Primrose Farm in St. Charles is a living history farm, which means its goal is to educate and entertain while preserving the past. But it’s also serving the community through farming activities as people learn about agriculture.
“Our target audience is anyone who wants to learn more about farming and agriculture,” says Alison Jones, manager of farm programs and interactive services. “A lot of people don’t know where their food comes from and the work it takes to produce it.”
Currently, the 100-acre farm consists of nine buildings, most of which support Primrose Farm’s resident animals, including five cows, four goats, four sheep, two donkeys, one Belgian Draft Horse and dozens of free-range chickens.
The farm also has an orchard and raises honeybees, while tenant farmers grow corn and soybeans.
Visitors love to watch the animals, but they also enjoy learning about the farm through a hands-on experience. Watch the cows being milked, observe how grain is processed into livestock feed, see hay being loaded, the orchard being cared for, and food being cooked on a wood stove.
Then, try your hand at it. Adults and children can sign up to help with milking cows, gathering farm-fresh eggs straight from the nest, feeding the goats and chickens, and learning basic grooming techniques for horses.
The animals have two scheduled feeding times, from 8-9 a.m. and 2-3 p.m. daily. Additionally, the animals will head to the pasture, weather permitting.
One thing people find most interesting, Jones says, is just how much food the animals need to live. Dairy cows eat 4-5% of their body weight each day, which means a cow weighing 1,000 pounds needs 40-50 pounds of feed per day. A horse needs about half that much, so if it weighs 2,000 pounds it, too, needs 40-50 pounds of food per day.
“We carefully watch the animals to make sure they are responding to normal activity around the farm,” says Jones. “Most animals are not good about letting you know when they don’t feel well, but some of the signs are not eating well, being lethargic and not moving around as much.”
Primrose Farm hosts drop-in programs, parent and child classes, special events, school and Scout programs, community garden plots, several miles of multi-use trails and antique equipment.
FulBuschel Farm and Produce operates a farm stand from 3-7 p.m. Wednesdays and Thursdays and from 9 a.m.-1 p.m. Saturdays. Their crops are raised following organic farming practices and are grown on site.
Additionally, Primrose Farm was recently awarded a grant for a new 3,500-square-foot educational building that will have classrooms and rental space for teacher and business meetings. It will also have amenities that aren’t now available, such as restrooms for staff and the general public, a full kitchen and heated classrooms. Groundbreaking just occurred, with the building expected to be complete by next July.
“We have had to cancel programming when the weather is bad. With the new building, we can move everything inside and continue as planned,” Jones says.
The top three changes in farming in modern times are the automation of farm equipment, robotic and computerized milking machines, and feed production. Crops have been bred to resist disease and drought for higher yields.
Stepping onto this farm is a journey back in time. Primrose Farm traces its beginnings to the fall of 1839, when James and John Thompson began surveying land that would later become St. Charles Township. An adjacent prairie was seen as the perfect place for farming.
They plowed under native plants, installed drain tiles, built fences to keep livestock, and introduced new plant and tree species.
Primrose Farm has changed hands many times over the years, but it’s always been zoned for agriculture.
When the St. Charles Park District acquired the land in the mid ’90s, the agreement stated it was to be used solely for educational purposes, Jones says.
“Our specific mission is to show the impact of technology and social change on the lands and farm families of the Fox Valley,” Jones says. “Because the site includes one of the original farmsteads established in the late 1830s, we can discuss more than 150 years of agricultural history.”
Primrose Farm is located at 5N726 Crane Road in St. Charles, (630) 513-4370, primrosefarm.org.