Discover Illinois through its makers and shining success stories as they continue to inspire the Land of Lincoln and far beyond

Creativity is in all of us, no matter the form it takes. But what drives people to let out their inner artists and share their passions with others? Some respond to craftiness as a calling-an expression of their soul that provides joy and satisfaction. The result? Brilliant makers produce, share and educate, all while bringing their communities closer.

The proven success of the Illinois Made—Discover Local program radiates through one-of-a-kind food and beverage products, artisanal crafts, and creations made by talented Illinoisians. We crawled inside the brains of some of these talented folks to find out what makes an Illinois Maker. How does someone change the entire trajectory of their life, once an urban police officer and now a traditional cooper? What drives a local nonprofit to support people with disabilities and provide them with work opportunities? That’s what we intend to discover.

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Scratch Brewing Company Marika with Wheezy (Photo Credit_ Scratch Brewing Company)

Scratch Brewing Company Marika with Wheezy, the goat (Photo Credit_ Scratch Brewing Company)


The aptly named Scratch Brewing Company, located in the Southern Illinois town of Ava, is owned by Marika Josephson and her business partner Aaron Kleidon. After a long day of working the land, it’s the place to go for a cold, scratch-made beer.

“We started on a shoestring budget, building the brewery ourselves by hand on a slightly flat, slightly cleared piece of land in the middle of the woods,” Marika recalls. Starting out as home brewers with a passion for local resources and tradition, they continued to build slowly in hopes of reaching a wider audience. Appealing to an array of palates, Marika and Aaron knew they had to utilize natural amenities to craft supremely Southern Illinois brews.

“Our beer seems unusual to a modern palate but a lot of the ingredients we use have a long history in beer making – a history that has largely been forgotten.” Marika explains, “We use ingredients that are somewhat unusual from a brewing standpoint – mushrooms, tree bark, and leaves, for instance – but they are intended to convey the flavors and aromas of our part of Southern Illinois.”

The pair says, “We want people to understand the unique beauty of Southern Illinois by experiencing it in a glass,” and they certainly do a phenomenal job of this.

Glaciers End display

Glaciers End display

Exceptional farm-to-shelf products from Glaciers End

Continuing to highlight the unique flavors of Southern Illinois is Glaciers End comprised of a farm in Johnston City and a specialty food store in downtown Marion. Owners Derek and Libby Ervin grow everything they make, and what they don’t grow they source from local farmers.

“We are a farm-to-shelf, specialty food operation. We grow and utilize domestic as well as wild ingredients (Elderberry, Sumac, Blackberry, Mulberry, Goji, Aronia, Shagbark Hickory, Honeysuckle, flowers, herbs, hot peppers and vegetables for pickling).” They began as a modest Cottage Food business subsequently expanding into a service providing fresh, locally sourced food products that boast Southern Illinois flavors.

Libby explains, “We draw heavily from past traditions and techniques. We grow and make things the way our grandparents made them. They did it with care for the land, attention to detail and without using harmful chemicals and ingredients.” She assures us, “These practices and beliefs are at the core of our farm and business.”

Libby and Derek became members of the Illinois Makers club in December 2023. They describe being “beyond ecstatic and honored to be inducted into this state-wide prestigious community.” The pair also knows something about utilizing their passion for the good of the community.

When it comes to obtaining Illinois Made status, Derek advises other creators to “capture the spirit of your region – look for what makes it special and use it to craft your own identity and brand as an artist.”

Crozehead Cooperage Co. biergarten night photo credit Loren Buchmeier

Crozehead Cooperage Co. biergarten night photo credit Loren Buchmeier


Loren Buchmeier, owner of Crozehead Cooperage Co. in Monee, recounts the moment that changed his life path from an urban police officer and Iraq combat veteran suffering from PTSD to a craft cooper.

“One day, between domestic violence calls, as I sped across the city with lights and sirens and intense anxiety, I recalled the tour guide at the Jameson Distillery when I was on leave from Bosnia in January ’08.”

According to the guide, coopers were few and far between in the art that dates back to ancient Celt and Hallstatt cultures in Southern Germany. Intrigue grabbed hold, and after taking a course in coopering near Kalamazoo, Michigan, Loren was on the path to a new career.

“I’ve been called a Renaissance man, which I think is a kind way of saying eccentric and kinder way of saying weird,” he jokes. Loren says he’s always been artistically inclined and hopes that when folks visit his cooperage, “Time slows for a little bit and they experience joy, peace, and appreciation for the moment they are living in.”

What does Loren’s day as a professional cooper look like, you might wonder. Simply put, “Coffee. Measurements. Oak splinters. Lots more measurements. Sawdust. Beer. Sawdust. Fire. Sawdust. Steel cuts from hoops. Beer and/or whiskey.”

Crozehead Cooperage Co. has been on the coveted Illinois Made list since 2023 and, unbeknownst to Loren, he was surprised to be honored by Scott Rude of the Chicago Southland CVB. Today, Loren continues to craft the absolute best in spirits using ancient and time-honored European techniques and tools. Guests can have a Celtic experience with delicious flavors seasoned in white oak barrels and made with the highest standards.

His philosophy is all-encompassing. “Adapt and overcome.” Loren also believes it’s vital for people to “be involved in building a better world from your Main Street,” something he’s been doing for years.

One of the many great workers at Lambs Farm photo credit Marisa Rademaker

One of the many great workers at Lambs Farm photo credit Marisa Rademaker

Inclusivity for all at Lambs Farm and their campus businesses

A visit to Lambs Farm in Lake County will not disappoint. This nonprofit organization, located in Libertyville, continues to help people with disabilities meaningfully connect with others around them.

Marisa Rademaker is the Associate Director of Marketing and Communications, and she shares how Lambs Farm went from a small pet shop in Chicago in 1961 to the thriving, equal-opportunity establishment it is today.

“Our co-founders, Bob Terese and Corinne Owen, knew people with disabilities were capable of getting a job, taking on responsibilities and forming connections.”

Starting with just 12 employees and moving locations in 1965, Lambs Farm now serves more than 280 adults with developmental disabilities and hosts several small businesses.

Marisa explains, “Our campus businesses, which serve as vocational training sites for our participants, produce products that are made with a mission.” She adds, “Each business has its own tasks, but all contribute to our mission of helping people with developmental disabilities lead productive, happy lives and connecting with the human spirit in us all.”

Businesses at Lambs Farm include Magnolia Café & Bakery, serving flavorful homemade meals, and Sugar Maple Country Store & Bakery for fresh baked cookies and creamy chocolates. In addition, Farmyard houses over 300 animals where all wild personalities are on display. Dogwood Garden & Pet Center helps rescued animals find their forever homes and Cedar Chest Thrift Shop provides unique treasures at thrifty prices.

Marisa reveals, “We became part of the Illinois Makers club in 2018 and applied after hearing about the program through our partnership with Visit Lake County.” Upon learning the news of their acceptance, Lambs Farm was elated to have such an amazing opportunity to share their important mission with more people.

Riggs Beer Company_A four pack of American Lager sitting in front the tractor that's planting next year's crop photo credit Matt Riggs

Riggs Beer Company_A four pack of American Lager sitting in front the tractor that’s planting next year’s crop photo credit Matt Riggs


Out of necessity, Matt Riggs, owner of Riggs Beer Company in Urbana, began utilizing the family farm to grow specialty crops in order to survive another generation of family farming in Eastern Illinois. Steering away from traditional soy crops, it was time to try their hands at growing ingredients to produce beer. In fact, during their first eight years in business, they used more than 120 tons of homegrown brewing grains making them one of Illinois’ leading farm-to-glass breweries.

Matt explains, “We brew our beers in an all-natural, slow, traditional way. We use old-world techniques and ingredients because we take pride in the fact that by using only grain, water, hops, and yeast we can make great beer.” He adds, “We’re proud to brew with barley, wheat, and corn that we grow on our family’s 5th-generation farm.”

Visitors are invited to the tap room and outdoor beer garden where mature trees shade traditional beer garden tables and benches. Feel the connection between the landscape of swaying wheat fields and the glass of beer it ultimately became, all while supporting local agricultural workers and growers.

Although Matt’s success is visible when you step through the doors, he advises, “It very well might take all of your effort, focus, and money to start your own business. Be prepared to make sacrifices in other areas of your life in order to achieve your goal.” He adds, “But if you work hard and have a bit of luck, you might be able to build something that’s extremely fulfilling.”

Buzz Bomb Brewing Co. brewing beer photo credit Josh Flanders

Buzz Bomb Brewing Co. brewing beer photo credit Josh Flanders

Brewing beer brings communities closer in Illinois

In Downtown Springfield, Illinois, maker Josh Flanders knows a thing or two about bringing communities and their businesses together for the better. He also knows a lot about brewing delicious beer. As the co-owner of Buzz Bomb Brewing Co., a microbrewery and taproom, he says it’s all about reaching out to your neighbors and working collectively for the good of the community and its visitors.

A surefire way to make the Illinois Makers list is by providing unique, locally crafted goods that speak to the region they come from while building a closer community.

Josh recalls, “We were added in November of 2023 and to say we were ecstatic is an understatement. We take great pride in the beer we make and to be highlighted as an Illinois Maker worth knowing and visiting, it was just wow!”

As part of a historical reenactment group, Josh says he and his partners dabbled in mead-making realizing it wasn’t their forte. After attempting to brew their own beer at home, success struck, and they continued their journey into the local homebrew club. At first, they laughed off people’s praises about their great-tasting home brews.

He reminisces, “That changed when we attended the local Springfield Oyster & Beer Festival with the Prairie Schooners group, and people we didn’t know were telling us how great our beer was. After that, we reached out to the local Small Business Development Center, wrote up a business plan, and the rest is history!”

For Josh and his partners, “We love big beers and fun so folks have come to expect both from a Buzz Bomb beer. We’re also known for our beer names, which tend to be funny with a bit of attitude.”

Trolley Depot Coffee and Tea Company Joy and Corey Heller and fam. photo credit Joy Heller

Trolley Depot Coffee and Tea Company Joy and Corey Heller and fam. photo credit Joy Heller


Sit down and have a cup of gourmet coffee at Trolley Depot Coffee & Tea Co. in Galena where “inspiration was and still is good coffee and good conversation!”

Owner/operators Joy and Corey Heller roast delicious, small-batch, flavorful brews using ethically sustained beans. They work closely with their importer to select high-quality and single-origin ingredients.

Joy explains, “We are not trying to make a commercial grade product, but rather focusing on amplifying the nuances of the region and growing conditions.” She adds, “We endeavor to educate our customers on the difference between commodity and specialty coffee and show how selecting better farming and production practices keeps the organic properties alive.”

Becoming an Illinois Maker in the winter of 2023, Joy and Corey continue inviting guests to experience a true social gathering space where the aromatic scents of java float through the air.

“People can sit and watch us roast while they enjoy bottomless brewed coffee. Most days, you’ll find us talking to customers, roasting, filling online orders, doing inventory and paying bills. Just typical business,” she assures.

When it comes to what makes T.D. Coffee & Tea Co. worthy of holding Illinois Made status, the pair says, “We aren’t trying to chase trends or make ourselves stand out. We just believe in an excellent product served in a loving way.” They add, “When you visit our store, it’s like you’re sitting at our dining room table – our coffee is our connection to the community. Our philosophy with roasting is to make each bean shine.”

Maries Wood Carvings Chipmunk photo credit Marie McDonough

Maries Wood Carvings Chipmunk photo credit Marie McDonough

From coffee to carving, these Illinois Makers are crafty

Considered a “Power Carver” with natural talent and passion, Marie McDonough always dreamed of being a woodcarver and sharing her love for wood sculpting with her community. She does that now, showcasing her workmanship with Marie’s Wood Carvings. Using a high-speed rotary tool with carbide bits, she carves just about anything, mostly from Basswood, and sometimes her preferred choice of Butternut, Cherry or other hardwoods.

Marie acknowledges, “At age 72, I’m living the dream!” Not only does this Illinois Maker create one-of-a-kind, stunning wood carvings and statues, but she also shares her gifts and talents with others in hopes they will carry on the woodworking traditions.

“I am currently putting more emphasis on teaching woodcarving classes at the Arts, Recreation and Childcare Center and the Galena Center for the Arts both located in Galena, IL,” Mary explains.

It’s no wonder that Marie’s Wood Carvings is part of the revered Illinois Made club, even though she is unsure who nominated her. She especially enjoys guiding beginner woodcarvers and seeing the joy that crafting with wood brings. Mostly self-taught with her own style, Marie carves woodland creatures and animals she views in her surroundings.

In fact, she was told once by a customer, “You breathe life into the animals you carve and bring them alive.” This is exactly what she tries to accomplish and evoke with her art.

There are a number of other Illinois Makers who grace this list and give groups more reasons to plan a trip here. On your next visit to Illinois, be sure to check out these amazing artists, creators and makers who carry on the state’s culture. You can find the Illinois Made Guide on the Illinois Made website.

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By Heather Dale, Managing Editor