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McHenry County Conservation District nixes Cary farm proposal

Residents had objected to possible livestock near their homes

Frustrated Cary residents fill a room Feb. 8 at the Prairieview Education Center in Crystal Lake  for a meeting about the McHenry County Conservation District's proposal for a grass-and-pasture-raised farm operation. The MCCD announced Wednesday that the plan has been canceled.
Frustrated Cary residents fill a room Feb. 8 at the Prairieview Education Center in Crystal Lake for a meeting about the McHenry County Conservation District's proposal for a grass-and-pasture-raised farm operation. The MCCD announced Wednesday that the plan has been canceled.

CARY – The McHenry County Conservation District announced Wednesday that it has canceled plans for a grass-and-pasture-raised livestock farm in unincorporated Cary.

The decision comes less than a week after concerned Cary residents attended an informational meeting about the project, which aimed to restore the Pichen family farm – an old farm adjacent to another MCCD site – and provide locally grown food options to the area.

Most of the 100 or so people in the audience that night who happened to speak were opposed to having a livestock farm so close to them. The 140-acre property is next to residential subdivisions that were constructed during the past few decades, since the farm’s heyday.

MCCD rents 66 acres of crop land at Pichen to a corn and soybean farmer while the buildings on-site continue to fall into disrepair.

It appears that will continue.

“At this time, no livestock, vegetable or fruit gardens – nor bees for pollination and honey production – will be developed, produced or be made available for the community to have access to locally grown food,” MCCD said in an update posted to the organization’s website. “The wildlife habitat, soil health and water infiltration will remain status quo.”

MCCD officials hoped to have an established farmer manage all of those things, in addition to grass-fed beef and pasture-raised pigs, while the district would conduct ongoing research into birds and insect populations, as well as soil health.

The farmer, Cliff McConville of All Grass Farms in Dundee, said Wednesday that he had an estimated 40-slide PowerPoint presentation about everything he does on land he rents from the Kane County Forest Preserve District at the Brunner Family Forest Preserve off Route 31.

But MCCD officials told him before the meeting that they would do the talking.

“Originally, the plan was that I was going to present and answer questions,” McConville said. “They decided they didn’t want me to present.”

During most of the meeting, MCCD executive director Elizabeth Kessler and staff fielded questions and criticism from the anxious crowd, several of whom were convinced the district tried to sneak the project past them until word got out about the meeting.

McConville said Wednesday that MCCD notified him in the morning of its decision to nix the farm plan, and he said MCCD originally had approached him to see whether he was interested.

“I’m disappointed MCCD pulled the plug without me having the opportunity to respond to the residents’
concerns,” McConville said, adding that he could have addressed almost all of the questions that night.

Many were worried there would be smells lofting into the neighborhoods and about the potential for contaminated runoff into local waterways – concerns that McConville said he would have, too, if he lived there.

“I would personally guarantee they wouldn’t smell anything,” he said. “I could have knocked it out, but it snowballed. I didn’t get to explain the benefits – that they can buy local food, the rotational grazing, the seminars and educational things we already do at our other farm every weekend.”

All Grass Farms uses a rotational grazing strategy known to produce healthier soils, grasses and little to no stench when compared with the conventional feedlot system that has taken over much of the livestock farming industry, according to district officials and numerous studies.

A second public informational meeting scheduled for Feb. 27 is not going to happen, according to the district’s website.

Kessler did not return a call Wednesday seeking comment.

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