Meet a Mom: Karen Wilkes | Libertyville Area Moms
Hello! Please introduce yourself. 
Hello! My name is Karen Wilkes.
Where are you from and how long have you lived in town? What brought you to the area?                              

I grew up in South Bend, IN and spent most of my post college life in the Bay Area, California. We moved to Illinois in 2020 after being displaced from the California Lightning Fire. We moved to Lake County in May 2022 (for my job) and first lived in a rental in Libertyville on Rockland.

Do you have child(ren)? Age(s)? Names (optional)

Beau (almost 9) and Huck (4).

What are your favorite things to do in the area with and without your kids? Family friendly restaurant? Date night?

We have some of the most wonderful green space here in Lake County. We love the trail system and make use of it often. Some of our most favorite times are riding bikes and packing a picnic. We like to stop for soft serve at Dairy Dream- love the dairy free option! Our libraries are also top notch! Chicago Botanic Garden is stunning. Prairie Grass Restaurant is a must stop when we go to the Botanic Gardens too. When we get a night out (and even with the kids) we like Dos Amigos, Singh’s Kitchen, Momcorn, and The Vine. We are looking forward to the new Prairie Restaurant at the former Brae Loch Restaurant that CLC is opening.

In addition to the restaurants you mentioned, can you share your TOP 5 favorite local businesses? It could be stores that you frequent for clothes, kids, home decor, healthcare, fitness, wellness, beauty salons or spas, or family resources (photographer, financial advisor, lawyer). We love supporting local.
Which podcasts and/or TED Talks inspire you the most?

Amazing Grace – Your Why gives your What more impact.

What are your favorite places to travel near and far and why?

We love the Bay Area, California so many friends and places that are dear to us. Ocracoke Island is an awesome vacation destination. There is so much to do and see and an affordable ferry gets you from the main land there. This summer we are taking the boys to Disney World for the first time- a little overwhelming and they are so excited! We also spent just a bit of time in the Twin Cities area and can’t wait to go back. Such a vibrant local food system and so many cultures working together to build resilient community.

Tell us about your business/organization.

Liberty Prairie NFP in Grayslake is a production, education farm within Prairie Crossing, a Conservation Community. Our work focuses on sustainable agriculture and environmental stewardship at the urban edge. Our mission is to build skills and pathways toward land, human, and local economic health.

We imagine a future when:

-People, plants, and animals thrive together.

-Communities have access to local, high quality food, public open lands and nature regardless of where they live.

-People can choose holistic lifestyles and sustainable solutions to modern problems.

What do you do in your position?

I am the Executive Director and part of a compact, and powerful team, working to invigorate our food system and provide opportunities for young people to engage in hands-on learning. We operate the Liberty Prairie Farm Store (970 Harris Rd. Suite 1B) which opened on 11/11/23. One goal is for midwestern folks to eat from the midwest year round and we currently feature 32 farms/food businesses all within 300 miles. We are increasing our perennials, adding in silvopasture (fruit/nut trees and animals), and including agroforestry on our land. The entire property is 95 acres that we refer to as our Living Laboratory.

This year, we have a district wide partnership with Grayslake High Schools Central and North. Students are engaging in hands-on learning that reinforces classroom learning. So far, students have taken soil samples, planted cover crops, grown tomatoes, peppers, and onions that they turned into salsa, grown and sold pumpkins, and piloted an organic plant sale. The organic veggie, fruit, and flower plants sold will all be D127 student grown. At the sale “Plant Experts” will be on hand to answer questions, some of whom will be D127 students.

Plant Sale & Farm Festival
Saturday May 4th, 9 a.m. – 1 p.m.
Sunday May 5th, 12 p.m. – 5 p.m.                                                                                                                                                550 Harris Road Grayslake, IL 60030

Get your yards and gardens ready for spring! At the Plant Sale & Farm Festival you will find: -Organic vegetables, herbs, and flowers -70 varieties of food-focused native plants sourced from Possibility Place -Compost and mulch Please bring boxes for your plants. Plant advisors will be on hand for questions. Proceeds from this sale benefit the Agriculture and Sustainability Education Programs at Liberty Prairie. Stock up on plants and stay for family friendly fun!

Why do you love your job?

I love mutual benefit and collaboration. I believe that when we have a strong why, anything is possible. Our time is short on this earth and with love and kindness, I want to make as much beauty as possible. In our Living Laboratory, students can see systems interacting on a structural level. As students return to the farm regularly, their pride and ownership of the space increases and my heart grows a little each time. Long term, our hope is to support young people with lots of opportunities to practice creative problem solving while contributing to a vibrant local foodshed.

Are you involved in a business venture, a local organization, a creative endeavor? Please share!

My husband joined the Da Vinci Waldorf School in Wauconda for the 2023-2024 school year. My kiddos followed and are both students; Beau is in the 3rd grade and Huck is in pre-K. All three are noticeably thriving, and Da Vinci is a huge part of this. After our dramatic California exit, and the compounding disconnection of Covid, my family needed a place to root-in, slow-down, be present, and re-connect. During the first week, I noticed a huge shift in my boys and their imaginative play. It feels like a returned innocence and joy has emerged and I have a true partner in rearing my loves.

The grades model is structured so that the teacher moves forward with the students. After the upheaval of our lives, having a trusted additional adult nurturing our littles is such an attractive component of this school. Huckleberry bakes bread on Wednesday, gardens and feeds the chickens, plays outside and takes hikes, and washes his dishes after snack. The structured independence and deep creative hands-on exploration is healing and infusing grit and resilience. Though just a parent, I am an engaged volunteer, and have put my hand up to serve on the board. If you want to check out the DaVinci Waldorf world, I encourage you to join us for MayFaire coming up on May 11th from 1 – 4 p.m.

I am also a board member for The Evolved Network in Chicago. This therapeutic program uses cooking and gardening to build connections equipping youth in systemically oppressed communities with transformative healing, skills, and support needed to evolve into masters of their unique gifts. Excitingly, we are part of the NBA FOUNDATION INC and Chicago Beyond’s new responsive funding partnership. This grant supports Black-led nonprofits working on the ground and serving Black and BIPOC youth and communities in Chicago.

What is your favorite thing about the Libertyville Area Moms Network?

My first step when I found out I had the job and we were relocating was to join Libertyville Area Moms Network. Relocating is so hard and finding our way was so much more fun and easy because of the great moms and network developed at Libertyville Area Moms Network. Thank you!

Please share two fun facts about yourself.

I am a relentless systems thinker and visionary that loves to dabble with watercolor, bookbinding, and fiber arts. I am a serial educational farm worker and have only worked on farms since college. Gorman Heritage Farm in Cincinnati, Hidden Villa in Los Altos Hills, CA, and Liberty Prairie.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve gotten from another Mom?
  • The Power of Yet!
  • Relax. The dishes can wait.

Join The Libertyville Area Moms Network Community

Stay up-to-date with what is happening in-and-around The Libertyville IL community with local events, community highlights, and exclusive deals.