For childhood friends Justine Olejniczak and Amanda Rodriguez, apple picking is a fall family tradition, even during a pandemic. The friends each took their mother and 2-year-old son to Jonamac Orchard in Malta to pick apples.
"Visiting an orchard and picking apples is something we've always done as a family," Justine's mother Ann Forgille of Batavia said. "I remember we used to go up to Wisconsin. It's just something fun to do with your family during the fall."
Apple-picking season - and apple cider doughnut season - has officially begun in DeKalb County. But due to the COVID-19 pandemic and Gov. JB Pritzker's Restore Illinois plan, there are new rules, regulations and health and safety guidelines to follow while visiting orchards this fall.
At both Jonamac Orchard in Malta and Honey Hill Orchard in Waterman, masks are required inside buildings and are recommended where social distancing can't be maintained.
Honey Hill Orchard
Honey Hill Orchard, 11783 Waterman Road in Waterman, will be open 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Sept. 5, 7 and 8 for apple and raspberry picking. The orchard will be open daily starting Sept. 10 through the end of October. In addition to u-pick apples, rasberries, pumpkins and gourds, the orchard offers a free petting zoo, straw maze and wagon rides.
Changes at the orchard due to the pandemic include limiting the number of people inside the barn store and requiring a mask indoors, on the u-pick wagon and when not able to remain socially distant outdoors. There will be a walk-up window for the snack shop and bakery and outdoor seating and picnic tables.
Owner Kathy Bock said that this year is "a good year for apples an an exceptional year for bees."
Due to a cool, late spring that has lead to apples ripening later, most apples will be ready to harvest about a week later than average.
"Hopefully we can offer a little bit of normalcy along with the fun fall activities," Bock said. "I have a lot of people tell me that they visited the orchard when they were kids with their parents, now they are parents and are bringing their children. Visiting an orchard is a family tradition."
For more information about Honey Hill Orchard, visit www.honeyhillorchard.com.
Jenna Spychal, a third-generation owner of Jonamac Orchard, 19412 Shabbona Road in Malta, said that the orchard is open, but that "things look a little bit different this year."
The corn bin in the orchard's barnyard play area is closed this year, but new play area additions include a schoolhouse and a doughnut shop for children to play pretend. Another new orchard addition is a pumpkin building, which will contain more than 400 pumpkins for purchase. The store and bakery will offer curbside pickup for items purchased online."
We want to be as safe as possible during the pandemic," Spychal said. "We have health screenings for employees before their shifts, hand sanitizer stations and increased cleaning practices. It's important for everyone to enjoy their visit, but also for them to be safe."
Jonamac Orchard and its store and bakery are open daily from 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Its Cider House is open 11 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Mondays through Fridays and 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Saturdays on Sundays. Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays will be Fall Festival Days at Jonamac Orchard, with admission costing $5 per person, with children 2 and younger free. Mondays through Thursdays there is no charge for admission. The barnyard play area is open free of charge Mondays through Thursdays, except Labor Day and Columbus Day, and $3 on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays.
"We are still your family's fall tradition," Spychal said. "We want to offer a place where families can get together, space out, enjoy the fresh and and celebrate the fall."
In addition to the store, bakery and cider house, Jonamac Orchard offers u-pick apples and pumpkins and a petting zoo. This weekend is the last blooming weekend of the orchard's sunflower fields. During Fall Festival Days, there will be a petting zoo, haydrides, apple train, apple launchers and cannons, a jumping pillow and a daytime corn maze.
The daytime corn maze is open through Oct. 31 the following hours: 9 to 5:30 p.m. Fridays, Sundays and Labor Day, 9 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. Saturdays and 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Columbus Day. This year's corn maze celebrates the 125th anniversary of Northern Illinois University. The corn maze is included in general admission.
The haunted corn maze will be open 6:30 to 10:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays in October. Admission is $15 per person. The haunted corn maze is recommended for ages 13 and older. Flashlights will not be allowed, only glowsticks or pen lights.
For more information about Jonamac Orchard, visit www.jonamacorchard.com.