By Mike Bryson (October 2011)
Mention food in Schaumburg, circa 2011, and people might think of a variety of things: the many national and local chain restaurants that dominate Schaumburg’s shopping corridors, the surprising number of locally-owned ethnic restaurants throughout town, or the new Whole Foods store which features a wide selection of organic foods, including some that are locally sourced in the Chicago region.
It’s unlikely, though, that a working farm would come to mind, given Schaumburg’s rapid and thorough development during the post-war 20thcentury erainto a sprawling modern suburb of subdivided housing, retail corridors, industrial and corporate sectors, and wide multi-land roads.
Yet until relatively recently, Schaumburg was a thriving site of agricultural production. It originated as a small, mainly German-settled, farm community soon dubbed Sarah’s Grove. As late as the mid-1950s, parts of the Village were still actively farmed. At that time, the land presently occupied by Roosevelt University and IKEA on the Village’s northeast side was farmland; now it is part of a large corporate/retail complex that defines Schaumburg’s current identity in the northwest suburbs as an employment and shopping hub.
Despite this almost total transformation away from a local farm economy, Schaumburg still maintains a connection with its agricultural past, and there is movement afoot in the Village to expand its local food production capacity and cultivate a new vision for agriculture in the 21st century. Within the 135-acre Spring Valley Nature Sanctuary, the Volkening Heritage Farm consists of a working farm of late 19thcentury vintage.
Park District employees and a host of volunteers run the farm’s garden, manage its resident animals (cows, horses, chickens, pigs, and other livestock), and engage in old-fashioned but highly sustainable farming practices (such as composting, soil conservation, and crop rotation) — all with the use of 19th century machines and tools. The many public programs held at the Farm give the Schaumburg community a chance to reconnect with the Village’s cultural heritage and see the relevance agriculture has to modern environmental concerns and land conservation.
Other local groups contribute to the food scene in Schaumburg, too, including the Schaumburg Community Garden Club, established in 1989. One of this organization’s many projects is an extensive vegetable garden, the entire harvest of which is donated to area food pantries to help provide people in economic need with fresh, locally grown/harvested produce. The Garden Club’s efforts are but a larger expression of the work by local homeowners to tend backyard vegetable gardens, a pursuit that has seen a resurgence in recent years.
Here at Roosevelt University, the landscape redevelopment initiated in the spring of 2011 includes planned space for a small-scale urban farm that, if brought to fruition in coming years, could be example of organic/urban farming techniques, help close the ecological loop on RU’s campus (by utilizing composted food waste and collected rain water, and by supplying fresh food to the school’s cafeteria), and provide a contemporary analog to the historical-era farm operation at Volkening Heritage Farm.