Farm-to-table operation coming to Cary? McHenry County Conservation District to hold special meeting

A pig rests next to a water trough in McHenry County. The McHenry County Conservation District wants to build a pig farm in unincorporated Cary.
A pig rests next to a water trough in McHenry County. The McHenry County Conservation District wants to build a pig farm in unincorporated Cary.

CARY – Hogs and cows and bees, oh my!

Those are a few of the new neighbors Cary residents might have in their backyard come summertime.

The McHenry County Conservation District wants to move forward with plans for a farm that could land on 66 acres of grounds formerly known as the Pichen Family Farm – and officials already have picked an operator they want to run the farm-to-table operation.

“This district is exploring a concept of transitioning the Pichen property into a sustainable local food production farm,” said John Kremer, the district’s director of operations and public safety.

The new farm would house pasture-raised livestock – including cattle, chicken, sheep and hogs – gardens for fruit and vegetables, and beehives for pollination and honey at 6611 Silver Lake Road.

McHenry County Board members representing District 3 residents are concerned that the farm will be more of a nuisance than a community bright spot.

“My concern is always what impact it has on the surrounding properties,” County Board member Joe Gottemoller said. “If you’re farm-to-table and you’re growing lettuce, it’s probably not going to have a big impact. If you’re farm-to-table and you’re growing buffalo, it’s probably going to have a big impact. I want to make sure that doesn’t happen.”

To Gottemoller, the issue comes down to the details that often make farmers difficult neighbors.

“You’re going to have trouble with anything that creates a lot of smell or noise,” Gottemoller said. “If I lived along the north side of the conservation district, I wouldn’t expect it to turn into a hog farm. I don’t know anyone that wouldn’t be upset if that’s what the proposal was.”

District 3 representative Chris Christensen lives near the farmland. The idea of livestock worries him.

“My family and I live very close to the proposed plan, so it’s admittedly hard to remain unbiased, but I have met with director [Elizabeth] Kessler and board member John Henning, and there are parts of the plan I’m very optimistic about,” Christensen said. “It is hard to hear hogs in such a close proximity to neighborhoods, a lake, a church and Lions Park and not worry about the impact.”

Conservation district officials have been researching, developing and planning the concept for a year, according to documents obtained by the Northwest Herald.

The farm could sign a lease with a farm operator by the spring, according to the district’s timeline for the sustainable farm project.

The district started researching farm-to-table operations in January 2017. In July, the district’s board of trustees discussed the concept. By September, the district put out a request for letters of interest, and by October, local farmers received a request for proposals.

In November, the district put out a request for proposals to local farm operators. Although the district received three letters of interest, only two farm operators applied. The district later chose All Grass Farms – a company that runs another farm-to-table farm inside the Brunner Family Forest Preserve on Route 31 in Dundee Township.

Although the Northwest Herald could not reach All Grass Farms representatives for comment Friday, they will be available at a public meeting scheduled next week, Kremer said.

MCCD’s informational meeting is set for 7 p.m. Feb. 8 at the Prarieview Education Center, 2112 Behan Road, Crystal Lake. More than 90 residents have been invited to learn about the concept, but the meeting is open to the public.

“They’re welcome to come and learn about the operation,” Kremer said.

One of the conservation district’s main goals with the property is to provide the community with a locally sourced food opportunity, Kremer said. Another is to raise the standard of soil and water conservation practices on the property.

The Pichen Family Farm has a long history in McHenry County.

John Pichen moved onto the property in 1882. He rented the land from Abe Goodwin, and when Goodwin died, his heirs sold Pichen the farm. The original Pichen Family Farm was 120 acres before owners later added 20 acres, according to the conservation district.

The farm has switched hands through three generations of the Pichens: John and Mary, William and Mary Frances, and Harry and Helen. The families farmed the property, raising hogs, chickens, beef and dairy cattle. They harvested grain and hay.

The Pichens sold the dairy herd in 1956, but they farmed the property until they leased the land to a grain farmer. The McHenry County Conservation District has leased the property to a grain farmer through the 2017 crop season.

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