Penny Newkirk gives an all new meaning to the term farm-to-table.
She includes the farmhouse.
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Newkirk loves food. She loves to eat it. She loves to grow it. She loves to cook it.
But her favorite thing is to teach people about it.
"I have the heart of a teacher," she says. "I love to be able to excite people about the food they eat."
Newkirk took her lifelong loves of cooking and teaching and melded them with a background of gardening and growing up in farm country by opening Country Garden Cuisine Cooking School on a historic farm in Campton Hills in 1999.
"We try to make things simple with an interesting twist so our students can leave saying, 'I can do that,' " she says.
After owning a cooking school in downtown St. Charles for about seven years, Newkirk wanted to switch gears and help her students get back to the roots of cooking and food.
"I really felt people had lost where food had come from," she says. "I had grown women who had never picked anything from a garden. I didn't know how that could be."
"I wanted people to see where real food grows, what good food is and that they can produce it themselves," she says.
Newkirk says it took about five years to buy a farm that could be zoned for her needs. The location on LaFox Road sits on a couple of acres and features both herb and vegetable gardens. She and her husband, Dave, live in the historic home original to the property. The home dates to the 1860s, while the barn was built in the 1830s.
They also purchased a building for $1 from the Felician Franciscan Sisters in 1997. The Newkirks moved that building, circa 1847, from its original location on Dean Street to the farm.
After a couple of years of renovation, the cooking classes began in 1999 in the renovated building.
Newkirk teaches several different types of classes. Some are smaller and hands-on, like a recent pickling class, while others involve larger classes where students learn how to cook a particular meal and then dine together. She also holds farm-to-fork events where they cook outdoors and eat in the garden.
"To me, the whole world revolves around the table," Newkirk says. "This is where you share with your family, this is where you bring your friends.
"You share a meal together and you really get down to the root of what is important in life."