Feather Down Farm Days give families a chance to get back to the land without forgoing too many comforts of home.
“There’s something you need to know about this place,” said a volunteer at Kinnikinnick Farms in Caledonia minutes after I arrived with my family for a weekend-long stay. “It’s magic.”
After spending an 85-mile car ride to the northwest Illinois farm trying to convince a pair of cranky kids that three warm summer days and nights without video games and air conditioning was going to be superfun, a little magic sounded great. And when the two of them—with a few canine best friends they’d already made trailing behind—made an instant beeline to the chicken coop (where they were promised a chance to gather eggs each morning), followed by a field of wild raspberries (ready for picking), and finally the plush, multi-room “tents” we’d be calling home (tricked out with bunk beds and cubby spaces for them to sleep in), I had a feeling she was right.
Kinnikinnick is the kind of dreamy, picture-perfect spot that’s an ideal fit for Feather Down Farm Days, a European outfitter that partners with working farms to offer urbanites a taste of rural life. It’s surrounded by rolling hills and dotted with wildflowers; across from a big, red barn where much of the produce is processed are two trees that form a loosely heart-shaped arch—the site of several wedding ceremonies here. Owners David and Susan Cleverdon are a warm, welcoming couple who lived and worked in Chicago for many years before they became farmers. They—and their organic produce—are beloved by some of the city’s best-known chefs (Blackbird’s Paul Kahan occasionally hosts dinners at Kinnikinnick).
Feather Down operated in England, France and the Netherlands since 2004 before bringing its vacation formula to two upstate New York farms last year. Kinnikinnick is its first venture in the Midwest. The center of your stay is those amazing tents, which feel more like log cabins. This is camping Nate Berkus–style, with supersoft linens on the beds (there’s sleeping space for up to six), a hand-crank bean grinder and French press to make your coffee, and candles and oil lamps that light your nights. (Showers and bathrooms are a short walk away.) You do your own cooking with those fresh eggs, plus anything else you need from a well-stocked farm shop, on the tent’s wood-burning stove.
Guests are encouraged to help with the farm chores: My husband and I pitched in to erect a pen to hold some new farm animals; the kids rode in the back of David’s pickup truck to get a pair of goats from a neighboring farm. Later, the two of them served pizzas made in an outdoor, wood-burning oven when we sat at long picnic table with other guests for a communal dinner. But there’s no pressure. We also spent time lounging under the trees with books while our kids climbed a straw mountain and played on a swing set. Hayrides and a sandbox were in the works when we left.
The same kids who complained all the way down I-90 had to be pulled to the car when it was time to leave. “How soon can we go back to visit David and Susan, Mom?” was the first question from the back seat. That’s what I call magic.
Feather Down Farm Days are available April–November. Rates are $189–$239 per night; with three-night minimum stays on weekends and four-night minimums midweek. See featherdown.com for info.