By Bridget DeWaard

This October, Oly Farms, located in Emington, decided to open its doors, delighting visitors for the past month with a wide range of activities. Stemming from the family farm Kris and Lena Olson have grown through hardwork and love, they strive to impart pieces of their experience to everyone they happen to meet at the farm. Growing up, Lena always loved animals, recalling fond memories of accompanying her Grandparents when they showed their

shetland ponies, and participated in 4-H events. Raised on a farm in Fairbury, she would eventually move to Emington, living now on the farm that her Grandfather grew up on. “I have learned a lot of discipline, respect and responsibility with having a farm,” she said fondly, an experience Olson would love for others to share. Full of family history and loved through generations, the farm is of great importance to the Olsons, who take care to nurture and spread this love to all those who visit. Meeting her husband in

2005, Lena was working at Big R at the time, when Kris happened to stop by to visit his brother-in-law. They would then go on to get married in 2009, deciding to carry on the legacy of Lena’s Grandparents and operating their farm with their family ever since. Kris, a member of the Air National Guard,

would end up being deployed overseas several times throughout the years during his service. “Having a farm gave me something to do, as well as having lots of comfort from the animals when he was away,” she recalled of their days spent apart. “I needed to stay busy, to pass the time.” Their farm grew steadily over time, as Lena’s love for animals led her to constantly be on the search for more to add to their family farm. “We have always been around animals, but I saw a couple of horses for sale by Morris in the Spring of 2009,” she said, recounting how she had also always wanted a Clydesdale. She continued, remembering excitedly, “[That day] we came home with seven! I was in heaven.” Prior to this purchase, the Olsons had just a couple of quarter horses. Their farm quickly filled with their new precious additions, and the desire Lena had long held of running a farm-based business grew right along with their ever-growing animal family. “Kris thought I was nuts,” Lena said, amused as she retold the story of her quest for more animals.

Already having the horses, a donkey and chickens, she asked to go to Indiana after d

iscovering a calf she hoped to bring home for their future petting zoo. Though admittedly somewhat skeptical at first, and initially needing some convincing, Lena warmly remembered her husband’s constant and unwavering support throughout the entire process as she pursued her dream. From there, the farm grew

even greater, as Lena continued to search and add (sometimes comically in secret) more animals. “Every time my husband [came] home from work,” Lena jovially admitted, “there was a new animal on the farm.” Before the animal-centered business came entirely to fruition, Kris and Lena would raise various horses, travel to participate in local county fairs as well as state fairs, and even bring their animals along as a mobile petting zoo, visiting daycares and nursing homes. After reaching a point where they felt comfortable, they made the decision this October to tentatively open the farm, hoping to gauge public interest and determine the feasibility of running the farm-based business. Having tested the waters and loved every moment of it, the Olsons decided to continue on with the dream, officially opening Oly Farms. They have planned to be open, even if in spurts, while weather permits, closing after winter 

formally arrives and temperatures make it too difficult to enjoy the animals. Once spring and the fair weather returns, they will reopen, posting hours and available appointments on their

Facebook page, which can be found by searching “Oly Farms”. Leading up to the weather-related closure, they will also post on the page of temporary open days if possible during lingering favorable conditions. “I would love to do some carriage rides still,” Lena said, “if we get some decent days.” The farm is home to a multitude of animals, offering a wide variety for children and adults alike to pet, enjoy, and experience. “[Currently we have] Clydesdales, a mini donkey, goats,” which Lena clarified also included fainting goats, “a mini Hereford cow, alpacas, a sheep, basset hounds, a rabbit, chickens, geese and guineas.” (continued on page 9) Lena said her favorite animals of the bunch are without a doubt the Clydesdales, after having wanted this particular breed for so long. In reference to those that have visited and experienced the farm, the most popular animals so far have been the alpacas, but did clarify, “It’s [been] a close race with Shrek the donkey.” Animals that are part of the petting zoo can be fed handfuls of hay, but to help eliminate the possibility of accidentdal nipping, they do not offer any sort of grains for feeding. Lena also mentioned that guests have sometimes brought apples along to feed the horses, which is completely fine to do, and that they love the snack. A fun and unique option through the petting zoo are picture opportunities with the animals, which includes adorable photo props. Hoping guests will take advantage of the farm for birthday parties, picnics and more, Lena mentioned that they often get asked what a photo prop is, and explained, “We supply the animal of choice, and decorate it to the occasion [you are celebrating]. Either us or a photographer will take a picture of guests with the animal.” Pictures taken can be used as a fun and creative thank you card, for guests who attended the event, or just as a way to preserve memories of the day. The Clydesdales are available for riding and used for carriage rides as well. “Right now, I lead the horse in the driveway, until we either get a walking unit and can do multiple horses, or get an area that someone could actually ride on their own,” Olson said, describing the lovingly dubbed “Ride

a Clyde” portion of the farm experience. “We just started, so there will be some tweaking to the process.” For weddings, carriage rides are a beautifully whimsical and romantic option, for guests as well as the married couple. Besides his service in the Air National Guard, Kris also works at an equipment rental agency, Illini Truck and Equipment, during the week. Getting everything ready for the carriage rides can be slightly arduous for one person, so available time slots for carriage rides are announced on their page, and appointments are scheduled around Kris’s working hours. The Olson’s enjoy fresh eggs layed by their chickens, and offer extras they aren’t able to eat to their visitors, selling them year round. Shorter days lead to less sunlight, effecting egg production, so the Olson’s have added supplemental lights to the coop. These lights support healthy egg laying when seasonable natural light is unavailable. Oly Farms is open Thursday through Sunday, announcing when different activities are available in addition to time slots open for scheduling on their Facebook page. Typically, the petting zoo is also run by appointment during the week, and includes riding the clydesdale. On weekends, hours are posted, and people are free to come whenever within the time slot. Lena went on to say there may be times they closedown the other activities, instead providing only carriage rides for the rest of the day. Lena provided a detailed description of what a scheduled appointment entails, saying, “Usually, we visit the Clydesdales in the lot first, then the donkey, and the petting zoo. We then finish with the ‘ride a Clyde,’ and the kids [get to] play with the other animals while they wait for their turn. [There are] lots of learning opportunities here too.” There is no entrance fee set, with Oly Farms currently operating soley on donations. Any donations received are used for care and food for the animals. Extra funds left after that are put toward the purchase of new animals. All of the visitors have loved the experience. “Some have even come back a second time already,” Lena said, excited the business venture has been received so well. Olson went on to share stories from satisfied parents, of contented children falling fast asleep on the ride home, resting up for their next animal adventure. Besides caring for the animals, Lena’s favorite aspect of running the business involves interacting with and witnessing visitor reactions to the animals, and the farm in its entirety. “I [love seeing] the joy on everyone’s faces when they experience these

 animals up close and personal,” she said affectionately. Olson also loves sharing the excitement and happiness of a first time rider, a moment which never grows old. The Olson’s have several plans for this winter, using the downtime to improve and expand their business before re-opening. True to Lena’s spirit, they hope to add even more animals. “We plan to get more in the Springtime, before we reopen, so there are babies and plenty of new critters for everyone to see,” Lena said, also mentioning they have been taking suggestions for what to add. By request, they are looking into finding either a pig or a turtle – or maybe both – by next year. A gift shop is also underway, and will have farm merchandise, crafts, and other homemade or farm produced items available for purchase. Lena, who also crafts on the side, hopes to sell some of her creations through the farm shop. In addition to the fresh layed eggs, the Olson’s may begin producing handmade items from the alpacas, which are traditionally sheared in the spring. Because they can’t shed naturally, shearing is very important and healthy for the alpacas, and yields fleece that is much softer and warmer than normal wool. Kris and Lena are planning some future fun-filled gatherings for their visitors as well, considering a large, celebratory weekend upon reopening, with bounce houses, food trucks, hayrack rides and food cooked on an open fire. After just the first month of opening, Oly Farms has already become a favorite for visitors, a uniquely charming animal adventure with a family safe atmosphere. Most importantly, the Olson’s continue to put their love and whole heart into everything they do. Lena reaffirmed this sentiment, assuring that while the animals are a constant commitment, “It isn’t work if you love what you are doing.” Available open time slots and information on intermittent openings on their Facebook page, Oly Farms