Into the Wild: Return to the woods

By Randy Mermel and Jessie Crow Mermel
On-Farm Educators at Angelic Organics Learning Center

As educators at Angelic Organics Learning Center (AOLC), we are always delighted to witness the wonder and excitement of children, especially those from the inner city, gaining new experiences on the farm.

Most of our students love the magic of eating a carrot pulled fresh from the dirt, the success of milking a goat, or the sensation of holding a cold, wiggling worm in the palms of their hands.

On day camps and overnights, we have the opportunity to take the children through the fields, across Rockton Road to hike through the woods and play in the creek. Many of the children have never played in a creek, an experience most adults cherish from their own childhoods.

Even the children who are at first intimidated, quickly come out of their shells and delight in exploring the forest and stream. They never want to leave.

These children are not the first to have explored this land. Angelic Organics owner, farmer John Peterson, and his sisters grew up here and spent their free time playing in the woods.

“No one told us to be careful. ‘Don’t go in, you might get cut’—no warnings. You played, you explored and you fished with your homemade pole,” said Mary Jane Lewis, John’s sister, as she regaled the group of On-Farm Educators about her childhood adventures fishing for minnows, building rafts and corrals, and swimming in the creek.

John showed us numerous treasured arrowheads and other indigenous artifacts that his father had found in the woods. Back in the 1950s, these woods were a place for the community to enjoy. When John’s uncle died, the land was sold. The new owner put up “no trespassing” signs, and the woods and creek were off limits for years.

Now, the Learning Center has the opportunity to purchase the 70 acres of organic farmland and wild land and reclaim it to a community space for children and adults once again.

Kinnikinnick Creek, one of the cleanest streams in Illinois, winds through the property. The forest, a remnant bur oak savanna, is home to shagbark hickory, basswood, black cherry, white elm, may-apples, water cress, skunk cabbage, blood root, wild ginger and various other native species. Like most of our natural areas, however, invasive plant species are encroaching on this land. Restoration work is badly needed to help preserve the biodiversity of this area, as well as to provide an educational opportunity in the community.

Currently, the land is being held in a trust for the Learning Center until the end of the year. AOLC has launched a “Save the 70” campaign to raise the $183,000 needed to purchase the land.

AOLC is hosting several upcoming events to introduce this land to the community. Saving this land will allow AOLC to expand their educational programming to include biology studies, restoration work, nature hikes, bird-watching, food foraging and more.

This land will also allow AOLC to expand their small herd of Scottish Highland cattle to help with the restoration efforts, as well as to serve as an educational model of sustainable grazing and how it can help to restore and conserve natural lands. The long-term goal is to build a residential educational facility, utilizing green design, on a small portion of the land to accommodate year-round education and training.

If you would like to learn more or make a contribution to help save this beautiful land, please contact Corinne Reynolds, AOLC director of development and communications, at (773) 288-5462 or

Four Rivers Environmental Coalition (FREC) and The Rock River Times present this bi-weekly series to help readers discover the amazing array of plants and animals in the rivers, prairies and woodlands “in our own back yard.” FREC is an alliance of 35 member organizations “dedicated to educating and advocating for the plants, animals, natural resources and ecosystems of the Four Rivers Region.” Visit

From the May 4-10, 2011 issue

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