Millstadt couple offers new gardening experience

Pictured are Kim and Mark Atkins of Atkins’ Acres Educational Farm near Millstadt. 

A Millstadt couple have recently started a small farm to help educate about gardening, environmentalism and the importance of Illinois native flora and fauna.

Kim and Mark Atkins purchased their 17-acre property between Millstadt and Columbia in September 2020. Since then, they have built their own “barndominium” for home and storage, started a number of gardening plots and dubbed the property Atkins’ Acres Educational Farm.

The couple are both United States Air Force veterans. While Mark serves as the builder and heavy lifter of the two, Kim is a Master Gardener and Master Naturalist intern through the University of Illinois Extension Office.

They were originally just seeking a property they could also keep their RV on, but given Kim had a passion for gardening and was already finding ways to volunteer to maintain her requisite Master Gardener hours, they saw plenty of opportunity in the land.

“What I said is I want rows of vegetables that I can walk between and, y’know, big. So that’s what I envisioned here, and I said, ‘You know what? I could have the kids come out here and do their programs,’” Kim said.

In January, they were able to get set up as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit. Kim said this doesn’t get them any direct tax breaks, but they are able to get grants for seeds and other such necessities.

Kim said she was also a teacher for a time. With her previous experience assisting at local gardens, having a setup where she could teach people about nature was a good fit.

“I love teaching, I love gardening and it just seemed like a natural match like ‘That’s what I should do,’” Kim said.

The farm currently features a number of spaces meant for different plants including a plot specifically for the benefit of migratory monarch butterflies. The Atkinses also have a collection of young trees along the road near their property and a system for collecting rainwater.

While a small part of the property has been leased to a farming company for corn growing, Kim said the rest of the property is meant to  help educate about more natural, small-scale production including education on the problems with long-term industrial farming.

“Farming, which I try to teach a lot of people, ruins soil because years and years of driving heavy equipment compacts the soil, they spray pesticides and herbicides, and that’s what you have is a bunch of infertile dirt,” Kim said. “Not soil, dirt.”

Since they received nonprofit status earlier this year, the Atkinses have had several groups visit to learn about gardening. One of the events they’ve hosted was an evening frog watch around the property’s lakes for Millstadt kids.

Kim said they try to prep their farm for the group that will be coming in order to cater to their age and interest.

One of the groups that visited Atkins’ Acres recently was the Millstadt Library. Director Nichole Lauko spoke highly of the farm, both in regard to what the Atkinses have done with the land and the educational opportunities it has for kids.

“We took a large group of children and our parents out there and it was fantastic,” Lauko said. “They got to learn so much about natural life.”

The farm is still in development, with new building projects and flora sprouting up over time. Kim said they plan on making use of the farm for a long time, continuing to educate the community into the future.

“We’re trying to help people to learn about conservation and maybe homesteading and growing your own food and being better stewards of the environment,” Kim said.

For more information on Atkins’ Acres Educational Farm, visit 7101 State Route 158, Millstadt, or email 

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Andrew Unverferth

HTC web