The dirtier the shoes, the fresher the vegetables.
A basket in hand, Tom and Jyme Hurley of Shorewood trekked through the dirt in a farmfield at Franklinville Road and Route 176 in Union. They'd already driven by the field a few times earlier in the summer, eagerly anticipating the chance to once again pick their own vegetables.
Like many of the customers at J Goebbert's U-Pick Field, the couple stumbled upon the farm while driving through the area. One visit, and they were hooked.
"Look at how huge this guy is," Jyme Hurley said, holding up a green pepper. "That's a meal right there."
The Hurleys have returned every summer since the farm opened several years ago to pick fresh tomatoes, peppers, carrots, eggplants and any other vegetables they can squeeze in their $15 bushel. Jyme Hurley cans and freezes some of it to make the supply last as long as possible.
Customers say they come for the price, the freshness and, in some ways, the experience.
They're getting their hands dirty, strolling through a farm field in the country, the sun beaming down on them as they pluck their picks. With that in mind, the vegetables become more appealing, especially to children. Both the effort and the taste are satisfying, they say.
"They're more sweet," Maribel Ramirez of Woodstock said of the vegetables as she walked through the field with her 18-year-old son, Jesus, finding carrots, tomatoes and peppers for the family.
The 8-acre farm field is believed to be the only in the area and elsewhere offering customers the chance to pick their own vegetables. Customers often stumble upon it while driving on Route 176, where signs lead them to a dirt road built into the farm.
Every year, it grows in popularity as both loyal and new customers stop by, said 22-year-old James Goebbert, the field's owner and a fourth-generation farmer. Goebbert grew up farming with his father, uncle and grandfather, planting his own herb field as a freshman in high school.
His father, Lloyd, and uncle, Lee Goebbert, run the Goebbert's Pumpkin Patch in Hampshire, where customers also have the chance to pick their own vegetables, as well as Goebbert's Farm and Garden Center in South Barrington. Both businesses grew out of the efforts of James' grandfather, Jim, who first bought 40 acres of farmland in 1972.
Jim helped his grandson start his own business.
James bought 300 acres of farmland in Union his senior year of high school to begin his main business, Go-Ro Fresh Produce. He grows specialty herbs and greens, such as cilantro, dill, kale and parsley, and sells them wholesale.
The U-Pick is just something James offers on the side.
Although the family's there to help, he said, "I'm doing my own thing."
"I always knew I wanted to have my own farm," James said, shortly after hopping off a four-wheeler at the farmfield. "I've always wanted to be my own boss."
He thought the field's location along Route 176 would draw people in, and so far, it has, with most customers going for the field's wide variety of tomatoes and peppers.
Even if supplies diminish, the vegetables continue to grow all season, with the field remaining open until mid-October, James said.
Jim Goebbert said people love picking their own vegetables, seeing for themselves exactly what they're getting and where it's coming from.
"You can't get any fresher than this," Jim Goebbert said.
While the Goebberts grew up farming, most of today's families aren't as connected to the land.
That, perhaps, might inspire them to make a day of it at the U-Pick field.
"Parents want to bring [their children] out so they can see where it come from, and they're able to experience picking," James Goebbert said.
While the area's numerous apple and pumpkin picking farms are popular, they're different than what he has to offer, he said.
"Those are for entertainment," he said. "This is more for good food. ... I love my vegetables."