Rendleman Orchards began in 1873 when John and Isabelle Rendleman bought and established the original 88 acre family farm raising chickens, cows, and corn for livestock. In this past century, the small family farm has grown and developed into our present day modern Ag enterprise while maintaining its identity as a family farm.
With each subsequent generation, the farm grew and evolved. John and Isabelle’s youngest son Grover, and his wife Iva assumed the farm in 1906, raising asparagus, rhubarb, sweet potatoes and corn for his truck farming operation. Grover also began to develop a fruit farming business with the strong influence of his wife’s family who were prominent area fruit farmers at that time.
Union County was known for being the largest peach producing area in the state of Illinois. Peach orchards could be seen on at least one side of the road all the way from Bald Knob Cross to Anna, Illinois – a distance of 18 miles. As Grover’s children grew, he and his son James (Jimmy), formed Grover Rendleman and Son, and by the late 1930s had expanded the original farm to include 540 acres. Despite the fact that many local fruit growers discontinued growing peaches all together, Grover Rendleman and Son continued operating as they had for the previous twenty years with peaches as their mainstay and summer apples as merely a supportive crop.
The year 1946 saw the premature death of Wayne P. Sirles, Grover’s son-in-law. Consequently, Grover’s daughter Helen moved back home to the farm with her children – one of whom was 5 year old Wayne Rendleman “Ren” Sirles. Ren grew up showing an interest in the family business, working full days during harvest when was was 10 years old. The interest led him back to the farm after college to work alongside his grandfather and uncle. Ren and his wife, Betty, had two children as the 1960s ushered in a plethora of advancements for the farm. The old-fashioned Elberta peaches, once the standard, were phased out as newer varieties with more flavor and better color were developed. New apple varieties were also planted in anticipation of the future market demands, and a new apple grader was implemented to pack this fall apples with more accuracy and ease.
The farm’s first cold storage facility was added and the farm began hydro cooling the peaches as they came in from the fields. The harvest was then handled by large bulk bins and forklifts rather than by simply manpower.
When Grover died in 1968, Grover Rendleman and Son had become one of the largest peach growers in the state at 540 acres. Within a few years, Jimmy and Ren formed their own partnership while Helen retired from teaching to assume many of the daily secretarial, payroll and bookkeeping responsibilities and Betty also left teaching to enter the business as a full-time crew boss during the harvest months. The farm was still truly a family enterprise.
With Jimmy’s death in 1979, Ren took over the operation himself and Grover Rendleman and Son became Rendleman Orchards, Inc. with Ren as president. The next [nearly] four decades have seen the farm grow to slightly beyond 800 acres. Due to the tough farm economy in the 1980s, the extra land came largely from neighboring farms that were not able to survive. The extra land was put into peach and nectarine production. Ren was an exceptional peach grower and knew there would always be a market for them if he could keep raising them. Also during this time, Ren and Betty formed a cooperative with the other large farmers in the area to collectively market their apples for juice and processing, which would be a partnership that lasted nearly 16 years.
In 1990, Ren and Betty’s son, Wayne, returned to the farm and began working full-time alongside his parents. With the addition of Wayne, Rendleman Orchards added vegetable production to the mix to both diversify and extend the growing season to help satisfy seasonal labor demands, all while peach production acres continued to grow too. The addition of vegetables was perfect at this time when people began to eat much healthier and the fresh market really opened up. By the late 1990s, there were more larger chain grocery stores and their buying habits demanded that fruits and vegetables be graded more accurately. This led to the addition of a computerized packing line and enhanced packing shed setup.
The early 2000s brought yet another change in consumer trends with the increased desire for specialty items and experiences from customers when visiting the farm. In the summer of 2002, Rendleman Orchards Farm Market was opened to provide customers with a true destination on their visit to the orchard and a way to purchase our fresh fruits and vegetables alongside many other featured family recipe and specialty products. To continue supporting consumer demands, Rendleman Orchards implemented GAP (Good Agricultural Practices) to become food safety and traceability certified beginning in 2010. The farm was one of two in the state of Illinois to begin completing the rigorous food safety audits by this time.
In 2014, Wayne’s wife, Michelle, joined the family business full-time. Since then, the farm market has not only expanded in product offerings and customer reach, but also customer experience. In addition there are several signature seasonal events and unique U-pick zinnia fields, sunflower fields and pumpkin patch complete with photo opportunities highlighting modern trends alongside the farms heritage antiques. Under Wayne’s leadership, to accommodate the continuing seasonal labor struggle, the farm began using the H2-A government program to secure labor so that the farm can continue supporting the delicate hand-harvest method that produces such quality fruits and vegetables. Wayne also led the orchards to become globally food safety certified. Wayne has increased a diverse wholesale customer base while also overseeing production.
Currently, Wayne and Michelle have assumed leadership of the farming operation. They are the fifth generation of Rendlemans to work this farm and have two daughters, Hilary and Audrey.