Bruce Roskens stops his John Deere 630 tractor to take a look at the prairie area of the Danada Model Farm, which is part of the Danada Forest Preserve. During the Down on the Farm program this is one of the stops on the tour for fourth-grade students. Mrs. Hobson walks across the prairie to talk to the students about what Northern Illinois looked like during the time when buffalo roamed the land.
Bruce Roskens stops his John Deere 630 tractor to take a look at the prairie area of the Danada Model Farm, which is part of the Danada Forest Preserve. During the Down on the Farm program this is one of the stops on the tour for fourth-grade students. Mrs. Hobson walks across the prairie to talk to the students about what Northern Illinois looked like during the time when buffalo roamed the land.
WHEATON, Ill. — The Danada Model Farm is opened several weeks each fall to provide DuPage County students an opportunity to learn about farming practices.

The Friends of Danada operate the farm and offer the Down on the Farm program to fourth-graders.

“The goal of the farm is education,” said Bruce Roskens, who has volunteered at the farm for the past 10 years. “Last year we had about 1,400 kids go on the tour.”

The Danada Forest Preserve includes the Model Farm, as well as the Danada House and the Danada Equestrian Center.

This land is the former estate of Daniel and Ada Rice, who purchased several hundred acres in 1929. Their operation grew to 1,350 acres of adjacent land in Wheaton.

“Many people who have lived most of their lives in this area don’t know the history of the Rices,” Roskens noted. “The area north of Butterfield Road was one of the biggest soybean fields during the 1940s.”

Daniel Rice was one of the first soybean traders at the Chicago Board of Trade, Roskens added.

Stable Opens

In 1943, with the purchase of eight thoroughbreds, the Ada L. Rice Stable was opened. A 26-stall Kentucky-style barn was built on the farm and today serves as the home of the Danada Equestrian Center. To train the horses, a half-mile regulation oval racetrack was built complete with four-horse starting gate.

Lucky Debonair, rode by jockey Willie Shoemaker and owned by the Rices, won the 1965 Kentucky Derby.

“We’ve been told Lucky trained from Gate 4,” Roskens said. “And the story is Ada would be out here every morning when the trainers were working the horses.”

After the death of Daniel Rice in 1975 and Ada in 1977, the Forest Preserve of DuPage County purchased about 780 acres of the estate.

The purchase included the Danada House, a 19-room, white brick house that was built in 1939. Also operated by the Friends of Danada, the house is available to rent for special events such as weddings, banquets, meetings or parties.

This facility is popular. It already is rented for all Friday, Saturday and Sundays until November 2015.

“We have about 85 volunteers who help at the house,” said Jill Ludvigsen, executive director of the Friends of Danada. “They do all kinds of work like decorating the house for the Christmas season.”

“There are about 20 volunteers who are actively involved with the Model Farm,” said Roskens, who grew up on a farm in Iowa and now is the director of crop sciences for Grain Millers Inc. of Eden Prairie, Minn. “We have 20 acres of corn and soybeans, and every field is surrounded by paths, which are used by hikers, bikers and horseback riders.”

One of the barns at the farm was used for feeding cattle and the buggy house was built in the early 1900s.

“It has doors on both ends so that they could pull the buggies through,” Roskens explained. “It has a bunk house upstairs, which is where the farm help lived.”

Hayrack Session

When the students visit for the Down on the Farm event, they hop aboard a hayrack and travel through the tunnel that goes underneath Naperville Road to see the starting gate and learn about the involvement of the Rices with thoroughbred racing.

“As we tour the farm, we stop at this grassy area and Prairie Lady — Mrs. Hobson comes walking across the prairie and starts wondering why there is a tractor pulling a hayrack,” Roskens explained. “The kids love it. The goldenrod will be turning, and we explain how the Native Americans understood the upcoming seasons.

“We talk about the native grasses, and this is the way northern Illinois looked before man was here and there was buffalo roaming the area,” Roskens said.

“Then the students get to see the soybean and corn plants and learn about crop production,” he said. “What is fun for me is I will be in a place like Wal-Mart and a kid will come up to me and say, ‘You taught me about corn.’”

The kids also visit the equestrian center, where horses owned by the forest preserve live and are trained. Students learn about what horses eat and how they are cared for by the volunteers.

The volunteers at the Model Farm have a variety of backgrounds, Roskens noted.

“There are retired people, ag engineers and those who have never been on a farm,” he said. “It is a lot of fun especially for us that grew up on a farm because we get to come and kick some dirt.”

A Fall Festival is held each year on the second Sunday of October at the Danada Forest Preserve. Thousands of visitors come to see horse exhibitions, tour the barns and take a hayride to visit the farm. Depending on the growing conditions of the year, corn and soybeans are harvested on this day if possible.