A farmers market is a great place to help your child make the connection to local food sources, but a family farm just two hours north of Chicago walks the farm-to-table lesson back a few steps, offering families the chance to pick greens themselves, gather eggs, befriend goats and buy food from the "Honesty Shop."
The rustic tent cottages at Kinnikinnick Farm also beckon to parents who want an outdoor adventure but would like to hold on to a bit of comfort. Best of all: Quiet reigns at Kinnikinnick Farm and the sunsets are magnificent.
Farmers David and Susan Cleverdon enjoy watching the transformation of the children who visit the farm.
"Children, when they first arrive, are completely out of their element, clutching their handheld computers," Susan says. "And after hours of gathering eggs and experiencing the farm, they become comfortable and are completely living in the present."
After the trip, the kids can maintain their connection to the farm at Chicago's Green City Market or the Evanston farmers market, where the Cleverdons are regular vendors.
Kinnikinnick is one of the first few U.S. farms to offer the accommodations through Feather Down Farm Days, founded in the Netherlands in 2003. Each family farm features several of Feather Down's unique tents, which have 484 square feet of living space, wooden floors and thick canvas walls. The tents can sleep five adults and one child, with a double bed, a bunk bed and a sleep space tucked in a cupboard that is a favorite for kids.
The intent of the farm retreat is to provide harried urban dwellers with an authentic farm experience. "What makes the experience really special for everybody is the stimuli of phones ringing and electronic media is gone. And everyone focuses on one another," Susan says.
To take visitors back a century to a more simple life, there is no electricity. Light is provided by candles, lanterns and campfire. The kitchen has a wood-burning stove, cold running water and equipment to cook up a meal inspired by the locally grown foods.
As for ingredients, the "Honesty Shop" features greens, produce and meats from the farm and other local farmers. In a concept foreign to most people these days, the farmers trust visitors to keep track of what they take, then settle up at the end of the trip.
The farm is home to goats, sheep, chickens who like to be held, a bunny named Bandit and two dogs. With water games, a sandbox, swings, fruit to pick and acres of green to explore, "the children are going to invent their day," David says.
Tips and Tricks
I try to teach my kids that it's even better to re-use than recycle. I send my daughter to school each day with her lunch in packaging that is washable/reusable. I show them how they can take old wrapping paper and bows and use them for art supplies. It's all about thinking creatively!
Jennifer Jankowski, Chicago
Check out Chicago Parent on Facebook
When looking for host farms, the company seeks out people who enjoy hosting and sharing the farm, says Gijs van den Broek, CEO of Feather Down Farm Days USA. The Cleverdons have no problem filling that role.
"I want people to feel like it's visiting grandma's house-without any of the baggage," Susan jokes.
The Cleverdons bought the abandoned farmstead in Caledonia, Ill., in the late '80s. They spent years commuting from their home in Chicago to fix it up, then moved into the farmhouse in 1992. Today, the 114 acres are used to raise livestock and grow organic herbs and produce, which they also sell to some of Chicago's top restaurants.
Indianapolis dermatologist Priya Young visited Kinnikinnick last summer with her husband and three daughters, who range in age from 1 to 7.
While she and her husband consider themselves outdoor people, they enjoyed a "camping" experience that makes life a little easier on Mom and Dad, who didn't have to stuff their car with pans, tents, sleeping bags and food. Instead, they relaxed, while the kids had room to roam. (Young's one tip for parents: Bring pull-on boots for kids to make it easier when they go in and out of the tent.)
Her daughters spent the day doting on the goats and helping with the farm chores.
"My older daughter cried for the first hour when we were en route back home. She did not want to leave the goats," Young says.
While the tent is not baby-proofed, Young says the family made accommodations for the 1-year-old without too much trouble. The Cleverdons brought out a highchair and toys.
"It's more like an experience where you visit family or relatives," Young says.
Kinnikinnick has tents available for rental from mid-May through mid-October. Rates range from $260-$305 per night if two nights are booked, and $207-$230 per night for three or more nights.
Crystal Yednak is a mom of two and author of An Explorer's Guide: Illinois, published in 2011 by The Countryman Press.