WOODSTOCK – At the Loyola University Retreat and Ecology Campus, students have the opportunity to gain hands-on experience with what they’ve learned in class – something an urban setting couldn’t provide.
But the property at 2710 S. Country Club Road, in between Woodstock and Bull Valley, also serves the surrounding community through its restoration efforts, retreat center and organic farm.
Emily Zack has been farm operations manager on the campus for about three years, and said last year the 2-acre farm produced about 9,800 pounds of food including tomatoes, peppers, eggplants and squash.
Food from the farm is sold from 3 to 6:30 p.m. every Friday through October at a farm stand on the site. It’s also used at the dining hall and campus, and three Crystal Lake restaurants – Duke’s Alehouse and Kitchen, 1776 Restaurant and Crystal Lake Country Club, Zack said.
“So we’re kind of feeding the community through the restaurants, and feeding the community in their homes and then the guests here,” Zack said.
Zack works on the farm with interns, community volunteers and students who take courses at the campus, which Loyola has owned since 2010.
“Things are changing, temperatures are changing,” Zack said. “And I think learning how to eat seasonably and close to home is going to be more important.”
Aside from the farm, the 98-acre property has about 20 acres of wetlands and 25 acres of woodlands.
Roberta Lammers-Campbell, director of Academic Programs and Ecological Restoration at Loyola’s Retreat and Ecology Campus, is in charge of the restoration to bring the land back to what it was before the wetland was drained, burned and built upon.
Since the restoration started six years ago, the property has seen many changes, Lammers-Campbell said.
Lammers-Campbell works with eight interns and small classes of about 10 students who come for the three summer sessions the campus offers.
“It’s important for a lot of reasons for us to have students out here,” Lammers-Campbell said. “To keep the place going, if nothing else, but the restoration work we do couldn’t be done without volunteers.”
Lammers-Campbell said she’s tracked about 5,000 volunteer hours on the campus since 2010. Anyone interested in participating in her restoration work days on the second Saturday of the month can email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
One Loyola sophomore working on the restoration, Cailey Howard of McHenry, spent her third work day this summer removing invasive species including buckthorn, honeysuckle and garlic mustard.
Howard said before this experience, she didn’t know how vast the Loyola campus in Woodstock was, even though she lives 10 minutes away.
“It’s really nice to see what my backyard looks like and to learn more about what I’m living around,” Howard said.
Working on the farm and with the restoration has been worthwhile, even though Howard is a nursing student.
“We’re making progress, and we’re seeing that we’re making a difference,” Howard said. “And I think that’s something that’s really satisfying.”
Interns also work on the campus throughout the summer, including Loyola senior Lacee Dupart of St. Louis, Missouri. She said sometimes people don’t understand the importance of removing invasive species.
“I think that’s really important for people in the community to understand and learn about invasive species and the need for more native plants,” Dupart said.
Something Lammers-Campbell said she learned early on was to explain to people the restoration work that’s being done to avoid misunderstandings.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service gave a grant that helped restore the habitat in the back of the property, Lammers-Campbell said, so trees that were taking the water out of the areas that are meant to be wetlands can be removed.
Once the restoration’s finished, ideally it would include a wetland, the decommissioning of an artificial pond and oak savannas – work that could take up to 15 years, depending on how much money and manpower the project receives.
It’s an ongoing process, Lammers-Campbell said, but her dream is to someday achieve the designation of buffer to an Illinois nature preserve, because the property borders the Parker Fen Nature Preserve, along with private residences. The designation would ensure the property is protected forever, she said.
“This would be just a marvelous place if all of that were restored, and we had lush grasses and sedges and plants growing out here with all different kind of birds and animals, and the whole ecosystem,” Lammers said.
And while that will take time, Lammers said the greatest joy for her is when she starts to see native plants emerging without having been planted – a sign the restoration is working.