21123 Grade School Road
A farmers market is a great place to help your child make the
connection to local food sources, but a family farm just two hours
north of Chicago walks the farm-to-table lesson back a few steps,
offering families the chance to pick greens themselves, gather
eggs, befriend goats and buy food from the "Honesty Shop."
The rustic tent cottages at Kinnikinnick Farm also beckon to
parents who want an outdoor adventure but would like to hold on to
a bit of comfort. Best of all: Quiet reigns at Kinnikinnick Farm
and the sunsets are magnificent.
Farmers David and Susan Cleverdon enjoy watching the
transformation of the children who visit the farm.
"Children, when they first arrive, are completely out of their
element, clutching their handheld computers," Susan says. "And
after hours of gathering eggs and experiencing the farm, they
become comfortable and are completely living in the present."
After the trip, the kids can maintain their connection to the
farm at Chicago's Green City Market or the Evanston
farmers market, where the Cleverdons are regular vendors.
Kinnikinnick is one of the first few U.S. farms to offer the
accommodations through Feather Down Farm Days, founded in the
Netherlands in 2003. Each family farm features several of Feather
Down's unique tents, which have 484 square feet of living space,
wooden floors and thick canvas walls. The tents can sleep five
adults and one child, with a double bed, a bunk bed and a sleep
space tucked in a cupboard that is a favorite for kids.
The intent of the farm retreat is to provide harried urban
dwellers with an authentic farm experience. "What makes the
experience really special for everybody is the stimuli of phones
ringing and electronic media is gone. And everyone focuses on one
another," Susan says.
To take visitors back a century to a more simple life, there is
no electricity. Light is provided by candles, lanterns and
campfire. The kitchen has a wood-burning stove, cold running water
and equipment to cook up a meal inspired by the locally grown
As for ingredients, the "Honesty Shop" features greens, produce
and meats from the farm and other local farmers. In a concept
foreign to most people these days, the farmers trust visitors to
keep track of what they take, then settle up at the end of the
The farm is home to goats, sheep, chickens who like to be held,
a bunny named Bandit and two dogs. With water games, a sandbox,
swings, fruit to pick and acres of green to explore, "the children
are going to invent their day," David says.
I try to teach my kids that
it's even better to re-use than recycle. I send my daughter to
school each day with her lunch in packaging that is
washable/reusable. I show them how they can take old wrapping paper
and bows and use them for art supplies. It's all about thinking
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When looking for host farms, the company seeks out people who
enjoy hosting and sharing the farm, says Gijs van den Broek, CEO of
Feather Down Farm Days USA. The Cleverdons have no problem filling
"I want people to feel like it's visiting grandma's
house-without any of the baggage," Susan jokes.
The Cleverdons bought the abandoned farmstead in Caledonia,
Ill., in the late '80s. They spent years commuting from their home
in Chicago to fix it up, then moved into the farmhouse in 1992.
Today, the 114 acres are used to raise livestock and grow organic
herbs and produce, which they also sell to some of Chicago's top
Indianapolis dermatologist Priya Young visited Kinnikinnick last
summer with her husband and three daughters, who range in age from
1 to 7.
While she and her husband consider themselves outdoor people,
they enjoyed a "camping" experience that makes life a little easier
on Mom and Dad, who didn't have to stuff their car with pans,
tents, sleeping bags and food. Instead, they relaxed, while the
kids had room to roam. (Young's one tip for parents: Bring pull-on
boots for kids to make it easier when they go in and out of the
Her daughters spent the day doting on the goats and helping with
the farm chores.
"My older daughter cried for the first hour when we were en
route back home. She did not want to leave the goats," Young
While the tent is not baby-proofed, Young says the family made
accommodations for the 1-year-old without too much trouble. The
Cleverdons brought out a highchair and toys.
"It's more like an experience where you visit family or
relatives," Young says.
Kinnikinnick has tents available for rental from mid-May through
mid-October. Rates range from $260-$305 per night if two nights are
booked, and $207-$230 per night for three or more nights.
Crystal Yednak is a mom of two and author of An Explorer's
Guide: Illinois, published in 2011 by The Countryman
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