Acres of farmland converted into residential living

Baby boomers are reinventing retirement, just like they redefined American work and family life when they were younger.

Few are interested in sitting in a rocking chair, “resting.” Instead, they are bicycling, hiking, gardening, traveling and getting involved in any number of exciting activities. They are truly investing themselves in a second life during which they can pursue their passions, not just provide for their families.

For some, that passion involves living on a farm or in some other rural environ and communing with nature as much as possible.

Serosun Farms in Kane County, located between Huntley, Hampshire and Burlington, is a working 410-acre organic farm and equestrian center which is about to begin welcoming homeowners of all ages who are looking for a rural life without all the work and responsibility of having their own farm or horse barn.

Work on a model home is about to begin and the first move-ins are expected next summer, according to John DeWald, the San Diego-based developer who is creating the community with his sister, Jane Strickland, who runs the equestrian center.

While Serosun Farms will have a strong equestrian component, it has actually been designed to solve the problem of disappearing agricultural land and to appeal to anyone who has always wanted to live on a farm or who is committed to living in an organic community. The farm is already producing organic hay, a limited number of vegetables and free-range eggs, DeWald said.

Once complete, Serosun Farms will feature a 160-acre working, sustainable farm and apple orchard, which will supply fresh produce, flowers, farm-raised meat and other specialty items to an on-site farmers market. There will also be 300 acres of open countryside with eight miles of trails for riding, cross country skiing, walking, mountain biking and golf carts. Finally, it will feature the equestrian center, fishing ponds, a wildlife habitat, sports facilities, a playground and a community center with swimming pool, tennis courts, game room and event facilities.

All of the 114 custom homes will be situated on one-acre lots, clustered in the middle of the property. When residents look out their back windows they will see farmland, prairie or woods.

“Homeowners will be able to enjoy the benefits of living on a 400-acre farm without all of the work involved,” he said.

“We expect Serosun Farms to appeal to three groups of buyers — the equestrian group who want to board their horses near their home, professional families who want to let their children live in the country and those who are approaching retirement and want a quick country getaway until that time,” DeWald explained.

“The older people who have visited us and shown an interest tell us that they don’t want to live in a community where everyone is the same age. They want the diversity we plan to offer and they want to move to a place where their grandchildren will actually want to visit them,” he stated.

“Many also feel nostalgia about living on a farm or in the country. Maybe they grew up in the country or they always wanted to live in the country and never had the chance,” DeWald explained. “Still others are committed to healthy living and eating locally grown, organic food.”

“All of them say that this is going to be their last home and they want to get it right this time with a totally custom home that is in the country, but close enough to Chicago to enjoy what it has to offer,” he added.

The community will be built in a sustainable, environmentally responsible manner, complete with composting and mulching programs, LEED green building design, utilization of solar, wind and geothermal energy, wildlife habitat management, soil, water and other resource conservation and innovative use of land.

DeWald said he is expecting a variety of homes to be built at Serosun Farms, with baby boomers generally choosing single-level homes in the 2,000- to 3,000-square-foot size range and families building larger homes. It is expected that they will be built in traditional rural architectural styles like craftsman, Victorian, shingle-style, prairie, farmhouse and barn styles and that virtually all of the homes will be built with great emphasis on indoor air quality, as well as low energy usage.

Tryon Farm in Michigan City, Ind., is another alternative community that Chicago-area baby boomers are considering when they don’t want to stray too far from family and friends.

Just an hour southeast of Chicago, Tryon Farm doesn’t isolate older residents, according to its developers, Ed and Eve Noonan. Instead, it mixes all ages, year-rounders and second-homers, commuters and locals, in a scenic, environmentally sensitive and convenient setting that provides many of the amenities of a traditional retirement community with the communal spirit of a neighborhood.

With two-thirds of its land area preserved as open space, Tryon Farm is a 170-acre former dairy farm organized into eight “settlements,” where pockets of environmentally friendly homes, designed in a range of contemporary styles, become a community surrounded by stunning, eternally preserved natural beauty — woods, meadows, dunes, hillsides and ponds. Airy, entirely original and sometimes whimsical home designs seek to balance comfort and convenience with environmental consciousness and practicality, according to the Noonans.

Ed Noonan is a visionary architect and Eve is an environmental activist who put their heads together to create this new kind of community which is “rooted in balance between homeowner independence and community spirit; between escape to a rural environment and proximity to urban amenities; and between what buyers want and what they can afford.”

“We bought this land in the early 1990s and set about saving the land and making it a happy living place without incurring huge upfront costs,” Eve explained. “Since we made it a planned unit development, we have the freedom here to cluster the homes so that we can have more open space for everyone to enjoy.

“Our buyers seem to be people who are attracted to simple, smaller and contemporary homes and we offer them a range of semi-custom choices of homes,” she said.

Since the Noonans are interested in sustainability, all of the homes at Tryon Farm are factory built because these types of homes involve less waste of materials and less disruption to the environment and neighbors while the house is being built. Those in the farmstead community tend to have pitched roofs in keeping with such an environment while homes in the woods are taller and skinny so that the trees don’t need to be removed. All contain skylights and every modern convenience and are totally personalized. They range in price from $225,000 to $475,000.

The on-site, working farm is anchored by the original farmhouse which is now a bed and breakfast. The farm features bees, goats and chickens. Local farmers till the soil to grow hay and corn. On either side are farms featuring horses and beef cattle. The 1898 barn serves as a community space for parties, meetings and concerts and the Tryon Farm Institute used the farm to educate city children on conservation and farming.

Elsewhere on the property there are deep woods with high canopy trees, gently rolling fields, ponds, wetlands and even high dunes for a great diversity of environment in an area where the change of seasons is remarkable.

“We believe that living out here makes life more interesting because the natural environment is literally wrapped around you. It isn’t just on one side of your house like a golf course would be,” said Ed Noonan. “We ask potential buyers if they enjoy the sun or the woods, farmland or dunes, because we have four or five different home site experiences available. What is your pleasure?”

Residents of Tryon Farm range in age from young families to octogenarians and the community has a “small town” feel because everyone knows their neighbors.

“The people here are generally not trying to make a statement with their homes. They are trying to fit in to the community and the natural environment. For instance, instead of building extra rooms to house guests, they send them to the community bed and breakfast when they visit,” Ed said.

There are no sidewalks at Tryon Farm and driveways are made of gravel to allow rainwater to percolate into the ground, he explained. Homes are clustered together and so are garages so that fewer driveways are necessary. In addition, roads through the community are narrow and they meander leisurely — on purpose.

Also important to the residents is the excellence of nearby medical care and its proximity to the South Shore Railroad into Chicago, Lake Michigan with its beaches, excellent restaurants and a growing number of nearby cultural and recreational opportunities.

“We emphasize retirement from the city, not from the choices in the city. You can be in Chicago in an hour,” Eve said.

Kathy and Karl Dennis moved to Tryon Farm permanently 10 years ago, after enjoying weekends there for three years. The former Chicago condo residents visited Tryon on a lark and fell in love with it, enjoying the fact that it was so close to the city.

“Being honest, I moved to Tryon Farm for Kathy because she was raised in Wisconsin and loved the place. I, on the other hand, was a city boy. But it only took me two months to fall totally in love with Tryon Farm,” Karl, a former executive director of Kaleidoscope, Inc., in Chicago, an innovative child welfare agency, admitted.

“I love the quiet, easy and safe lifestyle. I don’t even have to walk my dog on a leash. We go for a walk each morning with a group of other people and dogs and we have a ball, talking and watching the dogs chase deer and other wild animals,” he continued.

“In addition, there is no rush hour here; I go to the supermarket and know the people who work there; and go to the post office and find myself first in line instead of taking 45 minutes to mail something,” Karl said.

Kathy loves that she has space to garden and she enjoys watching the ducks, muskrats and other wildlife she sees on the pond next to their home, finding that small, intimate environment more fascinating than she ever found Lake Michigan when they lived in a condominium overlooking it.

Karl finds the sound of deer walking on the roof of their bermed house (which is built into a hillside) particularly enthralling and enjoys trying new things like salmon fishing on Lake Michigan and then smoking the fish.

“Even though I originally moved here for Kathy, now I can say that I can’t think of any place in the world where I would rather be,” Karl stated.

Serosun Farms has many activities for people of any age to participate in.
The homes in Tryon Farms offer a very modern look and feel.
The homes in the woodsy areas of Tryon Farms a built tall and thin so no trees would have to be cut down.
Both the interior and the exterior of the homes in Tryon Farm can be personalized.
Serosun Farms aims to become a sustainable farm that provides fresh produce and farm-raised meat to area farmers markets.
Serosun Farms is now producing organic hay, a few vegetables and free-range eggs.
Horseback riding will be one of many activities available to residents of Serosun Farms.
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