How Liberty Prairie Farm Store in Grayslake intends to invigorate local food market

The Liberty Prairie Farm Store debuts Saturday in Grayslake with a bounty of organic vegetables and other locally-sourced products. But there's more to the business than what's on the shelves.

The new venture at 970 Harris Road, Suite 1B, is just east of Route 137 in the Prairie Crossing Station Square commercial area. The store is a new collaboration to invigorate the local food market and get healthy quality food to the community with conservation and education at its heart.

Besides offering an indoor, climate-controlled, six-day weekly farmers market of sorts, the 1,800-square-foot building has a community room available to rent for classes, meetings and other activities.

Also, the administrative office of Liberty Prairie, a private not-for-profit foundation involved with farm enterprises and conservation efforts, will be relocated to the space.

Liberty Prairie joined forces with Prairie Wind Family Farm, operated the past 17 years as a business within Liberty Prairie by Jen and Jeff Miller. The couple serve as managing directors of the new entity.

By partnering, the mission of enhancing the local food market and energizing educational and community involvement can grow further and have a greater impact than working apart, explained Karen Wilkes, executive director.

"We're changing our whole model," said Wilkes, an environmental educator hired about a year and a half ago to rethink Liberty Prairie's business plan. She had been working at a nonprofit-owned 1,648-acre organic farm and wilderness in Los Altos, California.

"We're trying to create a community hub," Wilkes said. "The more people participate, the more successful it will be."

Liberty Prairie has developed and supported farm enterprises and efforts to conserve the natural landscape on 94 acres adjoining the Prairie Crossing environmental community in Grayslake.

Besides raising various crops, the Millers also have mentored beginner farmers, presented on panels and led research in local agriculture. Jen Miller said the couple uses a more natural system of farming that enhances the soil, leading to more flavorful greens, roots and other products.

"For many people, our beets are the best and that's because our soil is making them taste better," added Miller, who will manage daily operations. Since the partnership idea surfaced, the producer list has grown 25%, which promises more variety of organic-certified produce and associated products such as honey, cheeses, spreads, certified-humanely raised meats, and eggs, Miller said.

Liberty Prairie Farm Store is one of the elements in a longer-term vision that includes a certified teaching kitchen at another location on the property.

The efforts will heavily involve Grayslake Community High School District 127, where Jeff Miller was hired as the first agricultural career and technical education instructor.

"He's helping us integrate agriculture into everything we're doing here," including work-based field trips, Wilkes said. Students in the geometry and construction classes, for example, built picnic tables to be used outside the farm store.

Teacher Greg Geiger said students learn math and construction techniques but also critical, creative-thinking and problem-solving skills.

  Popcorn grown on the Miller farm is among the products available at the Liberty Prairie Farm Store. Mick Zawislak/
  Karen Wilkes, left, executive director, and Jen Miller, managing director of Liberty Prairie, ready for the opening of the Liberty Prairie Farm Store in Grayslake. Mick Zawislak/
A worker from Signarama affixes the Liberty Prairie Farm Store sign in Prairie Crossing Station Square in Grayslake. The new venture is opening Saturday. Courtesy of Karen Wilkes
Signage on the door of the Liberty Prairie Farm Store, which is opening Saturday in Grayslake. Courtesy of Karen Wilkes
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