|Deborah Boehle, Jonathan, 13, and Katherine, 11, weigh the newest member of the family, Carmen, a baby Nigerian Dwarf goat. The Boehles were raising Carmen in the house fearing that she might not be able to compete with her two bigger brothers for their mother's milk. | more photos from Antiquity Oaks |
Nestled in the rolling, wooded farmland about forty-five minutes south of Joliet is a small homestead called Antiquity Oaks
. Owned by the Boehle family (pronounced bay-lee), the farm is home to heritage breed turkeys, brightly plumed chickens, two small calves, a few sheep, and several Nigerian Dwarf goats. It is also home to the Boehles: Deborah, Mike and their three precocious children, Margaret, Jonathan and Katherine. Deborah, a freelance writer and former journalist, and Mike, a professor of electrical engineering, made the decision to move to the country several years ago, with little agricultural experience under their belts. In the years that have followed, they've read extensively, found mentors across the internet, and experimented with animal husbandry through a system of informed trial and error. Their children, who are home schooled, have participated in every aspect of farm life, from gathering eggs to delivering baby goats. For the whole family, the farm has provided a broad education.
Learning, at Antiquity Oaks, is an integral part of each day. Deborah, who began a graduate program in education at Brown before realizing that she didn't want to teach in a classroom setting, calls her method of home schooling "unschooling." The rhythm of each day is determined by her kids and the needs of the farm. Rather than sitting around a table with lesson plans, the day is spent learning fractions by halving a cookie recipe, learning biology by asking questions of the vet, or learning civics by observing a trial at the county courthouse. The kids are encouraged to pursue their curiosity, whether it leads them into a book or into a pasture.
By any measure, the "unschooling" has worked remarkably well. Margaret, who is sixteen, has already completed an associate's degree at a college in Joliet, and will be leaving in the fall to finish her bachelor's (after being accepted into several programs, she's still deciding where to go). Jonathan, who is thirteen, has an encyclopedic knowledge of cinema, and seems to be developing a keen interest in politics. Katherine, who is eleven, is fascinated by science, spending entire afternoons combing the property for animal bones, which she cleans, identifies, and displays with labels on a window sill. She has also absorbed some of her siblings' enthusiasms; sitting around the lunch table, Jonathan mentioned Robert Altman and Katherine asked, "Isn't he the one who directed M.A.S.H.?" They are poised around adults, generous and kind to their animals, and, in all, really pleasant company.
As a family, the Boehles seem remarkably close knit and truly respectful of each other. They have plans this summer for an ambitious family project building a new home from scratch, just the five of them and though it would seem unlikely for anyone else, I actually believe that they will accomplish their goal and be living in a two-storied, solar-powered home by autumn. They're just that sort of family.
At the time of our visit, their household had just been blessed by the arrival of a new member. Little Carmen, a tiny newborn goat who couldn't compete with her twin brothers for milk, had just been moved to the house, where she snuggled into a box by the door. During the course of our visit, everyone (including us!) took turns holding the kid and bottle feeding her with her mother's milk, which Katherine and Jonathan collected twice a day. Between bleating and prancing around the living room and nuzzling into the arms of whoever happened to be holding her, Carmen delighted everyone. And with the extra attention, she was rapidly putting on weight. In the two days we were there, she actually looked like she'd grown. Like all the creatures at Antiquity Oaks barnyard and human she was thriving. MMH