Some time ago, while working in corporate risk management, I visited Midwest food processing plants that resembled concrete factories with animals locked in shoebox-sized cages. We are lucky here in Lake County to have another option: a sustainable farm nearby, with fresh food raised and harvested without pesticides or cages.
On Illinois Route 176 near Route 12 in Wauconda, a large rooster statue and yellow honeycomb sign welcome you to the Milk and Honey Farmstead. With a tip of the cap to the Biblical “land of milk and honey” life-long farmer Scott Comstock offers eggs, organic produce, pasture-raised beef, poultry, and pork, all without chemicals and with a focus on humane treatment of the animals and being a steward of the land. From the small farmhouse at the front, you can see the open fields for the animals and neat rows in the soil, ready for planting.
At Milk and Honey Farmstead, the chickens roam freely. Scott says they do not manipulate egg production, but still have dozens of eggs to offer in the country store with plenty left over for animal feed. “Healthy chickens are happy chickens,” he says, “and happy chickens lay more and better eggs.”
Scott raises many birds including turkeys, guinea fowl, ducks, and multiple species of chicken that lay a rainbow of eggs from brown to blue to green. (He informs me that it is the Leghorn species that lays the perfectly white egg.) As he enters the pen to show off the beautiful colors, the animals follow him like the Pied Piper, even allowing him to pick them up and pet them gently.
The birds share their home with young calves, the offspring of various cattle including Scottish Highlander, Texas Longhorn, and Angus cross-breeds. These massive animals have distinctive horns and plenty of space to roam, without the use of electricity to keep them contained. On the day of my visit, the cattle have knocked down part of the fence in an effort to chase away a coyote. However, after accomplishing this task, they did not stray.
“If animals are properly taken care of, they are less hostile. There is a way to farm without brutalizing the animals,” Scott says. “During COVID, folks started realizing what they were putting in their bodies. There is a market for folks who don’t want that brutal treatment to animals, and we can low-yield farm and still take care of the animals.”
In addition to mending the fences, on this day Scott is also waiting on the veterinarian to come examine two miniature horses he has rescued from another farm. His love and care of the animals shines through, even when the creatures are not directly related to the productive farm. He is planning to add sand to a pond at the rear of the property to support and aid the large turtles who also make the farm their home.
He points out some duck eggs that are by the side of the fence and not being warmed in a nest. These eggs will become food for woodland pigs. The farm believes in a closed loop where organic crops (and the occasional duck egg) become organic feed for healthy, happy animals and ultimately flavorful and lean meat.
Instead of chemicals, Scott treats the animals with care and uses organic methods to boost their immune systems and prevent disease. The farm calls the recipe “Fire Cider” – a mixture of apple cider vinegar, horseradish, ginger, turmeric, and peppers, all fermented for sixty days.
Fire Cider, along with the farm’s proprietary Elderberry Syrup, is popular not only with the animals; both products are in demand with human customers. I note there are just a few jars left on the store shelf.
With its focus on stewardship of the land and its creatures, Milk and Honey was the choice of restaurateurs Bob and Sunny Kryscha when looking for a partner for Lake Zurich’s Zin GastroPub.
When opening the restaurant, Bob and Sunny’s original plan was to open a wine bar with select food offerings. It was important to Sunny to reflect healthy offerings, with a goal of at least eighty percent true farm-to-table menu items with rotating and seasonal flavors.
Given these shared values, Bob became part owner of the farm with Scott in 2020. Bob says, “We believe in healthy living through healthy eating to help create a healthy planet.” Milk and Honey tries to be environmentally conscious even down to the level of food packaging, using as little plastic as possible.
The farm-to-table nature of Zin GastroPub means the menu of the scratch kitchen is always changing, with new daily specials posted every afternoon on Facebook. I visited on a Wednesday which is Zin’s Burger Date Night. One of the evening’s specials was a Milk and Honey ground beef Spinach Gouda Burger with tomato, caramelized onions and pickles.
While pesticides and fertilizers can increase yields, Bob believes small yields of natural “good” food are better. But he is quick to clarify that good food does not mean picture-perfect food. “Perfect peppers make no sense,” he says. “That is not what nature does. If not sprayed, one in twelve apples would have a worm. That is just how it is. We don’t want to kill nature. We don’t want to disturb ecology for the sake of pretty fruit.”
What would surprise people about the farm? “The fact that we are here!” Bob says with a laugh. “We really have high-quality products and a commitment to a healthier way to live, without processing.”
In addition to current operations, Milk and Honey is focused on two expansion projects going forward.
First, the farm is completing construction of four new greenhouses for thousands of propagated hemp plants to produce CBD oil. Scott shows off the brand new structures with rows and rows of plants, referring to them as the “House of Hemp.” After the organic hemp plants are harvested, the oil is processed on site, with just two ingredients. As with the rest of the farm, no chemicals are used.
For Bob, it is another branch on the tree of healthy living. “We want to make people healthy,” Bob said. “Live longer, feel better, and be healthier. Look, chemically treated products, they can hurt as much as they help. It’s a net negative. We want to be a net positive.”
Second, the farm wants to grow through education and hopes to invite parents, children, and school groups to the farm. For example, previously Scott had visited the Montessori Academy of North Hoffman and spent time teaching the students how to organically sow and nurture seed into plants; this year Milk and Honey helped the school fundraise by purchasing a number of plants started by the school’s students for replanting and harvesting at the farm. Bob says the intent of their educational projects is not to make money, but rather to teach where food comes from and “how to eat happy.” He says, “Kids need to know it is okay to eat an apple right off the tree.”
Milk and Honey Farmstead is setting up new pastures and planting more, especially fruit trees. They hope to offer pony rides on the rescued miniature horses and continue to rotate the animals’ grazing pastures, never using chemicals. “We want to beautify the ecology, beautify the environment,” Bob says. With that beauty comes the healthy living that is core to the mission of the farm.
After touring the farm, it was time to peruse the shop. Sunny patiently displayed each cut of beef, pork, and poultry, along with links, summer sausages, organic produce, and jar upon jar of honey, pickled goods, jams and plenty of brown eggs. My visit concluded with a purchase of several meats and vegetables, which shortly thereafter became lunch that day for me and the kids. Our fresh goodies from the farm made for a delicious and nutritious meal. Even my littlest (and pickiest eater) left a clean plate.
Milk and Honey offers online pre-ordering subject to availability, and also offers seasonal turkeys, organic dog food, CBD oils, and even bucket compost kits for starting your own natural garden at home. Learn more at MilkHoneyFarmstead.com.