Editor’s Note: This personal review was written in 2013. It has been updated to reflect the current dates.
Raising a family in the heart of America’s Midwest means you have a lot of opportunities to take your children to visit a farmyard. Agritourism is big in and around Lake County. There are plenty of chances to see chickens, pet a goat, or pick apples from a tree. In fact, with all that is found locally, you could find yourself bored and craving something more.
But what if…
- you had the opportunity to truly connect with the land?
- you could immerse yourself in the life of a real working farm?
- you had the chance to engage your body, mind, and spirit with the outdoors?
- you could teach your kids to appreciate the virtue of healthy, sustainable, organically-grown food?
Sounds like heaven to you? Then let me urge you to make the trip to Angelic Organics Learning Center in Caledonia, Illinois.
Angelic Organics Farm is a Community Supported Agriculture Farm (CSA) that delivers fresh fruit and vegetables to shareholders in over 30 locations in the Chicago area. In 1999, the Angelic Organics Learning Center was established as a non-profit educational organization and partner to the CSA farm. It was founded with the belief that by renewing community relationships with farmers and the land, we can help build healthy local food systems and improve the quality of life of everyone involved.
The Learning Center’s On-Farm Initiative offers hands-on learning through tours, workshops, and summer day camps for adults, families, schools and other community groups. Experiences can range from cheese-making, sustainable building, backyard chicken care, and camping to name a few. Recently, my family had the extreme pleasure of taking part in Animal Day for Families.
The Animal Day for Families is a program for families with children ages 3 and older. Come prepared for a full day of “work” on the farm taking care of the animals. This isn’t a petting zoo experience, but an age-appropriate chance for hands-on animal care. Since the program is open to children as young as 3, they won’t overexert your toddler or yourself for that matter. But if you came to get your hands dirty, they are sure to oblige! Your level of participation is really only limited by what you are willing to do. While busy getting your hands dirty, your instructor will offer lessons and anecdotes about life on the farm.
Our group leader made sure each child was involved as much as they wished to be. My particularly daring 3-year old got to do everything the big kids did and more. She fed the giant Scottish Highland Cattle, brushed the Percheron Draft Horse, milked goats, bravely held a chicken, scaled fences to the goat pen, climbed up high into the hayloft, and helped make goat’s milk ice cream. (Note: if you’ve never had ice cream made with fresh-as-fresh-can-be milk and raw local honey, you are in for a treat! You can actually taste the flowers!)
If your child is skittish, don’t worry. Nothing is forced on them; but by the end of the day, even the shyest child may surprise you. The gentle nature of the animals and their surroundings might just lull them into participation. Incidentally, I have post-traumatic stress from aggressive petting zoo goats nearly trampling my kids, but not so with our goat friends at Angelic Organics. I can’t help but think that their calm demeanor stems from being allowed to graze rather than getting into greedy fights over handfuls of processed pellets.
My strongest impression of the place is that they really walk the walk when they talk about sustainability. There is no green-washing here. Everything about the facility is geared towards making the most of what nature gives us, including reusing man-made materials. The soap you use to wash your hands was made right there on the farm from the milk provided by the goats. The architecture makes use of found and upcycled materials. Scraps are composted. The animals play their part too. The horse provides manure to fertilize the plants, the cats keep vermin away from the grain, the chickens eat parasites that could harm the goats, and the pigs and goats forage on invasive plants. It’s the circle of life in action! Why they even have composting toilets. You haven’t lived until you’ve flushed a toilet with a handful of sawdust!
We were blessed to visit on a gorgeous fall day. Autumn is a lovely time to visit the farm. Check out their event calendar for the many family and youth-oriented programs still available. Calendar offerings currently extend through December. You may discover some interesting adult programs just for yourself. While the registration price will cost you more than your typical farm visit, know that you’re receiving hands-on instruction with a small group of like-minded folks. It’s not the kind of attention you’d receive nor should expect at the typical pumpkin patch, and with that in mind, you’ll realize registration fees are a bargain.
If you think I’m all puffery, then take it from my husband. As a card-carrying skeptic, he has hailed the Angelic Organics Learning Center as his favorite farm experience and even one of our best family excursions period. And hey, this man has been to Disney World! For me, the value is deeper. When children understand the connection between the land and our food, they themselves will connect with the land and grow up wanting to protect it. We’ll make the drive again and hope to see you there.
If you decide to check out the Angelics Organics Learning Center, here’s a few quick tips:
- The Learning Center is approximately a 90 minute from Lake County, depending on where you originate. Be sure to map it out ahead of time or use GPS as signage is minimal to get to the farm. The last stretch is along an unpaved road. You can download a map with directions here.
- Wear long sleeves and pants as you’ll be walking through tall grass and brush at times. Jeans and boots are good choices.
- Prepare to be involved and to get dirty!
- Depending on the length of your chosen program, pack drinks, snacks and/or lunch. There is a lovely picnic area available.
- Be sure to register in advance before you visit. The farm is not open to the public.
- Bring cash if you’d like to bring home goodies from the farm store like goat’s milk soap, pastured eggs, or raw local honey.
When Loralie isn’t out exploring with her two pint-sized adventurers you’ll often find her in front of her computer plotting to take over the world (or at least Lake County.) She appreciates good friends, good food, expensive shoes and parents who make two lanes in the drop-off/pick-up line at school. Her spirit animal is The Hobbit. She invites you to join her on her quest for unique distractions, diversions and deliciousness in this county we call home.
Disclosure: My family and I were granted complimentary registration to the Animal Day for Families program in order to provide you a first-hand perspective and information. All thoughts and opinions are my own and no other compensation was received.