WHEATON, Ill. — The Danada Model Farm is opened several
weeks each fall to provide DuPage County students an opportunity to learn about
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.
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
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.”
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
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