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Learning farm raises chickens for eggs, education

Amy Ortiz, right, and her daughter Anna Ortiz, volunteer to collect and wash eggs at the Prairie Crossing Learning Farm in Grayslake. (Sheryl DeVore/Tribune)

Amy Ortiz, right, and her daughter Anna Ortiz, volunteer to collect and wash eggs at the Prairie Crossing Learning Farm in Grayslake. (Sheryl DeVore/Tribune)

Sarah, Caleb and Anna Ortiz come with their mother, Amy Ortiz, once a week to collect, wash and package organic eggs at the Prairie Crossing Learning Farm in Grayslake.

“I like especially collecting and candleing,” said Anna Ortiz. “You put the eggs under the light to see if there are cracks.”

The Prairie Crossing residents are among a group of adult and youth volunteers at the learning farm, where they learn about growing organically and locally.

Photos: Down on the farm with the chickens

“A lot of people don’t know where eggs come from or think about it,” said Erin Cummisford, the farm’s program associate.  “Children and adults get a deeper connection with their source of food” when they volunteer.

Some 160 chickens, mostly all hens except for a couple few roosters, are kept at the farm year-round.

“These are chickens from happy, healthy pens,” Cummisford said. ” They’re outside. They get moved to pastures, they get rotated and get new space and new places to forage in. They are kept in electric fences to deter predators.”

The full-grown chickens eat organic feed as well as bugs and greens they find in the fields.  One of their favorite foods is the non-native pest, Japanese beetle, Cummisford said.

At night, the chickens saunter into a pen where they roost until morning when a worker lets them out and feeds them. In winter, they stay inside where it’s warm.

On a recent visit,  hens were clucking and a rooster occasionally “cock-a-doodle-dooed” as the Ortizes collected eggs from nest boxes. Docile hens stayed put in the boxes, while others wandered around inside the electric fence nibbling on grass and grains tossed out by the children.

The family then washed and packaged the eggs to be sold for $5 a dozen at the Prairie Crossing Farmers Market. The market is held from 4 to 7 p.m. Fridays at Station  Crossing on Route 137 across the street from the train depot in Grayslake.

The volunteer program has become so popular that the Learning Farm held a summer camp solely focused on chickens and eggs, said Sharon Gaughan, education program director.

Related story: Residents want back yard chicken raising to be legal

For more information on the farm and its programs, click here.

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