-earth folks, it’s a true family endeavor, and it’s great to see that operations like theirs can be successful on so many levels.