The plan is to teach college students, grow the local economy and develop future farmers – all with 55 acres of land located in the heart of Grayslake.
The farm field, settled behind Brae Loch Golf Course at the northwest corner of Center Street and Route 45, is owned by the Lake County Forest Preserve District.
The College of Lake County would like to use it to build a food learning center for CLC students and potentially offer a place for novice farmers to learn the ropes.
“We are in the time and environment where people are open to seeing sustainability and we should jump on that,” said Stephen Bell, director of the Green Economy Center at CLC.
The concept is a brainstorm of sorts by members of CLC and the Liberty Prairie Foundation at Prairie Crossing. It was recently presented to the Lake County Forest Preserve District’s planning and restoration committee.
A portion of the land would be used for new and existing programs within CLC including sustainable landscaping, agriculture production and horticulture curriculums. Students would use the acreage as a growing ground for their education, Bell said.
“There is so much potential in this project. There is a demand for organic food and we want to move beyond getting the food from a CSA [Community Supported Agriculture] and have those vegetables grown and available in the community,” Bell said.
Another portion of the land would be used by novice farmers as an extension of the Farm Business Development Program at Prairie Crossing.
The program allows future farmers to lease land to begin their agriculture business.
The FBDC already operates 100 acres of land at Prairie Crossing, but officials said they are out of space, and farmers are waiting.
Michael Sands, the Environmental Team Leader for the program said the opportunity to expand the FBDC and to increase agricultural interest among college students could make a significant impact on the economy and health of Lake County residents.
“We could really create a lot of jobs with increased sustainable farmland in this area and with local food production, entrepreneurial agriculture represents incredible opportunity to also circulate local funds in the local economy," Sands said.
Sands also believes that would lead to healthier eating patterns in area residents.
While the concept was well received by the district’s planning and restoration committee, members still had many questions regarding the funding, management and operation of the learning center.
“As far as the concept, it sounds like a homerun to me,” said Pat Carey, a member of the committee and forest commissioner from Grayslake. “It’s exciting. We’ll see where it goes at this point.”
“We do have a long term interest in growing sustainable agriculture in our area,” said Tom Hahn, executive director for the district. “This idea is definitely keeping with the agricultural commitment we have planned for the long term for our area.”
The district was clear it would not fund the project, but rather license the land to CLC.
The land is currently leased out for corn farming. At one point there had been talk of expanding Brae Loch Golf Course but district officials said they are considering other ideas with interest in golf waning.
As for the next step for this concept, Bell said, “we are in the process of bringing all of our partners together and figuring out what this could be and what it should be."