A farm field owned by the Lake County Forest Preserve District near Grayslake could be transformed into an innovative learning center focusing on locally grown food under a concept being considered by several entities.
The idea for a local food learning center, presented by the College of Lake County for 55 acres adjoining the Brae Loch golf course on the south, would cover several bases in what is known as sustainable agriculture.
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"There is a whole group of people who want to see what we could do with local foods," said CLC President Jerry Weber. "I'm not sure exactly where it's going to go. We're not sure exactly what form it's going to take."
Early thoughts envision the area as a demonstration, teaching and learning facility for the general public and CLC students. It also could function as an incubator for small-scale farmers to start a business.
The center would be structured to serve many audiences and achieve many goals, such as showcasing green building design and construction or demonstrating the economic viability of a "farm-to-market" system to raise food for local institutions or restaurants.
For the forest district, such an operation could be a model for the development of cost efficient and productive sustainable agriculture on other farmed properties it owns, officials said.
With about 2,500 acres of leased farm land, the forest district is one of the largest owners of agricultural property in Lake County.
"Organic farming, sustainable farming, we want to learn more about that," said Tom Hahn, the district's executive director. "Certainly, we're interested from the perspective of educating ourselves, as well as food production."
The property at one time had been considered for an expansion of the district-owned Brae Loch golf course. But with interest in golf waning in recent years, district officials are considering other possibilities.
Conceptually, the district likely would allow the land to be used as its contribution but that is far from settled. The notion of a local food learning center was well received by the district's planning and restoration committee, but members wants answers to several nuts-and-bolts details, such as how the facility would be funded, managed and operated.
"We're not going to expand the golf course, so is there something creative we can do? There was general interest from the committee in pursuing it," said Pat Carey, a committee member and forest commissioner from Grayslake, whose district includes the property.
"We were fairly firm in our discussion -- we're not allocating funds for anything," she added.
Carey also is a member of the Community Partners for Sustainability, part of CLC's multipronged effort to foster green initiatives on campus and across the county. The local food learning center has been included in discussions for some time.
The Liberty Prairie Foundation, which operates a small-scale farming program, pitched the idea of using Brae Loch to CLC and the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning as potential partners. The planning group includes promoting sustainable local food as an initiative in its Go To 2040 Plan.
Stephen Bell, director of the Green Economy Center at CLC, said that in a larger sense the idea could help build a green economy in Lake County.
"We're still trying to sort out the concept of what exactly will happen there," Bell said. "There are a lot of different options of what this could be."