In Naper Settlement’s journey to preserve the city’s rich agricultural history and explore the importance of locally-sourced produce, the Kellers stood out as an established farming family that has been in Naperville since 1852 and in the past 20 years have created three very successful farmstands in Naperville, Plainfield and Oswego, known as Keller’s Farmstand.
The Keller’s originated in Bavaria, Germany and purchased land along River Road on the north side of Naperville. During hard times, the first Frank Keller sold the farm and began work at The Naperville Bank, but after some time returned to farming and bought a new farm along Ogden Ave. It was used primarily as a dairy operation, but the farm also had a range of crops including apples, grapes, raspberries and potatoes. During the Great Depression, the Keller’s put up a table alongside Ogden Ave. which was a tremendous success.
“My grandfather always said that the raspberries and blackberries paid the bills during the Great Depression,” said Frank Keller IV. “The specialty crops have always been an important part of the farm.”
In 1966, Frank Keller Jr. sold the Ogden Avenue farm and purchased a larger farm on 95th Street (now named Knoch Knolls Road). Keller Jr. then retired from farming, allowing his two sons, Frank III and Ray, to raise corn, soybeans, oats, hay and cattle. The dairying was discontinued.
After Frank III’s son, Frank Keller IV, graduated college, he decided to join the Peace Corps. He ended up working with farmers in southern Africa teaching them how to grow vegetables.
“I figured if I was teaching agriculture over there, I should probably do it myself,” said Keller IV. “Once I returned, I rented about 5 acres from my dad and uncle and started the farmstand on the home farm.”
In 1991, the first Keller’s Farmstand opened along 95th Street and shortly after the second location opened on their Plainfield farm. After a four-lane highway was planned to cut through the Keller’s Naperville farm, the family decided to acquire land in Oswego to make up for the loss. In 2008, the Keller’s decided to open their third farmstand in Oswego. This is where Keller IV started to grow specialty crops such as sweet corn, pumpkins and apples.
Frank Keller IV thinks it’s incredibly important to educate community members on Naperville’s agricultural history. “When someone moves to Naperville they think ‘Wow, the layout of Naperville is great, there’s plenty of stores and businesses.’ But they don’t know that there were a lot of people spending their entire lives getting Naperville to what it is now, and a big part of that was the farm community,” said Keller. “There are a lot of families still around that were very instrumental. Pushing for good schools, running the city, etc.”
Keller’s Farmstand also welcomes schools to educate the students on farming and show them how great the United States agricultural system is.
“From my experience in the Peace Corps, you see that food is the number one issue for everything,” said Keller. “However, [in the United States] it’s mostly an afterthought, because agriculture is just so good here…. People don’t have to think about where their food comes from.”
Although there’s been plenty of hard days on the farm and bad weather throughout his career, Keller loves what he does. “Thankfully there’s many days where you love being on your own and working outside. I’ve enjoyed working with my family and my great grandfather. Our family is close enough to enjoy Naperville, but we are far enough away to feel like we’re in rural Illinois.”
For more information on the Keller Farmstands, visit their website at www.kellersfarmstand.com.
If you’d like to learn more about Naper Settlement’s Agricultural Interpretive Center and its goal to preserve the region’s agricultural history, visit our website at www.napersettlement.org/aic.