For many in McHenry County and beyond, autumn begins with a trip to Stade’s Farm & Market.
The McHenry attraction’s popular Shades of Autumn Fall Festival — running Sept. 7 through Oct. 27 this year — has drawn generations of loyal followers and new fans for more than two decades.
They come to Stade’s to pick apples and pumpkins, to watch the sunset during a hayride. They come to ride on an antique carousel or take part in any of the numerous family activities meticulously gathered by Vernon Stade — a fan of Disney — for his Farmtractions theme park.
They come to make memories, said Barb Leschke, an event coordinator and office manager at the farm.
“It’s just good clean family fun,” she said. “There are a lot of people that never really get to experience the country. There’s so much to offer in McHenry County.”
Since Stade’s beginnings as a dairy farmer in 1977 to the start of the festival in 1997, the farm at 3709 Miller Road in McHenry has served as a unique reflection of both the area’s roots and tourist appeal.
It’s both a place to relax in the country and find fresh produce at the farm market, as well as be entertained —all in one day.
Apple or pumpkin cannon shooting, anyone?
There’s also a zip-line, a petting zoo, jumping pillows, slide hills, hale bale climbing, a train ride, a ferris wheel, a corn maze, a giant jumping pillow, duck races, a cattle truck maze, a petting zoo. The list of more than 40 activities grows annually.
Among this year’s new attractions are a Bunny Village, the Wizzer ride, Tug of War and Stade’s Relaxation Station School Bus.
“There’s something for everyone when they come to the farm,” Leschke said. “It’s one of the most fun places to create family memories.”
A Sept. 7-8 Tractors for Charity event will kick off the Shades of Autumn festival. Along with showing off the area’s antique tractors, trucks and construction equipment, the event raises money for various charities. And Sept. 8 is Grandparents Sunday, with grandparents admitted free with their grandchildren.
Future events include a 15th annual Classic Car Show on Sept. 14 -15 and a Sixth Annual Arts & Crafts on the Farm event on Sept. 21-22, with Military Appreciation Sunday on Sept. 22.
The hayrides to Stade’s 30-acre pick-your-own pumpkin field start the weekend of Sept. 21.
In the meantime, the pick-your-own apple orchard remains open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Fridays through Mondays.
Leschke expects “one of the best apples people ever picked” — the EverCrisp, a cross between the Honeycrisp and Fuji apples — to be coming in October.
“There’s just so much going on here,” Leschke said. “We have people who come from all over the place to be here on a beautiful fall day out in the country.”
Beginning Saturday, Shades of Autumn will be open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays in September and Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays in October. The festival also is open on Columbus day on Oct. 14.
Admission to the festival costs $15 for those ages 3 to 64 and $10 for those ages 65 and older. Children ages 2 and younger are admitted free.
For information, visit stadesfarmandmarket.com or call 815-675-6396.