Generations of Deerfield-area residents knew Vernon Zickert for the heirloom apples they could buy at his farm on State Highway 73.
Zickert died in 2016 at the age of 101.
In 2017, his family sold the 184-acre farm to Jeff Moerke and Elizabeth Tebon-Moerke, of Deerfield.
The couple has a new vision for what they’ve renamed Bittersweet Blessings Farm.
On Sunday, Aug. 4, the couple will host more than 100 vendors from across the Midwest at their Deerfield Market Expo. Vendor booths will be set up in and around the farm’s buildings, including inside a historic dairy barn constructed in 1905.
Other buildings that will house vendors include a corn crib constructed many decades ago by Vernon Zickert.
Tents will shelter yet more vendors outside.
Vendors will be selling antiques, crafts, fine art, flea market wares, and direct sale items like cosmetics and clothing. Specific craft items expected to be for sale include candles, clothing, notecards, turned bowls, woodworking, lawn ornaments, and custom signs and furniture.
“We have a lot of unique people bringing a lot of unique things,” Jeff Moerke said. “We expect it to be a good time, and we hope that there is something that catches everybody’s eye.”
The event will run from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the farm, 4509 State Highway 73, a half-mile south of Interstate-94. Admission is $5 for adults and free for children age 12 and under. Parking is free.
There will be live music by Garrett Borgrud from 10 a.m. to 11 a.m. and by Bill Bossingham beginning at 12:30 p.m. Free children’s activities will include temporary tattoos, balloon animals by KC Twisters Balloon Twisters and free caricature portraits by artist Ronald Schmitz. And there will be a food court.
Since buying the farm, the Moerkes have worked hard to restore it. The 1905 barn, for instance, has new windows, a new cement floor and new support posts, has been tuckpointed and its interior whitewashed, and has a new sidewalk and apron outside the entrance.
A few buildings, including an 1840s barn that was deemed structurally unsafe and not able to be restored, have been taken down. In the space where that barn was is now a flowerbed and a circle driveway.
The couple has also split off some of the land, including for four home sites east of State Highway 73, that have all sold. They’ve also sold a few acres to a neighboring property owner, bringing their total acreage down to 154 acres, most of which remains rented out as cropland.
What also remains intact is Vernon Zickert’s orchard, that includes cherry, plumb, apple and pear trees, some of which are believed to be almost 100 years old.
The Moerkes, for now, have been selling each year’s crop of apples and pears to Wisconsin-based brandy and hard cider producers. They have a long-term vision for restoring the orchard but currently are focusing on the Market Expo.
The Moerkes have envisioned the Market Expo since they bought the farm, where they have lived full-time for the past few months in the Zickert family’s historic farmhouse. Eventually, they plan to build a new home on the property.
Moerke is retired from Alliant Energy and Tebon-Moerke is a first-grade teacher at Deerfield Elementary School.
“When we bought the farm we had so many visions of what we’d like to do with it, and what we wanted to do with our lives,” Moerke said.
“We’ve always talked about owning a farm, and about owning a shop someday,” Tebon-Moerke said.
For the Market Expo, the Zickert farm, “is a perfect location. It’s such a unique venue with the old farm buildings,” Moerke said.
Getting ready, “has been fun,” as word of the event has gotten around Deerfield and beyond via billboards, radio ads and other media.
“It’s been nice to learn about the vendors, and what they’re bringing. We’ve had a couple of people drive in and want to see their spaces. And it’s been nice to have (local) people stop out and say how excited they are for this,” Tebon-Moerke said.
Members of the Zickert family have commented that “it’s so nice to see life brought back to the farm,” Tebon-Moerke said.
Tebon-Moerke said she often reflects “in my head, to the Zickert family, that I hope you like what we’re doing here. I hope you’re proud of what we are doing with your home and with your farm.”
The Moerkes hope this is just the start of regularly-scheduled Market Expos. They have two planned already for the summer of 2020 and are envisioning an apple festival in October 2020.
They said they hope that the Market Expos not only benefit the farm and the vendors, but also give visitors a taste of Deerfield. They said they hope visitors venture into town after getting their fill of the expo.
“If we can do something that brings people into Deerfield, that’s really cool,” Moerke agreed.
For the couple, it’s about more than just their farm.
Moerke has lived in Deerfield for 25 years, Tebon-Moerke for 16.
“I think we both feel lucky to live here, in a community like this, and I think in a way we both feel like we’re giving back. We’re kind of doing this for our town,” Tebon-Moerke said.
More information: (608) 444-4244 or www.bittersweetblessingsfarm.com