Photo: Fred Kroner
DeYoung stands in her pantry where she has more than 30 flavors of jam
prepared and ready for sale. Her four-ounce jars are $4 apiece.
Sara DeYoung likes to find herself in the middle of a jam.
It’s a common position for the westside Mahomet resident, especially from June through October.
Her jams are all self-made and ones that she willingly creates.
It might be peach jam.
Or some other concoction combining several ingredients.
DeYoung has a home-based business on the family’s 3-acre property along Turkey Farm Road, and she is surrounded by nearly a dozen varieties of fruit trees or berry bushes.
The name of her business reflects not only what she does, but also her attitude on life.
Yes, I Can.
That’s as in, yes, she cans jams — sometimes as many as 10 cases in a day— as well as yes, she can do this.
“As a cancer survivor, it’s such a positive message,” DeYoung said. “I survived cancer. I can do anything.”
And, she does.
Her husband, Josh, is the one with two master’s degrees from the University of Illinois (in architecture and civil engineering), but Sara DeYoung is the one empowered to home-school the couple’s two children, 12-year-old Taylor and 11-year-old Eli.
Though she is a fan of the Mahomet-Seymour school district, DeYoung pulled her children out of public school after Taylor’s third-grade year and Eli’s second-grade year.
“Their first day of school that year, I left for five weeks for treatment at the Mayo Clinic (in Rochester, Minn.),” Sara DeYoung said. “Taylor was 9. Her time as a kid was half over.
“Her only memories of me were as a sick mom.”
Sara DeYoung wanted moments to savor and enjoy, both for herself and the children.
“I asked if they were interested in being home-schooled,” DeYoung said.
The rewards weren’t just to have the children close by to watch as they learned and grew, but also for Sara to have something to look forward to after 30 chemotherapy treatments, 25 radiation treatments and nine surgeries that were required to combat her Stage 3 breast cancer.
Taylor is now in seventh grade. Eli recently started sixth grade.
“They are everything to me, the children and my husband. That’s why I fought so hard to stay alive,” Sara DeYoung said. “You have a different look on life and what’s important.
“I was so thankful for the teachers my kids had and that they had time to escape from home and be with friends, but I needed to plug a hole from time lost and spend time with them.”
When DeYoung was a child growing up in Maine, she remembers one of her home’s staples.
“We had Welch’s Grape Jelly,” she said. “That was the only jam or jelly I knew.”
These days, DeYoung has more than 30 jams at her fingertips and at least that many others that she may eventually create.
On her property, there are six peach trees (which last year produced a bounty of 900 pounds of the fruit), two plum trees, four Honey Crisp apple trees, two Braeburn apple trees, two Granny Smith apple trees, one cherry tree, 18 blueberry bushes, 10 raspberry bushes and three blackberry bushes.
That’s before she mentions the strawberry plants.
“About 2,000 of those,” DeYoung said.
The strawberry harvest can be enormous.
“About 50 to 60 pounds every other day for three to four weeks,” DeYoung said.
Most of her fruits and berries ripen in June, July or August, which means one thing as she looks ahead.
“The sky’s the limit with different flavor aspects,” she said.
Canning fruits or vegetables or making jams wasn’t part of DeYoung’s upbringing.
When the family moved from Denver to Mahomet in 2003, they first lived in a residence on Clover Lane.
Sara’s mother-in-law (Barb DeYoung, from Bourbonnais) not only taught her to can and make salsa, but one year also gave a birthday present of 50 strawberry plants.
“My kids asked me to make jam,” DeYoung said.
She hasn’t slowed down.
What she doesn’t grow, she can readily access thanks to herbrother-in-law, Andrew DeGroot, who is involved with a family vegetable farm in St. Anne (Wichert Farm).
“He has 35 acres of jalapenos,” Sara DeYoung said.
The DeYoung family moved to their current home in 2011, and Sara gradually expanded her operation.
What started as a hobby with her giving gifts of jam to teachers, the mail carrier, the garbage man and friends and relatives at holiday time, turned into a full-scale business.
“I loved having unique gifts to give or different appetizers for friends when we had jam tastings,” she said.
Word of mouth has been good for her.
In 2016, DeYoung sold approximately 1,000 of her 4-ounce jars of flavored jams.
She lives out her motto: Yes, I Can.
Since DeYoung doesn’t have access to a commercial kitchen, she operates her business under the state’s Cottage Laws, which are quite restrictive.
“I can make stuff from my home kitchen and sell at farmers’ markets and fairs, but I can’t sell in retail locations or have a website with a ‘sell’ button for people to push,” DeYoung said. “Most of my business is from friends who shared with friends.”
She has a select few taste-testers who are on duty when she provides them with samples.
They get them (for free) with the expectation I’ll get their feedback and creative ideas on how to use it,” DeYoung said.
That’s how she learned that her honey-thyme and blackberry jam is “good over seared pork chops,’ DeYoung said.
There’s a chipotle peach jam, she said, that’s “great on barbecued chicken.”
There’s a white chocolate raspberry jam that doesn’t need accompaniment.
“People eat it with a spoon,” DeYoung said.
Even ones she was unsure about proved to be a hit.
“The apple cinnamon has cinnamon red hots in it and wasn’t my favorite to taste, but I was surprised how well-received it was,” DeYoung said. “It’s great on peanut butter and jelly.”
She offers a sour cherry and expresso flavor that, she said, is “great over Brie,” though she added, “I haven’t found a dud yet.”
DeYoung did discover one which she labels as “wildly popular.”
It’s her carrot cake jam.
DeYoung doesn’t lack for ideas of flavors to mix and match.
She scours the internet but doesn’t adhere to the directions.
“I change them to make them mine,” she said. “I’ll add more of this or less of that or add another ingredient. And some come from the garden of my mind. I’m not done doing new flavors.”
Sometimes, she’s simply on a quest to please herself.
Both her cranberry orange and holiday cranberry varieties were made, she said, while “in search of the perfect after-Thanksgiving turkey condiment.”
She was pleased with the result.
“I did meet that challenge,” she said. “It’s fantastic. It’s a party.”
The holiday cranberry jam consists of cranberries, orange slices, jalapenos, red onions and red peppers.
Her fertile mind is already looking beyond what she does now.
“In a perfect world, I’d be giving canning lessons,” she said. “Hopefully, I will grow it into something bigger.”
DeYoung has the perfect marketing ploy ready to break out if and when the day arrives that she has students other than her own children.
“Yes, I Can,” she said, “And So Can You.”For more information, visit DeYoung’s Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/