The beers served at Wishful Acres Farm & Brewery may be made from hops, herbs, apples and other produce grown on site — but the main ingredients in this family-owned business have been hard work, determination and skills Penny Peterson ’99 gained at Columbia College-Freeport.
Tucked in the northwest corner of Illinois, the three-year-old brewery is a favorite among locals and travelers alike — it has a perfect 5-star rating on both TripAdvisor and Yelp. Besides serving unique brews, Peterson operates a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program that allows members to purchase organic vegetables and fruits from the farm.
It’s an enterprise the couple wished for over a decade ago.
“We came up with Wishful Acres Farm since we wished for a farm of our own,” Peterson says.
But it’s taken a lot more than wishing to make the operation a reality. For Peterson, it began with an introduction to business.
“Columbia College had recently started the program in Freeport and only offered a couple of degree options,” says Peterson, who transferred with an associate degree. “One was business administration — something I had not even considered before.”
She put her degree to use after graduation, working for a magazine publishing company until her first son was born in 2003. That’s when she discovered her true passion.
The Peterson family
Peterson quit the publishing industry to stay home and focus on creating a sustainable lifestyle for her and her family. That meant growing her own produce in a backyard garden and encouraging her husband, Nate, to brew beer at home.
“I was always looking for ways to be more frugal and self-sufficient,” she says. “I told my husband there must be a way to make your own beer. I researched it, and sure enough we learned how. I bought him his first homebrew beer kit in 2008, and he’s been loving brewing beer ever since.”
In 2012, Peterson ramped up her business, adding chickens, pigs, goats and an on-site farm store.
Then a drought hit and significantly diminished both her yields and her business.
“The crops weren’t producing enough, and some varieties were just flat out dying, and I didn’t have enough,” she says. “The CSA members had all pre-paid for their food. I knew I had to serve them first. So I ended up closing our on-site farm store, pulling out of farmers’ markets and just focusing on filling the CSA shares for the rest of the season.”
When the Petersons brought Nate’s brewing skills to the farm, business started to boom. The brewery and taproom opened in 2016, and Wishful Acres has flourished ever since.
“We never expected it to take off like it did,” Peterson says. “We blew through our five-year business plan in fewer than two years.”
“I think Nate has brewed close to 100 different beers since we opened,” Peterson says. “We release new beers each month, so there is always something new.”
The Petersons have expanded the operation every year since opening and continue to do so today. They recently upgraded the seating area in the taproom, and this winter plan to increase cold storage capacity.
Taps run in the
In the Winter 2018 issue of Affinity magazine, We profiled Judson Ball ’07 and Logboat Brewing Co., — located just down the street from Columbia College’s Main Campus — as well as Kevin Lemp ’02, who founded 4 Hands Brewing Co. in St. Louis.
“My accounting, management, economics, marketing and finance classes taught me skills I use on a daily basis,” Peterson says. “I honestly don’t think I ever would have started my own business, and certainly wouldn’t have been as successful at it, if I didn’t have the business degree from Columbia College.”