Upgraded Camping at Kinnikinnick Farm in Caledonia
POWER DOWN: This summer, book a stay on this northwest Illinois farm and let living off the land help you press pause
The accommodations at Kinnikinnick Farm. For a look inside—plus other scenes from the farm—launch the gallery »
Ever heard of glamping? It’s glamorous “camping”—in quotes because the activity is not really as simple as man versus nature. We’re talking air conditioning and Wi-Fi, Champagne and duvets. By the time you take into account the linen tablecloths and wet bar, you might as well roll up the tent and book a hotel. Even Kohler in Wisconsin is jumping on the trend: Tented Forest, its luxury camping retreat, breaks ground next spring and is scheduled to open in late 2013.
Kinnikinnick Farm in Caledonia, Illinois, about 85 miles northwest of Chicago, may be the antidote to the madness. Owned by David and Susan Cleverdon since 1992, the farm sells its organic produce to restaurants in Chicago and at the Green City Market in Lincoln Park and the farmers’ market in downtown Evanston. Last summer, Kinnikinnick became a travel destination too, offering a back-to-basics camping alternative that falls somewhere between rustic cabin and sleeping under the stars. Through a cooperative of farm-stay locations called Feather Down Farms, Kinnikinnick lets vacationers bunk on its grounds in an elegantly provincial platform tent. Five fully equipped 480-square-foot canvas domiciles are sprawled along a gently sloping pasture overlooking Kinnikinnick Creek and share a centrally located shower building. You can stay for just one night, but David Cleverdon thinks a two-night stay—or longer—is ideal. “This farm’s got its own kind of magic,” he says. “Anytime people come here, they generally have a memorable time.”
Upon arrival, guests walk the property with the Cleverdons. After that, the vacation is completely unscheduled. The appeal for many boils down to the food. Imagine harvesting ingredients as needed: still-warm eggs, fresh goat’s milk, potatoes and carrots for roasting, radishes for munching. And just like with camping, your meals are DIY. Everything can be grilled outside or cooked on the tent’s wood-burning stove. Whatever isn’t growing in the large garden adjacent to the tents can be found on the shelves of the farm’s honesty shop (take now, settle up later), including bacon, home-baked bread and coffee cake, and fruit. On Saturday afternoons, the Cleverdons light up their wood-fired oven for a communal make-your-own-pizza fest.
The key to the experience, says Gijs van den Broek, is slowing down. Van den Broek is the CEO of Feather Down Farm Days USA, which exported its farm vacation concept from the Netherlands in 2001 with a location in the Catskill Mountains; he has managed stateside bookings since last year. “Even if you want to make a cup of coffee in the morning, you first have to fire up the stove, boil water, and hand-grind the coffee,” he says. “It takes about 45 minutes, but doing it the old-fashioned way puts you at a different pace. People tend to enjoy it more that way.”
Well known to Chicago chefs, Kinnikinnick has lured a few to Caledonia, including Paul Kahan and Grant Achatz, who visited with his sons—Kaden, 10, and Keller, 8—last summer. The boys harvested their breakfast eggs from under chickens. “It really reset my mind,” says Achatz, the executive chef and co-owner of Alinea and Next. “We took bike rides on country dirt roads, walked in the woods and farm fields, waded waist-deep through a stream looking for turtles and frogs. I got two leeches stuck to my legs, which the kids thought was hilarious.” Sounds just about right for a day on the farm.
HOW TO BOOK
Tents sleep up to five adults and one child. Rates start at $525 per tent for a two-night stay; bed linens, a crib, a highchair, candles, and firewood are supplied, and guests have use of an outdoor cooker. Reservations can be made through October 14; visit featherdown.com or call 716-226-6323.
Photography: Bob Coscarelli; Stylist: Karen Valentine