A Family Farm Paradise – TLC Preserves 125 acres for life in Capron
07 July 2022
A “little piece of paradise” is how Meaghan and Chris Zeiner describe their farm on 125 acres of rolling land in Northeastern Boone County. The Zeiners worked with TLC to place a permanent conservation easement on the land, ensuring that their little piece of paradise will stay that way forever.
Joyne and Lavera Anderson, Meaghan’s grandparents, purchased the land in the mid-1950s and ran it as a dairy farm with their two daughters. It was a mostly self-sustaining farm, with around 40 dairy cows, some young heifers, a few beef steers for family use and a breeding bull. Joyne and Lavera worked the farm side by side, milking cows and growing nearly all of their own feedstock on the land, rotating fields of alfalfa, oats and corn to feed the cattle. Lavera also maintained a large garden, as well as up to 500 chickens. She raised around 300 meat birds and 200 laying hens, and she sold the eggs on a delivery route in Rockford.
Meaghan’s mom, Sharon, grew up on the farm, but moved away to Iowa for college and settled there. She and Meaghan spent most of her school breaks visiting the farm. Meaghan always viewed the farm as a peaceful sanctuary, and although she didn’t know what she wanted to be when she grew up, she was pretty sure she’d love to live on the farm someday.
When Meaghan finished graduate school, Lavera was starting to have trouble caring for the farm alone (Joyne passed away in 1997), so Meaghan moved in with Lavera in early 2005 to give her a hand. Chris joined her later that year – he graduated college, they got married, and he moved to Illinois all in May 2005. Lavera entered a care facility a few years later, and Chris and Meaghan became the farm’s primary residents.
When Lavera passed away in 2016 she left the farm to Sharon and Meaghan. It was important to Lavera that the farm remain a home for her family, not just an income-producing property for an investor. She wanted the land to be preserved as open space, farmed responsibly and protected from development. Those same ideals are still important to Sharon, Meaghan and Chris.
Today the property includes 95 acres of tillable ground that was most likely woodland before European settlement, as well as about a half-mile of cool-water stream – one of the headwater streams of Beaver Creek. Beaver Creek flows to the Kishwaukee River west of Belvidere and is a relatively high-quality stream.
Around 15 acres adjacent to the stream are good- to high-quality sedge meadow and wetland. Much of this was grazed from the mid-1900s to the early 1990s and includes white lady slipper orchid, white turtlehead, carex prairea, fen betony and many other native plants.
The tillable ground is currently rented to a tenant who grows traditional row crops of soybeans and corn. While there is no longer a livestock operation on the property, Meaghan has two horses that live on seven acres planted in a cool-season grass/native prairie mix. There is also a small oak savanna within the horse pasture that is ever-expanding with bur, white and red oak species. The horses find the hazelnut to be very tasty, so they have indefinitely suspended that segment of savanna restoration. The horses enjoy the mixed-matrix planting, and they will graze some of the natives in the heat of summer when the cool season grasses get a bit tough.
The family enjoys spending time near the small man-made pond dug by Meaghan’s great-uncle in the late 1950s. It was stocked with largemouth bass, bluegills, and carp, and boasts a population of impressive snapping turtles, various frogs and resident great blue herons that patrol the shoreline. Meaghan recalls many hot summer afternoons as a child sitting at the pond, enjoying the cool breeze off the water and watching dragonflies flit about as barn swallows skimmed the water for bugs. Today, it’s still a pretty nice way to enjoy a hot summer day.
The farm remains a special place – a quiet and stable home for the Zeiners and their daughter. They want to ensure that in the future their land will be protected from unnecessary development, whether industrial agriculture or exurban development.
As Chris says, “We love our farm; it is our little piece of paradise. It’s a blessing to know that from here on out this special place we call home will be protected and preserved.”