Early orders for summer fruits and veggies is win-win for farm and customers

Elise Zwicky, for Chronicle Media

Garden Spot Vegetable Farm in Princeville is gearing up for the season by selling summer express baskets that customers can pick up weekly at one of four locations for 11 weeks starting in late June. The farm also will be selling eggs and grass-fed beef this summer. (Photo courtesy of Garden Spot Vegetable Farm)

Summer may be several months away, but a local family-owned farm is stirring up cravings for homegrown fruits and vegetables by taking orders for its summer express basket.

“This is our third year for the summer basket program, and it’s grown each year,” said Jim Buckley, owner of Garden Spot Vegetable Farm in Princeville.

For an upfront cost of $280, customers receive a weekly bushel of fresh produce for 11 weeks from late June to early September. A sample basket may include carrots, cabbage, sweet corn, a pepper, cucumber, two large squash, potatoes, onions, tomatoes, green beans, peaches and apples.

“We have four pick-up locations and a generous amount of food for your money that’s 100 percent grown by us,” Buckley said. “We allow people to switch one item out during each pickup and they can extend it a week in the fall if they let me know they’re going to be gone or can’t

The family-owned Garden Spot Vegetable Farm in Princeville is taking orders for its summer express basket program in which customers can pick up weekly baskets like these of homegrown produce for 11 weeks from late June to early September.(Photo courtesy of Garden Spot Vegetable Farm)

pick it up for some reason one week.”

The program is similar to community-supported agriculture programs, but those programs generally have more than one farm involved, Buckley said.

“We decided why not do our own basket and people can buy it directly from our farm,” he said.

Buying the baskets now for summer pickup helps keep the farm running.

“It costs so much to operate anymore, especially for a business our size,” Buckley said. “This time of year we aren’t making any money, so this program kind of helps us put in the vegetable crops, add more fruit trees and upgrade our equipment. It’s really boosted our business.”

The farm accepted about 80 customers for the summer basket program the first year and doubled that the

Garden Spot Vegetable Farm owner Jim Buckley and his son pick carrots last year at the family-owned farm in Princeville. Buckley has been co-owner of the business for 14 years and is taking over sole ownership with the retirement of his mother, Lillian Jacobs. (Photo courtesy of Garden Spot Vegetable Farm)

second year. This year, Buckley is accepting up to 200 basket orders. He also started a new spring

basket this year for a five-week program that starts mid-May. About 60 customers paid $125 for those baskets, which will include fresh spring vegetables such as lettuce, kale, broccoli, beets and swiss chard.

Also new was a Christmas express basket that included grass-fed beef, steaks, a roast and produce from the farm. A fall basket will go on sale in April.

While Garden Spot Vegetable Farm sells produce at the farmer’s markets at the Peoria Metro Centre and the Peoria Riverfront and at the farm, Buckley said the weekly baskets offer a level of convenience that many customers appreciate today.

“I have a lot of customers who just drive up, grab their basket and go. They don’t have to get the kids out of the car because they can pull right up in front of the stand. They like the convenience of it. A lot of people just don’t have time to shop these days,” he said.

Melissa Baer Adams of Tazewell County signed up for the summer basket program after seeing it on the farm’s Facebook page, which recently surpassed 10,000 likes.

“I’ve always thought about having my own garden but never follow through on this,” Adams said. “I love fruits and vegetables, but I don’t always have them in my house. The pickup spot is close to where I work, and I love supporting farmers directly through farmer’s markets. So this just seemed to cover so many bases for me that I felt it was worth giving it a try this year.”

Garden Spot Vegetable Farm consists of 34 acres of organically grown vegetables, more than 250 fruit trees and a blackberry patch with well over 300 plants. Buckley’s family has been farming since the 1930s when his grandfather, Norman Schaer, started raising cattle, hogs and crops on 10 acres of land. Buckley’s mom and uncle later joined and expanded the business, which was called Schaer-Buckley Produce.

“In 2003 or so, my mom and I went into business together and we changed the name to Garden Spot Vegetable Farm,” Buckley said. “This is my 14th year of being part of the business.”

With his mom, Lillian Jacobs, retiring this year, Buckley has taken over sole ownership of the farm, though Jacobs will stay involved. The farm has about 15 employees, with most being family.

“It can be stressful, but I like doing it,” said the father of three. His wife, Amber, helps out on the farm but also works full-time as an X-ray technician at a Peoria hospital.

“Every year is different. I think a lot of businesses fail because they don’t adjust to the changes,” Buckley added. “You have to take the good with the bad. My mom always told me that. I enjoy interacting with the public, especially the returning customers. You build a relationship with them, and they start to feel like family.”

For more information or to sign up for the program, message Buckley on the Garden Spot Vegetable Farm Facebook page. Basket pickups will be from 2:30 to 5:30 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays at the Metro Centre, 1 to 6 p.m. Wednesdays at the farm at 12901 W. State Route 90 in Princeville and from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturdays at the Metro Centre.