After College of DuPage announced it would close its community education farm, forest preserve district leaders offered to host the outdoor classroom in Wheaton, about two miles off the college's main campus.
DuPage County Forest Preserve District officials made the offer after hearing about COD's decision to shut down the 11-year-old program.
"I remember when that farm came into being. At the time, it was kind of a big deal, at least in our world," said Joe Cantore, Forest Preserve Commissioner. "When I read that it was closing, I thought, wow, that's a shame. And then I kept thinking that the Forest Preserve could in some way help out."
College faculty who direct the program spoke out last month after the administration announced it would be discontinuing the farm. They argued the farm has served as an outdoor classroom for students and has played a large part in community events and raising awareness on sustainability.
The administration's officials said the farm is not directly tied to a specific academic program and that there is no room on campus.
Faculty members involved in the farm program met with the administration last week and were briefed on the forest preserve's offer, said Deborah Adelman, an English professor who coordinates the program.
They are open to the idea and happy to hear about a possible partnership between the college and the forest preserve district, she said.
However, Adelman added, there are concerns about running the community education farm off COD's grounds, noting the administration had previously promised to give the program a new plot of land on campus in time for the spring planting season. She also added that students who use the farm should have some say in what will happen to it.
"For this particular project, from the start, one of its strengths has been that it is an on-campus service learning site," she said. "I guess, above all, it seems like it was some kind of acknowledgment from the part of that administration that this project has a place in the programming and curriculum of the college."
Faculty members have agreed to tour the site, Adelman said.
The location offered by the Forest Preserve District is a one-acre plot near Butterfield and Naperville roads and part of the Forest Preserve District's Danada Model Farm.
There are no plans to charge the college a fee, Cantore said. Details, such as how long the farm would be allowed to operate there, still need to be determined.
In the coming weeks, the college and Forest Preserve district are expected to work out an intergovernmental agreement, Cantore said. He hopes to have something in place and to start the farm as soon as possible.
"I think there are a lot of opportunities for both organizations to work together to benefit the county, and this is one way to start that," Cantore said.
He called "cultural awareness" part of the district's mission.
"People need to realize there are different techniques to farm and to get and produce food. It might excite somebody and it might plant the seed in a kid or student for what they want to do later on," he said. "That's what I want, is to ignite in kids or students a passion for life of working in the environment, conservation and maybe even for the Forest Preserve."
The district currently leases out land to other farms, but none like this one, Cantore said. The Danada Model Farm is dedicated to 1950s agricultural practices and another within the district is an interpretation of an 1890s farm. Both have educational components but Cantore hopes the COD farm will showcase different sustainability techniques.
"We've got farming from the 19th century, 20th century, and hopefully, the 21st century," he said.
The way the program is run would remain the same, under the direction of COD faculty, said Joe Moore, COD spokesman. The district would simply provide the land for the farm.
"We believe this is a solution that meets everyone's needs and in fact, provides an even better piece of land for sustainable agriculture to take place," he said.