Lloyd and Doreen Nichols were gardeners who dreamed of having a farm that would sustain their family. In 1978, they began living the dream when they bought 10 acres in Marengo, Illinois, where they made butter and cheese from their own dairy animals, and planted orchards and vegetable gardens. Having more than they needed, the Nicholses began to sell their produce at market.

Now, three generations of the family work the well-established Nichols Farm, which is certified sustainable and grows 1,000 different fruits and vegetables, with over 200 varieties of apples alone (from Aceymac to Zestar). There are gooseberries, cherries, and flowers; melons, squash, and Asian greens; and just about everything in between. They have a community-supported agriculture program, and sell at up to 14 farmers’ markets in Chicago and its suburbs. And restaurant chefs, such as Stephanie Izard from Girl & The Goat, count Nichols as a grower of custom crops and a trusted purveyor. Says chef Rick Bayless, of Frontera Grill, “Nichols is one of my favorites.”