EARLVILLE – The Stonehouse Farm Eco-Retreat and Sanctuary is a long way from Daren Friesen’s yoga centers in Chicago.
Friesen, the director and founder of Moksha Yoga Center, runs three Chicago centers that offer classes in multiple styles of yoga. But more than 75 miles away among the farm fields at the southern edge of DeKalb County was a piece of land that Friesen saw had the potential to become a place for yoga retreats, gatherings and festivals.
Friesen bought the 37-acre property for about $595,000 in February. It includes a two-acre swimming pond, a small forest, barns, one of the oldest stone houses in the state and a lot of space for stretching.
“I’m just a caretaker,” he said. “I’m just here to take care of the land so it can be passed on to the next owners.”
Since June, Friesen has been operating Stonehouse Farm, a yoga and retreat center that’s quite different from its previous incarnation as a campsite and music venue called Stonehouse Park. Last year, neighbors complained that loud music and unlawful activities involving drug use made Stonehouse Park a nuisance.
The DeKalb County Board voted to shut down the park last year when the previous owners, Steve Cecchin and Gregg Larson, failed to produce a loan commitment and show the park would be financially secure.
After purchasing the property in February, Friesen has been working with his staff to clean up the mess the previous occupants left behind. Besides removing trash that littered the property, more than a dozen trailers were trashed or auctioned, said Jacob Mueller, Stonehouse Farm general manager.
The new owners also have been working to build good relationships with their neighbors.
“The neighbors love us,” Mueller said. “They’re a fun bunch.”
Paul Miller, county planning, zoning and building director, said his office has not heard any complaints about the farm. County Board member Charles Foster, R-Shabbona, who represents the district the farm is located in, said the neighbors seem happy with it.
Since opening, the farm has attracted an average of 20 people to its weekend events and workshops. It hosted a pagan spiritual gathering by Wisconsin-based Circle Sanctuary that attracted about 1,200 people to the area. The farm’s Sukhava Bodhe yoga and music festival in August brought in about 550 people.
There are no loud music festivals now. Instead there is a lot of acoustic and Indian classical music, said Rachel Zargo, Stonehouse Farm marketing manager. Friesen said the events the farm hosts are family oriented, too.
“In our first year, our No. 1 priority was to have a wonderful experience for the participants and across the board that was the feedback we received,” she said.
The staff is not finished renovating the property, however. When Friesen purchased the property, he needed to bring all six buildings up to code, which includes barns, a store and a shower house. Many of these buildings date to the 1970s, and in the case of the Stone House the 1860s, according to the farm’s website.
The renovations needed are expensive, time-consuming and frustrating for Friesen, who said he wants to preserve the historic essence of many of the buildings, including the Stone House. He said it would cost between $500,000 to $1 million to renovate the buildings and he plans to seek investors for funding.
Miller said the previous owners had not upgraded the buildings to the current state and county building codes. The buildings on the property need to meet safety standards if they are going to be occupied by people, he said.
“It’s a matter of public health, safety and welfare,” he said.
Friesen and his staff have work to do before the farm re-opens in the spring. Stonehouse Farm has been closed for the season since mid-October, although several staff members have stayed at the site to maintain the property and help with the renovations.
Foster said he visited the farm in July and it seemed like the owners were handling the property well.
“The direction they’re taking is good and what they’re doing is uplifting,” he said.