Prairie Crossing: Midwestern Development Making Farming Possible from the Ground Up | Civil Eats

Prairie Crossing: Midwestern Development Making Farming Possible from the Ground Up

As cities across the country struggle with suburban sprawl, disappearing farmland, and a dwindling population of regional farmers, one community in Chicago’s northern suburbs is doing things a little differently.

Prairie Crossing is one of those rare examples of energy efficient construction, neighborhood-oriented development, good land stewardship, and farming advocacy that is leading the way for a new kind of development. Under the visionary guidance of George and Vicky Ranney, the 677 acre property in Grayslake, Illinois was transformed from depleted corn and soybean fields back to a diverse and thriving ecosystem of native wetland and prairie habitat, 100 acres of certified organic farmland, and low density single-family housing. Add to that a coordinated regional effort to stem the tide of suburban overdevelopment and loss of farmland, and you have a nationally recognized development model that not only demonstrates environmental conservation but actually increases farmland and farmers.

After 20 years, Prairie Crossing is still working toward many of its guiding principles; continually improving its diversity and affordability, and refining a model of sustainable and profitable development while balancing the community and education programs that represent its core values. Prairie Crossing has gotten a lot of things right, gaining national recognition for its innovations in planning, community design, and sustainable agriculture. At the core of the community, the farmland is literally growing a bumper crop of new farmers and land stewards. Through several cooperating programs, people of all ages are inspired to value local farming, enjoy good food, and protect the county’s farmland.

The Prairie Crossing Learning Farm grew from a vision of providing hands-on farm experiences that integrated curriculum with the daily workings and wonders of an organic farm. Since its creation in 2004, the Learning Farm has grown to offer innovative farm-based education for hundreds of area children and youth who visit regularly throughout the year for on-going farm lessons, farm work and entrepreneurship, and service learning projects. A summer employment program, the Prairie Farm Corps, offers area youth a chance to gain farming, cooking, and job skills while earning a paycheck. This year, the Learning Farm will add a Community Supported Agriculture program, as well as a gleaning program run by the staff and youth of the Prairie Farm Corps. They will also expand their role at the Prairie Crossing Farmer’s Market. The Learning Farm’s staff itself demonstrates a growing list of career possibilities in organic farming education.

Young and beginning farmers who want to get even more involved in production have several options. The Farm Business Development Center (FBDC) at Prairie Crossing offers affordable leases on prime certified organic farmland, which include shared equipment, use of packing and greenhouse facilities, and mentoring among the growing network of Prairie Crossing farmers. From this “business incubator” model, at least seven thriving organic farms have been created since 2004 and have continued to thrive at Prairie Crossing and beyond.

The growing network of family farms, which is led by the exemplary Sandhill Organics, contributes a significant amount of organic produce to the Chicago area food system and offers employment and training to a new generation of beginning farmers. The FBDC, along with regional colleagues, the Angelic Organics Learning Center and Michael Fields Agricultural Institute, will expand even further in the next few years, with the help of a USDA Beginning Farmer & Rancher Development Program Grant.

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Finally, to keep up with the growing list of newly minted Lake County farmers looking for land of their own, a land conservation agency created through Prairie Crossing is looking ahead to secure land for a future of local organic production. The Liberty Prairie Conservancy, is working with the community’s farm programs and area landowners to identify and preserve farmland for the next generation of young and beginning farmers who come from Prairie Crossing and other area farmer training programs in need of affordable and productive land. Through the vehicle of conservation development, Prairie Crossing has created a host of programs in farm education, organic production, and land conservation that work together toward a promising future for the historically agricultural Lake County.

Originally published on Urban Farm Hub

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Nicole Jain Capizzi is a Northwest native who has just returned to the Seattle area after farming and teaching about agriculture in the Upper Midwest. After apprenticing at the Center for Agroecology and Sustainable Food Systems in Santa Cruz, she was the Program Director and Farm Manager for the Prairie Crossing Learning Farm and also started a profitable urban farm in Milwaukee. She’s a farmer who writes and teaches and loves city living, and she’s working on putting it all together in Seattle. Contact her at Read more >

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Join the conversation.

  1. Jackie Kendall
    Wonderful place to live. AND you can swim in the lake!
  2. Penny
    What about all the problems with the nearby landfill and industry? Smell, contaminated groundwater, etc.? People selling and leaving the community because the promises to owners regarding those or other problems have not been kept?

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