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Sustainable Living

Locally sourced food is a key component of a sustainable lifestyle and McHenry County is a leader in the movement.

Do you know where your food comes from? With nearly 60 percent of McHenry County land producing vegetables, fruit, milk and native plants, according to the McHenry County Farmland Preservation Alliance, it could very well be coming from closer to home than you think. And that’s a good thing.

Being part of a sustainable system where food is sourced locally has long-term benefits for everyone, including Mother Earth.

According to the American Public Health Association, a sustainable food system “provides healthy food to meet current food needs while maintaining healthy ecosystems that can also provide food for generations to come with minimal negative impact to the environment.”

“All you have to do is visit your local farmers market and see how many people are interested in buying local,” said Sean Ducey, garden center manager at Whispering Hills Garden & Landscape Center in Cary. “Sustainability will naturally grow with the changing world around us. As food, fuel and living costs increase, we are going to find ways to save.”

Dine Out

Sustainability is all about everyday choices. Choosing retailers and restaurants that use green or sustainable practices can go a long way in achieving a sustainable lifestyle.

For example, Duke’s Alehouse and Kitchen in downtown Crystal Lake uses local producers of fine meats, fish, produce and coffee, and whenever possible, uses locally grown and organic products.

Chef and General Manager Zak Dolezal said the restaurant does this for a number of reasons, including the superior taste of local food, its direct positive impact on the local and regional economy, and its small environmental footprint because the food doesn’t have to travel far.

“I started working with local farmers in other fine dining restaurants I had previously worked and I wanted to bring those relationships and food products to an everyday pub-style menu,” Dolezal said. “Access to these superior ingredients shouldn’t be for the wealthy, but available to everyone.”

After working with local farmers and adding sustainable ingredients to his menu, Dolezal realized that he could incorporate sustainable practices into the restaurant’s daily operation, too. The restaurant has eliminated 99 percent of its waste by composting and recycling and is currently in the process of getting its Green Restaurant certification.

In addition to buying from local farmers, Duke’s began its own farm a few summers ago. Head farmer Emily Zack grows fruits and vegetables using the most eco-friendly and organic methods possible. Duke’s also uses a greenhouse to help extend its growing season for the restaurant.

“Every day we are working on what we can do next to be more sustainable,” Dolezal said. “This is important to me because I want to help the planet and the people on it become healthier. That is it. The consequences of not adopting a sustainable lifestyle are all too apparent to ignore.”

Do It Yourself

In addition to serving local food, Duke’s is also synonymous with offering an incredible craft beer selection. From hard-to-find to small-batch to seasonal brews, Duke’s is the place for a fresh pint of something you can’t get just anywhere.

Small labels like the ones Duke’s carries are popping up everywhere because it’s become easier to make your own specialty beer and wine thanks to retailers like Brew & Grow.

Brew & Grow founder and CEO David Ittel, a Crystal Lake native whose background is in chemical-free pest control for indoor horticulturists, opened Brew & Grow in Chicago 27 years ago and now has eight locations in Chicagoland and Wisconsin, including one in Crystal Lake that opened last year.

The store carries hops, dozens of grain varieties, yeasts for lagers and ales, brewing equipment and brewing kits, in addition to hydroponic gardening supplies, and wine and cheese-making supplies. His passionate clients are certainly the embodiment of the local, sustainable, DIY food movement.

“Most micro-breweries began as home brewers,” Ittel said. “Beer-making is a great hobby where you can get together and brew with friends. It offers a feeling of accomplishment.”

Backyard Chickens

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve heard about the hot-button backyard chicken debate in Crystal Lake and surrounding towns. Some community members want to rear chickens in backyard coops to produce their own eggs for a number of reasons, including the desire to live a more sustainable lifestyle.

Last summer, Crystal Lake City Council voted against allowing backyard chickens. Currently no townships in McHenry County allow backyard chickens.

“The vision [for backyard chickens is that] everyone should have the right to have a chicken or chickens if maintained properly, no different than any other pet,” said Doug Close, founder of McHenry County Transition. His group hosts awareness events on sustainability, climate change and localization in McHenry County and partners with other sustainable groups like the Environmental Defenders, Small Waters Education, Green Sanctuary Group, McHenry County Conservation District and local high schools.

Anna Evans, who leads the McHenry County Backyard Chickens group, said with Chicago, Long Grove, West Dundee, Oak Park, Evanston and Downers Grove, plus others, allowing backyard chickens, towns in McHenry County will follow in time. “This issue is not going away,” she said.

“It will become a reality as people get more educated on the benefits, including healthier food,” Close added.

Simple Steps Toward a More Sustainable Lifestyle


  • Carpool
  • Bike to work
  • Take public transportation

At Home

  • Recycle and reuse
  • Plant a garden
  • Compost
  • Stop/reduce use of toxic chemicals
  • Lower the thermostat in the winter/raise it in the summer

In the Community

  • Shop the many local farmers markets (
  • Dine out at places that source locally and have green operations such as Duke’s (, 1776 ( and Conscious Cup (
  • Join the conversation. Share information with others about sustainability and conservation, particularly the next generation. One way to introduce sustainability to children is via “Fruits & Veggies to the Rescue!” a fun, interactive and innovative program that takes place at noon on Sundays at Duke’s. RSVP at 815-356-9980.

Learn More …

  • Transition Networks –, and
  • Fresh Picked Home Grown –
  • Brew & Grow –
  • Whispering Hills Garden and Landscape Center –
  • McHenry County Backyard Chickens –
  • McHenry County Agricultural Conservation Easement and Farmland Protection Program/ McHenry County Food and Farmland Task Force –

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