Marci Meyer

Marci Meyer stands with dishes made from family recipes at The Belted Cow Orchard. Her drive-thru coffee and donut service is also very popular with locals these days.

KIRKWOOD, Ill. — Marci Meyer is modest about her cooking skills. When her husband, Sean, nominated her for this column, she thought he was just biased as a hungry husband.

But he is far from her only fan.

In recent months she has brightened the morning for area folks as she sells coffee, cinnamon buns and donuts from a drive-thru window at Belted Cow Orchard near here in west central Illinois.

They also sell their beef from the cattle raised nearby, orchard products and gifts at the attached store, when there isn’t a coronavirus pandemic. The store re-opened June 2.

During the pandemic, from the window of her drive-thru, she saw plenty of smiles when people in Warren and Henderson and area counties could drive-thru for coffee and treats. But one day, in particular, was a highlight for her as she reported on the Belted Cow Orchard’s Facebook page April 25.

Her friends at Maude Specklebelly’s, a clothing and décor store in Alexis, Ill., which is temporarily closed during the pandemic, bought coffee for Meyers’ drive-thru customers.

She described witnessing the act of kindness:

“Paying it forward is a work of heart, and most people don’t do it for the credit, many don’t even know who they’re helping, but let me tell you how it looks from the other side of the drive-thru,” she said.

“It looks like the young man who wasn’t sure he brought enough cash. His face lighting up when we tell him his coffee is covered and he realizes he can get donuts, too. It looks like the mom whose kids just waited an hour and a half and can’t wait one more second before shoving that donut in their face and frantically searching for her wallet, just to be told she’s covered and can finally feed those babies.

“It looks like the older couple who has been quarantined together, but alone, for the last six weeks. Finally seeing a smiling face and getting a sweet treat. Faith in humanity restored just by a stranger providing one cup of coffee.”

Meyer has been cooking up smiles for years. She got her early skills from her grandmother, who lived with her family in Kansas when Meyer was young. Those skills run in the family.

“I had a wonderful grandma. She cooked for a hospital. She made two meals, one bland with no salt for the patients and one for the doctors with seasoning,” she said.

Meyer said her mom is also a good cook, and her sister owns a café in Kansas.

Meyer later lived in Texas for a time and moved with her husband back to his family farm in west central Illinois 11 years ago to raise cattle and grow corn and soybeans. They raise Buelingo cattle, also known at belted cows, the inspiration for their logo and name of the orchard.

They added the orchard to the mix about five years ago, when the previous owners were going to retire. The Meyers family wanted to continue the tradition of the orchard which had long been a gathering place in the community. The timing worked for them to expand and diversify.

The previous owners provided free samples of ice cold cider. Meyers hopes to add free apple cider samples back to the business. Today they sell their own apples, and sell apple cider made by Curtis Orchards in Champaign.

As far as her favorite reading material – cookbooks, of course.

While Meyers likes cooking a wide variety of things, she favors making baked goods and desserts and things “on the sweeter side”.

“My hand apple pie is my husband’s absolute favorite,” she said, while her corn casserole and apple salad are favorites of her three daughters.