By FRED KRONER
Jen Quinlan is a city girl with a heart for the country lifestyle.
Her husband, Mike Quinlan, hails from a longstanding Champaign County agriculture family.
Collectively, the couple is pursuing a startup business at the rural home they purchased on County Line Road (west of Mahomet) six months ago.
Later this month — Memorial Day weekend — Moon Grove Farm will open as a bed and breakfast.
They are also planning a you-pick flower garden on one acre of their four-acre property.
They are already thinking of ways to expand.
“As first-time business owners, we thought we’d pick a few areas of focus,” Jen Quinlan said. “In Year 2, we hope to apply for a grant for a greenhouse and jump-start the season.”
This wasn’t a spur-of-the-moment decision.
“We’ve wanted to do a small business for a while,” Jen Quinlan said. “I kept an eye on rural properties, even when we were in Austin (Texas) over five years ago.”
It was difficult locating something that would fit their needs.
“It was never anything we could afford or the amount of land we could manage,” Mike Quinlan said.
They looked far and wide.
“We visited an off-the-grid goat farm in Oregon,” Jen Quinlan said.
They were prepared to act when the timing was right.
“She saw this (property) the day it hit the market,” Mike Quinlan said.
The house they live in was built in the 1880s and in 2013 received a Preservation and Conservation award.
A self-professed farm novice, Jen Quinlan took it upon herself to become more knowledgeable on as many aspects as possible.
“I took cheesemaking classes and beekeeping classes,” she said.
What was most valuable, she found, was serving an internship with Prairie Fruits Farm and Creamery, in north Urbana.
“I learned how big agri-tourism is,” Jen Quinlan said. “I learned to milk 70-plus goats. I learned the business.”
More than anything, she appreciated the openness of Prairie Fruits owners Wes Jarrell and Leslie Cooperband.
“They were very transparent about the long hours and how hard they have to work,” Jen Quinlan said.
Nothing she heard was discouraging, although she admitted, some details needed to be learned first-hand, not through word of mouth.
“At the beginning, I was starry-eyed,” Jen Quinlan said, “and didn’t know what it was like to get red ants stuck in your shoes or to be stepped on by an animal.”
The couple bought the acreage that had been known as Stone Court Farms, when it was owned for more than a decade by Kate Kenney and Michael Vogel.
The Quinlans didn’t immediately pick their name, Moon Grove Farm.
The Grove part came from the five huge sugar maple trees on the property.
“The name matters and we wanted a name that would ring true,” Jen Quinlan said. “One thing that struck us was the likely 200-year-old maple trees that are a habitat for bald eagles.
“The trees stood out. The moon part took time. We’ve never lived in this much space and it was what we saw it looks like at night. The name just unfolded.”
The couple received a letter from the former owners detailing not only what had been planted, but also the locations.
“It was like a treasure map,” Mike Quinlan said. “There are fruit trees, hazelnut bushes, more than 200 asparagus plants, a lot of rhubarb,
“It was everything that had been planted the last 10 years.”
Though they are start-up owners, thanks to the former tenants, the basic business plan was in place.
“We had a head start,” Jen Quinlan said, “with things that grow themselves.
“It was a surprise to see how wonderfully the previous couple had maintained it.”
A native of Maryland, this wasn’t what Jen Quinlan envisioned for herself as a teenager.
“I thought I would be an advertising executive in New York,” she said.
She spent 13 years working tech jobs while yearning for something different.
“Sitting behind a computer, I got sick of not growing things,” she said. “To counter-balance that, gardening was an interesting outlet.
“Now I can appreciate nature, growing things and bringing joy to others.”
In time, the Quinlans expect to host some weekend markets, “a farm stand with some vegetables and fruits available,” Jen Quinlan said.
The entire upstairs (three bedrooms, with queen-sized beds and one private bath) and a downstairs living room will be available for those interested in the bed and breakfast.
Interest is growing.
“We’ve seen a strong demand from the Chicago area,” Jen Quinlan said. “People who have gone to the U of I and moved away, or that are tired of the city noise and concrete and want to get back to their roots, have made inquiries.”
The appeal, she expects, will be strongest from, “people who enjoy staying in a house and not a sterile hotel.”
The Quinlans will serve a private breakfast and — as much as possible — will source food from local and area vendors.
Guests will have a private entrance to the house, separate from the family, and access to a front porch area which overlooks an herb garden.
They will also offer a service that some guests from might not immediately embrace.
“We hope to do a ‘tech detox experience,’ where we’ll store smartphones to give people an opportunity to read books, talk in person or go outside,” Jen Quinlan said.
“We’ll remind people you don’t have to have your devices in front of you all the time.”
The Quinlans have been in that situation, but not by choice.
“We’ve stayed in places where there was no cell reception,” she said. “It made us anxious at first, then we realized it was a wonderful thing.”
A trend developed as family and friends learned details about the family’s business.
“When you say you’re opening a bed and breakfast, everyone offers to do the test run,” Jen Quinlan said.
Her parents, who live in Millville, Del., were among the first guests.
The Quinlans are planting flowers this month with the hope of having availability from the end of June through October.
Their core group of flowers will consist of zinnias, cosmos and sunflowers.
“A lot of color varieties,” Jen Quinlan said.
There will be two options available once flowers are in bloom.
“People can grab clippers and a metal pail and pick their own, or we’ll have pre-arranged bouquets, too,” Jen Quinlan said.
As time permits, Jen Quinlan would like to open a small gallery on the property “to pursue art events,” she said, “and I hope to price some of the (approximately 50) paintings I’ve done.”
Mike Quinlan is a social sciences instructor at Parkland College and an assistant baseball coach at Centennial, where he still holds the school record for pitching victories in a season (14 in 1999).
Jen Quinlan’s day job is with MeShare, where she works in the software department.
“We know we need to learn a lot,” she said. “It consumes our evenings and weekends.
“If we’re successful, it could reach the time where one or both of us go full-time (at the farm).”
Their goals are from the heart.
“We believe,” Jen Quinlan said, “we can be good hosts for the bed and breakfast and good stewards of the farm.
“If we can figure out how to make a living by bringing joy to other people, what else do you need? There is potential out here.”