Nestled along Knoch Knolls Road in southwest Naperville is a 60-acre oasis of fertile open space surrounded by all the trappings of suburban life.
Called McDonald Farm, the site is home to the Conservation Foundation, an organization established in 1972 that now has roughly 5,000 members and donors dedicated to balancing preservation and development.
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The farm was donated to the foundation by Lenore McDonald, who members say was an environmental visionary who kept the land away from developers.
Jim Kleinwachter is one of those at the farm who teaches programs designed to reinforce the foundation's mission to preserve open space and natural lands, protect rivers and watersheds and promote stewardship of the environment.
"I was volunteering for the Conservation Foundation, and eventually had an opportunity to take a staff position," Kleinwachter said, "and now I get to do what I love to do and it's my job."
As time passed, he says he expanded his role by going out to the homes of people who needed help in their yards.
The recurring problems he found led him to develop the Conservation@Home program. This program strives to help more people understand the natural processes that go on all around them.
"We designed the program to be more than just handing out literature," Kleinwachter said. "I do programs and education clinics and then I invite people to have me come and help them."
A lot of things people put in their yards, including plants such as day lilies, hostas and certain grasses, don't perform any environmental function, he said.
Better choices are native prairie plants such as queen of the prairie, blood root, butterfly weed, red trillium and spiderwort -- all long-rooted plants that help break up the clay and purify the water, eventually leading to a higher-level ecosystem.
"If you are trying to do things that are against Mother Nature, you are bound to fail," Kleinwachter said.
"The ultimate goal is to keep our rivers and watersheds cleaner, and we want to increase habitats for other things than just us," he said.