Far more than a residential community, this unique space is also an operating farm, a natural preserve and an operating equestrian center. See how sustainable lifestyles are just the start.
Peace and quiet. The birds call, the wind rustles leaves, and there’s an occasional whinny or clomp-clomp of horses. Serosun Farms seems a million miles away from the never-ending bustle of the suburban landscape. If you didn’t know any better, you’d think this luxury rural homestead in the making was further than four miles from the nearest town.
When it’s built, Serosun Farms will be no ordinary home development of cookie-cutter designs and packed-together homes. Rather, it will be a sustainable community, a combination of rural lifestyle, active farmstead, restored prairie and custom “green” homes co-existing within 410 acres. Construction on the model home is just beginning, but once the community takes shape, it’s likely to be one of the first fully sustainable, healthy home subdivisions in all of Chicagoland.
“We’re promoting the traditional architecture, maybe an updated approach of things like Craftsman, Prairie and Queen Anne Victorian,” says John DeWald, principal developer. “We’re trying to get back to what would look appropriate for a rural farm setting. We’re getting away from the French chateau in the cornfield approach.”
DeWald wants to create more than just a new residential lifestyle. He’s determined to preserve our region’s open spaces and rural heritage.
“If you look at the suburbs, how do you know you moved from one to the next? Only from passing by a sign,” he says. “There’s no differentiation among them and that means you’ve got nothing but solid suburbia. But with our approach, you end up with a fair amount of openly preserved farmland.”
Although much of the development is just beginning, a few things are already taking shape. Inside the Serosun horse barn, equine residents provide manure that’s recycled for fertilizer. Nearby, a demonstration garden is filled with a variety of fresh foods. There’s also a small-scale poultry farm.
“As we build homes, we’ll be recycling homeowners’ compostable materials in our gardens,” says DeWald. “We’re even going to require homebuyers to use our landscaping materials, so we can ensure we’re not bringing in a lot of toxins that we don’t need. People are coming here because they have a health and sustainability bent. If I buy this house, I won’t feel comfortable with the guy next door using a bunch of chemicals on his yard.”
Among the prairies and centuries-old oak savanna, walking paths will provide a quiet escape for adults and a wild playground for children. Naturally low-lying, water-soaked areas will remain wetlands.
“In a conservation development, you take what’s here and say, ‘Where’s the best place for the farms, the natural areas and the homes?’
That’s how you design your subdivision,” says DeWald, pointing to a property map. “You notice the road system seems odd, but that’s because of the ideal placement of the homes, from the perspective of the septic systems. This other area wanted to be wetlands, so we’re returning it to wetlands.”
Homes will be situated on one-acre lots, and be 2,000 to 6,000 square feet large. Only 114 home sites are slated for the initial phase, leaving half-acre sections of wild prairie and organic farming between lots. The farm is currently raising hay. Once the homes go in, the farm will transition to a variety of fruits and vegetables that will be available to residents through a community-supported agriculture arrangement. It’s the sort of lifestyle that appeals primarily to young professional families, horse owners, retirees and second-home buyers, says DeWald. Home prices are estimated to fall between $700,000 and $2 million.
As part of Serosun’s sustainability lifestyle, these custom-built homes must conform to certain guidelines. For energy efficiency, they’ll be expected to incorporate techniques such as geothermal heating, solar panels and designs that better utilize sunlight. For water conservation, they’ll be expected to make use of low-flow plumbing, rainwater harvesting and natural stormwater runoff systems, including permeable pavers. Home interiors will utilize resilient and sustainable materials, such as hardwood flooring, and smarter building practices that control the use of volatile chemicals and other pollutants.
Building a custom home to these exacting guidelines is no small challenge, but DeWald has teamed up with some of Chicago’s top talents. “One of our builders, Brandon Weiss, is probably the top green builder in the Midwest, and Southampton is probably one of the best luxury builders here in the Fox Valley,” says DeWald. “And Tom Bassett-Dilley has great experience in sustainable homes – he actually designed the first certified passive home in Chicago, which Brandon built.”
Sustainability has always been part of Serosun’s mission, but the neighborhood concept took shape around 2002, after DeWald’s sister, Jane Stickland, bought the land to start a horse farm. At that time, Kane County was one of the fastest-growing suburban areas in the country, and development was rapidly encroaching into Hampshire’s countryside.
“One option was to sell the farm and run further west,” says DeWald, who’s led sustainability projects in California. “The other option was to go on the defensive and see if we could preserve this by making it what we want it to be. But, we’d need to do a little bit of development because that’s what’s going to support everything else. We don’t have the money to buy up all of these farms and leave them as is. So, we came up with this concept and refined it.”
When it’s complete, Serosun will be more than a neighborhood. With an active farm business, a stand-alone equestrian center, a wild habitat preserve and a nonprofit foundation geared toward the local foods movement, Serosun will offer an authentic return to a simpler lifestyle.
“We are intending to have a real food program here, but that business will stand on its own,” says DeWald. “We’re not creating a Disneyland – that’s what has happened in other places, where elements were created that are basically artificial. They exist to service the community, but they don’t work on their own. This farm needs to do more than that.”
Serosun’s other businesses have allowed it to survive when other developments have not, despite a poor housing market. As DeWald prepares for the first homes at Serosun, he also plans to buy out neighboring farms for future developments, ensuring that other century-old farmsteads will continue to thrive.
Standing amidst the swaying hay field, it’s possible to feel like you’re in the middle of nowhere here. The 150-year-old oak trees shade a quiet pond, and more than 100 species of birds live here. Horses already travel these trails, and members of a new community soon will, too. There’s a lifestyle here that’s unique to the suburban landscape.
“We’ve been talking about sustainability, but that’s not the only thing people are looking for in their homes and communities,” says DeWald. “A home is where you live – they’re looking for communities, not subdivisions, and I think they’re looking for a lifestyle. The first thing that draws people might be the sustainability factor, but what captures them is the lifestyle we offer. We’ve created the vision.”