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Erika Vernon – Elawa Farm Foundation

erika vernon EDIT

Erika Vernon
Elawa Farm Foundation
1401 Middlefork Dr., LF



Elawa Farm is a wonderful place to learn about the history of the "Gentlemen's Farm" movement, enjoy a beautifully restored and productive garden and purchase the products made in their kitchen at their Garden Market held on Fridays and Saturdays 8am to 1pm, now through the end of October.


Lake Forest/Lake Bluff Chamber of Commerce: What was the inspiration behind Elawa Farm?

Erika Vernon:  A lot of what we do here at Elawa Farm is guided by the history of the farm itself. All of the buildings here are original to the property and they've been restored to their original state. We are still growing the vegetables and flowers in the exact same space where the Armour family originally farmed. Mrs. Armour grew award winning dahlias--so we grow dahlias every year, too and maintain a stock of Elawa dahlia tubers from year to year. We don't use any chemicals on the property. The only additive we use in the soil in the garden is compost. So, we're very conscious of our impact on the environment and with what we're selling to our community. All the food that people buy here is safe and hasn't been sprayed. Our programming centers around all things garden & food related. We host classes on cooking, floral design and gardening, and we just hosted a discussion about landscaping without chemicals.


We’re focused on working in harmony with the environment and making a safe environment for our community.


LFLBC: What is the vision for Elawa Farm Foundation?

EV: Going forward, we would like to continue what we've been doing, and just grow the number of people that come to visit Elawa Farm. Our Market grows every year, as well as the number of classes. We want more people to learn what we do here, how we do it and how they can apply the things they learn at Elawa in their own home.


LFLBC: What is the one thing you want people to know about Elawa Farm?

EV: That we are a place for the community. Technically, our property is owned by the City of Lake Forest. So, it's public property and we very much want to encourage people to come here to visit. People can walk the grounds and look at the veggies and the flowers. Anyone who's interested can take a walk in the garden, talk to our garden manager and come to our Market on Fridays and Saturdays to learn more about what we grow.


Also, we partner with different organizations. This year will be working with Roberti Community House in Waukegan. It’s a 9-week culinary training program that trains people to then be employed full-time in the culinary field. They will be making soup every week for our Garden Market!  We also work with EGGceptional Abilities in Lake Bluff—they provide our eggs for our weekly Markets. We always have EGGceptional Abilities eggs, and they sell out every week.


LFLBC: What has been your greatest business initiative?
 This totally doesn't make sense in the business world, but it’s probably our free programs.  Our classes can be somewhat expensive, and not everyone is able to come and pay $85 for a cooking class or a floral design class. So, we recently hosted a free event ‘Landscaping without Chemicals,’ and we had almost 100 attendees. Hosting events like that that can get people in the door and then they can see what we do. I think programs like that are one of the best things we can offer.


LFLBC:  What other local businesses do you work with?

EV: We work with Katie Ford Flowers. She lives right here in the community and she teaches Floral Design classes here. Lake Forest Flowers, Ellie Styled [event planner] and Froggy’s for catering are on our vendor list for weddings and events here


LFLBC: How do you give back to the community?

EV: We’re a very public-facing entity. People can come and walk the trails, visit the gardens, attend a class, and come to the Garden Market. We’re really all about serving the community and getting people excited about food.


LFLBC: Is there anything else you’d like to share?

EV: I’d like to mention our summer intern program. We have garden interns, kitchen interns, and Garden Market interns, which are all paid, part-time positions. We have high school and college age students join us, and they don't usually come with any previous garden knowledge, but they learn everything from the greenhouse to planting in the field to harvesting to working at the Garden Market. The interns really get a good sense of how to run a small business. We're going to be building more of a curriculum around each internship. Our goal is that students can come to Elawa in the summer and receive college credit for the work they do here and possibly even have a project to work on that they present at school.