Historic Casey Farm returns to its roots
BY KATLYN SMITH firstname.lastname@example.org | @Katlyn_eSmith October 10, 2013 7:52PM
Alex Needham, 32, works at his Radical Root Organic Farm in Libertyville. "We feel that this is something important to do, and it’s important for community," said his wife, Alison Parker, 34, a Highland Park native. | Brian O'Mahoney/For Sun-Times Media
Updated: November 12, 2013 6:21AM
A historic farm in Libertyville is returning to its roots with a new organic operation.
The nearly 150-year-old farm was once a storied piece of Lake County agriculture. A white farmhouse built during the Civil War is still visible from Milwaukee Avenue on the village’s far north side. The Lake County Forest Preserve, the Liberty Prairie Foundation and Conserve Lake County teamed up to buy Casey Farm in 2007.
But not until this past growing season has the farm seen cultivation.
“It’s sort of like a revival,” says Alison Parker.
She and her husband, Alex Needham, have started Radical Root Organic Farm. They sublease a portion of the property from the Liberty Prairie Foundation. And so far, among other products, they have yielded a substantial honey harvest — more than 500 pounds — and fresh eggs from grain-fed chickens that pasture on land surrounded by a solar-powered electric fence.
They’ve sold their produce in trendy Chicago farmers’ markets, but plan to open a roadside stand in Libertyville.
The couple’s community-supported agriculture program, or C.S.A., allows subscribers to pick up weekly produce for an upfront fee in three locations, including the farm, 31330 N. Milwaukee Ave.
Officials say it’s the first certified-organic operation in Libertyville.
They also say it fills a vital need for locally-produced food and offers a viable example for farmers who leave the county for longer-term access to land across the border in Wisconsin or farther downstate.
“Hopefully it will be a model for what can be done elsewhere in the county,” said Nathan Aaberg, Conserve Lake County’s interim executive director.
The couple first used an incubator program at Prairie Crossing, a 100-acre, organic farm owned by the Liberty Prairie Foundation.
“We were able to say to Radical Root there’s a future in food farming in our region,” the foundation’s President and CEO Bradley Leibov said.
Now, Conserve Lake County plans to refurbish an old barn on the property for wash stations and other enhancements.
The farm allows the forest preserve to connect a popular network of forest preserves to the Independence Grove. An underpass is still under construction on Route 21.
Officials hope to install informational signs and bring public programs to the farm.
“We really saw it as an educational aspect,” the preserve’s board President Ann Maine said.