Working farm in Knox County entertains with festivals, weddings and vacation rentals
Driving by on I-74, it’s hard to miss the 35-foot-tall Civil War-era barn that graces Walnut Grove Farm.
The structure rises above a walnut grove, flower gardens, and a three-story Victorian farmhouse on the uniquely beautiful farmstead in Knox County. While the barn is the most iconic feature of the property, the heart and soul of Walnut Grove Farm are husband-and-wife team Rich Wood and Janis King.
“This is a nationally registered farmstead,” said King. “The history of the buildings pushes me to whatever we do. Our mission is to share the farm with as many people as possible so our agricultural history is never lost to complacency.”
Working, Learning, Entertaining, Preserving
Walnut Grove Farm is a working farm. A portion of the land is rented for commercial crop production, while another part grows items for King’s florist business. However, King’s love of history and restoration has turned the farm into a center for agritourism. From concerts to gardening lectures and beyond, visitors can enjoy education and entertainment at the farm almost every day.
Wood describes his wife’s passion for the farm’s legacy with a picture from 25 years ago.
“Jan is up on top of the roof of the barn putting in a shingle. She’s dedicated to preserving this farm and maintaining this farmstead.”
Raised on a farm not far away, King is hardworking and humble. She barely mentions her fundraising efforts to restore the barn roof. Instead, she talks about how the BARN AGAIN! program launched by the National Trust for Historic Preservation and Successful Farming Magazine in 1987 helped with the preservation. The farm’s 1989 addition to the National Register of Historic Places gets mentioned.
Still, King downplays her work gathering the history of the original homesteaders, the Charles family. She credits the daily tasks of farming flowers, preparing for bed and breakfast visitors, and planning for events like Knox County Drive to Wood, their family, and the “Barn Pals.” “We’ve coordinated and established some really good networking and relationships,” Wood said. “We couldn’t do any of this if we didn’t have a family. The Barn Pals are vendors or good friends. And they do it because they just love doing it.”
One of those friends is Amanda Chavero. Her mother and stepfather were married at the farm and became friends with Wood and King. Chavero now lives in Colorado but still loves Walnut Grove Farm.
“I’m the oldest of five, so all of us kids were just out there as often as we could be. I really loved Jan, and for an 11-year-old to be empowered with responsibilities and tasks, I just thrived. Every single day I walk out into my yard, there’s something she taught me that I think about when I’m looking at the flowers.”
Chavero continued to help at Walnut Grove Farm through her college years and eventually was married there. The barn was bursting with peonies for her wedding. She said King’s guidance helped make her floral-filled vision a reality. And Wood was right beside her, taking photos and performing other tasks.
‘This farmstead belongs to the community’
When not working on weddings, the two open the farm up to the community. Thirty-five years ago, they hosted their first barn fest during the Knox County Scenic Drive, held the first two full weekends in October.
“We started it as a traditional craft showcase because Knox County Scenic Drive is supposed to be about preserving the historic buildings and sites in the county. It was about traditional craftsmanship and doing demonstrations,” said Wood. “We thought that was appropriate, and so we did an open barn. We’ve been doing it ever since.
They added Christmas at Walnut Grove Farm over Thanksgiving weekend a few years later.
“Folks can always depend on the Barn for a great experience,” said Barn Pal Blanche Shoup. “Many times at the Scenic Drive event, I hear folks talk about their annual pilgrimage to meet siblings from across the country …”
The events are immersive. King sells dried designer wreaths, swags and everlasting florals. Artisans pack the barn with handmade soaps, loom-woven rugs, woodwork and other creations. Guests and vendors alike snack on preserves, stews, sandwiches and specialty drinks as they listen to live music or book readings. Families have made it a tradition to get photos on hay bales or with an 1800’s-era Santa Claus.
Wood said he enjoys the stories people have shared with him.
“I came to realize very quickly that this farmstead belongs to the community. People take pride in visiting and being a part of things and having weddings here. People say ‘my dad or my grandpa brought me here when the Charles family had an orchard. They came and got apples or skated on the pond before the interstate went through.’ There are a lot of stories where people put hay in the barn or did things on the farm. Those stories have always been really fun to hear.”
‘A very sensory place’
To many, the farm is the perfect escape. That’s why the Walnut Grove Farm Guest House is available for bed and breakfast rental. The Victorian bungalow has two bedrooms, modern amenities, and a country decor. Guest reviews note the peaceful area and well-stocked kitchen. King said they’ve collected some regular visitors over the years.
“It’s a very sensory place. You can hear the birds and feel good just going out and getting in the midst of the plants. Everybody comes and says there’s an emotional connection. We treat people well. We hope that they feel comfortable being here.”
To learn more about Walnut Grove Farm, visit www.walnutgrovefarm.com.