April 21, 2021

Back on the farm: Lambs Farm reopens, adjusts to 'new normal'

LIBERTYVILLE – It’s been a long few months for Lambs Farm in Libertyville, but guests once again are welcome as the farm’s businesses reopen.

Fed by visitors in the Farmyard, the goats are happy.

Also happy is the Lambs Farm staff.

“It’s been a transition, just getting everything back up and running again,” said Marisa Rademaker, marketing and communications manager at Lambs Farm. “We’re so excited to welcome back our staff and get to a new normal.”

Providing vocational, residential and recreational programs to nearly 250 adults with developmental disabilities, Lambs Farm typically welcomes thousands of visitors every year. As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, the 70-acre farm stopped welcoming visitors in mid-March.

Along with the Farmyard and miniature golf, the farm’s Dogwood Garden & Pet Center, Cedar Chest Thrift Shop, Magnolia Café & Bakery and Sugar Maple Country Store & Bakery were closed during the pandemic.

All but the thrift shop reopened last week with guidelines and precautions in place to help prevent the spread of the virus, including strict sanitation schedules and mandatory employee wellness checks. The thrift shop began welcoming guests and accepting donations July 14. Adoption services at the Dogwood Garden & Pet Center are expected to resume July 21.

“We rely on a lot of our donations and the income from our businesses and things like that,” Rademaker said. “We’re really hopeful to get back on track to what we were.”

Residents typically work at the businesses, but they now remain safely quarantined because of recommendations from the state based on the residents’ vulnerability to COVID-19.

“We’ve been super grateful to not have any cases, and we pray it stays that way, but it’s definitely a scary time,” Rademaker said.

While she’s happy to see the businesses reopening, staff is missing the resident workers, she said.

“It’s been tough not to have them around, but we’re trying to keep them involved,” Rademaker said.

Visitors are encouraged to write messages on a large banner as “just a little pick-me-up” for residents, she said.

“Obviously, our residents are our first priority,” she said.“It’s been nice to see people around the farm and to get back in the swing of things.”

The farm is home to more than 300 animals, including Joseph the Dromedary camel, Mowgli the alpaca, Mezzo the pig, Squirt the donkey and Hannah Rose the calf. There are goats – including a gaggle of baby goats – sheep, horses, ducks, birds, fish and reptiles.

It’s a place where the community can learn about animals and, more importantly, the mission of Lambs Farm, said Jodi Miller, the Farmyard manager.

With a tagline of “Where people grow,” Lambs Farm’s mission is to help people with developmental disabilities lead productive, happy lives.

“A lot of our participants are really bummed right now because they’re not able to go to work,” Miller said. “[Visiting the farm] is a good way to support them. It’s a great way to be outside and be socially distanced and still interact with some animals.”

Because of guidelines in place, visitors are asked to make reservations at https:/lambsfarm.org before stopping by the Farmyard. Guests must stay a minimum of 6 feet away from other customers, wear face masks and use hand sanitizer when entering.

Many of Lambs Farm’s residents usually work at the Farmyard and help care for the hundreds of animals. Miller had to limit staff to about three people a day in mid-March.

“It was definitely a lot of work for us,” she said. “During the day, we were going full speed all day long. We were able to bring staff back. That was definitely a relief. … We do miss [the residents] because they do help us out quite a bit, as well.”