Dwarfed by the bricks and siding of subdivision homes, a long and narrow driveway guides visitors to McDonald Farm off Knoch Knolls Rd. It is a refreshing route to remember Naperville’s agrarian past.
There’s a lot growing at this organic farm and the following words will help to explain its dynamic contribution to Naperville and surrounding communities.
There are two main organizations operating at McDonald Farm, which are often confused, but share a similar passion promoting sustainability and environmental conservation.
The Conservation Foundation, founded in 1972, is focused on water and land conservation. The Green Earth Institute began in 2002 promoting nutrition and sustainability, organically farming 49 of the farm’s 6o acres.
The two organizations share the land and buildings, including the Clow House, which is constructed of local stone, and was moved from the Clow Farm several years back stone by stone.
The land is owned by the Foundation, which was donated by the McDonald Family, and the Institute leases the farm land from the Foundation.
The Institute grows vegetables and sells them as part of a CSA—community supported agriculture.
Members of the community can purchase a share for the season and pick up a box of fresh vegetables once a week. They currently grow more than 40 varieties throughout the year.
“The number one thing (locals can do) is subscribe to a CSA, buy from a farmers market or farm stand, or shop at stores and restaurants that buy locally,” said Adam Kendrick, who tends to the land.
Because the farm utilizes crop rotation, harvests rain-water through several collection systems and grows many different vegetables, they have been able to weather the drought better than factory farms dependent on growing monoculture cash crops.
“It has been a bit of a challenge for some things this year due to the heat,” said Kendrick, “getting carrots to germinate and onions to size up is just so hard during a year like this.”
The team grows everything organically. The land currently not in use is planted with cover crops, including alfalfa and red clover which reintroduces nitrogen to the soil and naturally helps to control insects. They fertilize many of the fields with horse manure from nearby stables.
The Institute offers many hands-on education programs where visitors can learn about nutrition and organic gardening.
Several children’s programs are also offered in coordination with the Foundation. Kids can learn about nature, conservation and how a farm grows vegetables.
The Conservation Foundation
The Foundation over the past 40 years has helped to preserve over 32,000 acres of land, including McDonald Farm, which have been turned into open spaces, parks and forest preserves throughout DuPage and surrounding counties. It consults and develops with private landowners, park districts and organizations on best use practices to effectively conserve land.
It has also developed many pragmatic conservation and watershed programs to educate residents on what they can do at home to conserve water, land and natural resources.
“Our mission is to preserve and protect the lands and rivers people love. That includes the DuPage River, which we have been working on for more than two decades,” said Brook McDonald, President and CEO of the Foundation. “As a result, the DuPage River is much cleaner now from what it used to be and the fish populations have come back real well. It’s actually a well-known place for anglers to catch small mouth bass. It just wasn’t like that 25 years ago.”
The Farm has installed rain gardens and many indigenous plants surrounding the buildings. This aids with drainage, prevents soil erosion and helps to manage the watershed.
The watershed and its management effects everyone. Without proper management, residents and their homes are more susceptible to floods and soil erosion.
One of their most successful programs involves rain water harvesting. They sell 55 gallon rain barrels for $85 which can be easily hooked up to a downspout of any home and are equipped with a spigot and garden hose. The water can be used for plants or to wash a car.
The Foundation is having a Birthday Bash from 12-4PM Sun. Sept 16 to celebrate 40 years of conserving local lands. It is free to public and many family friendly activities will be offered, including hayrides.
Practical conservation ideas residents can apply at home
“The vision of The Conservation Foundation’s McDonald Farm is to provide a place locally where people can learn and see first-hand many ideas they can employ at home or at work where they can do simple things to help our environment.” –Brook McDonald President & CEO The Conservation Foundation
- Plant Native landscaping–they can weather droughts, aid in drainage and attract butterflies.
- Build wildlife structures such as bird and bat houses.
- Utilize permeable pavers and porous concrete for water infiltration.
- Install solar panels and small wind turbines–many home centers sell solar powered outdoor lighting fixtures.
- Organic vegetable farming–plant a victory garden.
- Rainwater harvesting–The Conservation Foundation sells 55 gallon rain barrels for $85, perfect for a home vegetable garden.
- Construct water gardens to attract wildlife and promote biodiversity.
- Reuse old buildings and recycle building materials
There are many educational programs for kids and families offered by both The Conservation Foundation and Green Earth Institute. Visit theconservationfoundation.org and greenearthinstitute.org for resources and information.
Special thanks to Brook McDonald, Adam Kendrick, Casey Whitmer, Kylie Jo Neal, Martin Lemos, Marques Snead, and Agustin Gonzalez.