The 138 acre estate once owned by meat packing heir A. Watson Armour of Armour & Co., was the hobby farm of one of America’s oldest and most distinguished families. Leading estate farm expert Alfred Hopkins, a New York architect, designed the Elawa Farm complex to be both practical and artistic in a master symmetric pattern that included barreled ceilings and courtyards. Each function of the farm had its own space and the land was divided by function.
The farm’s name is derived from original owners Elsa and A. Watson Armor, but also pays homage to Leila and Wallace Carroll, who purchased the property in 1954 and retained ownership until it was sold to a public/private partnership in 1998, before being run by its current owners. Descendants from each family sit on the current foundation board. Under the current operation, everyone on the property pays rent so no tax money is spent on the buildings or property.
All items grown on the farm start from seed and all are pesticide-free, although they are not yet organic-certified. In addition to being a source for freshly grown foods and flowers, the farm gives back to the community in other ways, as it hires a gardener, a market manager for marketing, and a chef. Volunteers help operate many of the farm’s operations.
“The garden operates under the foundation,” said its director, Joanne Miller. “Three days each week, we sell the produce grown in our garden and baked goods made in our kitchen” – located in the former stable area.
One farm tenant, the Wildlife Discovery Center (WDC), which is part of Lake Forest’s parks and recreation department, operates under the auspices of curator Rob Carmichael. “Our award-inning nature center is home to some of the most spectacular collection of reptiles and birds of prey, along with a few mammals, in a beautiful zoological-quality indoor and outdoor exhibit. Since we emphasize global conservation,” he said, “our collection is comprised of some of the rarest animals on early that are part of a variety of conservation efforts. We often collaborate with other agencies on projects.”
“This is very much an operating farm and our organic produce [and WDC] are among the different components that make [Elawa] really special,” said current foundation president Paul Bergmann. “In addition to hosting great events, we have the best sunsets in town.”