Johansen Farms started more than 85 years ago, when Hans Johansen and his family immigrated to Illinois from Copenhagen. Upon their arrival, the family started to grow and sell flowers and vegetables, slowly transforming their business from a roadside farm stand into a flourishing plant empire.
Today, sunlight filters into Johansen Farms’ 24 greenhouses, illuminating scarlet petals and verdant tendrils as they rise from beds of moist earth. Within these humid growing centers, gardeners cultivate more than 2,000 varieties of plants and flowers, from blooming annuals to hearty grasses. Guests meander at will, stopping to sniff baby flower buds and eye appetizing fruits and veggies.
The Niabi Zoo houses 900 animals from 160 species hailing from a quintet of continents on its 40-acre grounds. Accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, this Midwestern menagerie abides by rigorous standards for bird and beast welfare. Traverse the educational trails, sighting zebras, ostriches, and giraffes trying on oversized bowties in the African exhibit or large cats such as the jaguar, leopard, and bengal tiger. The Niabi Zoo also protects 200 acres of area land for native wildlife preservation and bocce-ball tournaments.
For more than 50 years, the monks of Marmion Abbey have tended 300 acres of farmland. They started with Christmas trees, and now maintain 120 acres of pines, spruces, and firs that smell exactly like car freshener. On the remaining acres, they tend pumpkin vines and corn mazes, interspersing these areas with scenic picnic groves.
Throughout the year, the monks open their land to the public. In the autumn, they host Pumpkin Daze, a harvest festival with tractor wagon rides and a petting zoo. Around mid-November, they grant access to their tree farm, supplying visitors with rental saws for you-cut trees and bellowing "Timber!" just like Paul Bunyan did when he fell into bed at night. The monks stock their farm store with handcrafted goods that complement the season, whether caramel apples in the fall or quilts in the winter.