Editor’s note: Lake Country Escapades is a new column in InkFreeNews that will appear monthly. Columnist Loren Shaum is an automation engineering consultant, retired pilot, author, sometime professor, home gardener and an occasional chef. He and his wife, Gayle, reside in Syracuse.
LIGONIER — The Fashion Farm is just west of Ligonier on Old US 33 (CR 50 in Elkhart County and Lincolnway in Noble County). Named from a prized Red Poll cow that the farm’s patriarch, Charles Williams, purchased in 1931, W. B. Fashion’s (a second generation from the original cow) picture adorns several locations at the farm.
The farm dates back to 1828 when the “Treaty of the Potawatomi at the Mouth of the St. Joseph” was signed. As a result of that treaty, 200 acres of former Potawatomi land was granted to Pierre LeClere and his Native American wife.
Today, Williams’ second, third and fourth generations work the farm. Daughter Patty, and husband Russell Becker, along with son Jason and wife Vicki, oversee the farm’s multiple operations.
The family-oriented businesses include the farm (Fashion Farm, Inc.), the restaurant (Fashion Farm Restaurant) and landscaping (Countryscapes & Gardens). The farm also includes the original Williams’ homestead, which is called “Ole House of Memories” and is a museum of sorts.
Produce Farming Came First
Accordingly, the family set up a roadside stand to sell their fresh produce to passers-by as Old US 33 was a main artery between Elkhart County and Fort Wayne. Since that meager beginning, the farm has evolved into a multi-faceted business that employs over 50 people.
Some of the original acreage was spun off into a residential development. The remaining acreage implements a rotational crop methodology, with each field growing all types of pumpkins and gourds in turn. These are main cash crops and adorn the farm every fall in cleverly decorated kiosks. It is a display of decorative talent that draws folks from afar.
Now in its 48th year, Pumpkin Fantasyland runs through the month of October annually and has seen as many as 16,000 visitors, many arriving by the busload. Every year, there is a different theme, and the farm is decorated accordingly. There are workshops in the farm’s learning center, mazes from farm-produced corn shocks and straw, wagon rides and a thing called Pumpkin Typhoon.
The attempt is to educate and entertain at the same time. To that end, there are daily workshops and a Safe Kids Day featuring local first responders, police, jaws-of-life demonstrations, emergency helicopters, police dogs and kids can register for the national data base. Russell once told me that the farm “tries to use our events to connect to the community and relate to the police and first responders.”
Fashion Farm Restaurant
Emphasizing quality first, the restaurant has used the same, trusted vendor since opening in 1975. The kitchen makes all the salads, pies (their peach pie is awesome), specialty cakes, cookies, donuts and uses Russell’s recipes for Rusty’s Ole Fashion Ice Cream.
Although we frequent for breakfast or lunch, dinner is very popular, especially with farmers. The meatloaf is exceptional, but other dinner favorites include chicken and noodles, liver and onions and prime rib, all great comfort foods. On Friday, all-you-can-eat fish is featured.
For breakfast, the house-made mush is done just right with a crisp surface and soft center. Be prepared. It is a huge serving.
There are daily breakfast specials, but I tend to migrate to a menu item called the Farmer’s Breakfast. It’s a plate of two eggs (done your way), hash browns (ordered extra-crispy) and sausage or bacon. The sausage is particularly tasty.
For lunch, the salmon burger is a good choice. Crispy on the outside and soft and moist inside, it’s excellent.
The restaurant seats 110 but also offers private dining for 30 in the converted grain bin adjacent to the country store.
Rusty’s Ole Fashion Ice Cream
The ice cream sold at the country store adjacent to the restaurant is from another planet! Freshly made two or more times each week, the ice cream menu includes many variations. Over the past year, chocolate, vanilla, lemon and a wonderful, black raspberry ripple have been sampled.
They also offer strawberry and several funkier flavors. During Pumpkin Fantasyland, pumpkin ice cream is always featured. They have to make a lot because it goes fast.
I’ll compare this ice cream with any in all of Lake Country. The fruit flavors are particularly rich, creamy and consistent. It keeps really well in the freezer, and it’s available year-round.
Countryscapes Started Simply
Countryscapes initially offered only trees, shrubs and flowers. As word got out, requests for landscape planning became ever more frequent.
Countryscapes now offers seasonal gardening for many homes in Lake Country and designs and installs complete landscaping projects, including ponds and outdoor kitchens. One project included a three-acre lake.
The nursery also does hanging flower baskets for several Lake Country towns, including Syracuse.
The garden center includes a floral and gift shop, and during Pumpkin Fantasyland, it is immaculately decorated with all sorts of gourds, pumpkins (many carved and/or decorated) and mums. The shop alone is worth the visit.