Casey farm property near Libertyville to become a collaboration hub for agriculture, food industries
A portion of the Civil War-era Casey family farm north of Libertyville will become part of the region's first campus for agricultural innovation and education.
The Farm Foundation, an "accelerator of practical solutions for agriculture," recently closed on the purchase of 14 acres on the west side of Milwaukee Avenue just south of Casey Road.
"We are a think tank (and) do tank," said Shari Rogge-Fidler, president and CEO of the organization founded in Chicago in 1933 by International Harvester President Alexander Legge.
The campus is described as being a place where the past and future meet and as a collaboration hub for the agriculture and food industries.
The facility will be the first food and agriculture innovation and education hub in the Chicago area and provide "industry-leading opportunities" to a variety of food chain entities from farm to plate, according to the organization.
Farm Foundation, described as the first agriculture policy institute in the U.S., has been based in Oak Brook the last 40 years. The organization has been refining its vision and began looking for a new home with adjoining property.
"Let's make our programs and visions and missions come to life," Rogge-Fidler said.
"We wanted at least 2 to 5 acres. We didn't want just a building," she added.
About 40 sites were evaluated, including 14 acres owned by Openlands, a conservation organization that works to protect natural and open spaces in northeastern Illinois, northwestern Indiana and southeastern Wisconsin.
The property had been leased and operated as Radical Root organic farm for six years before closing in late 2019. One Farm Foundation requirement was that the new site not be more than an hour from O'Hare International Airport.
As planned, the campus will include two, single-story connected buildings to be used by farmers, students, academics, business people and policymakers for local, national and global programs, according to Rogge-Fidler.
Several acres will be used as laboratories for soil health, regenerative agriculture and digital agriculture practices. The campus also will house Farm Foundation offices and indoor event space.
"It will become our headquarters. It will become our home," Rogge-Fidler said.
The barn will be used as a three-season open-air event space adjoined by an outdoor amphitheater, according to Farm Foundation.
The Casey dairy farm was established in 1865 and once spanned 220 acres. Conserve Lake County, which merged with Openlands in 2018, acquired 14 acres including the farmhouse and barn in 2007.
The property is within the 5,000-acre Liberty Prairie Reserve. Openlands holds a conservation easement on the property, and special protections will be put in place regarding the native oak habitat and nearby Bull's Brook.
In a conservation easement, the landowner retains legal title but voluntarily restricts uses to protect certain features. In this case, Openlands has the right to periodically assess the condition of the property.
Openlands holds 25 such easements in Lake County, mostly in the Liberty Prairie Reserve. It also owns four properties outright including three in Liberty Prairie Reserve, according to Emily Reusswig, director of communications.
A 15-foot replica carrot, carved from a dead sugar maple along Milwaukee Avenue, became a conversation piece when created in 2016 and still marks the uphill gravel drive leading to the house and barn.
The campus project is in the design phase with construction anticipated to begin in late fall. Completion is expected as early as the end of 2023, according to the organization.