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At the intersection of food, soil, climate, farming and water.

From Stella Gardens to a CSA Farm

Mike Noltnerwyss and his wife, Cassie, run Crossroad Community Farm, a 20 acre family farm based in Cross Plains, near Madison, WI. They raise a large variety of organic vegetables, marketed through their CSA, wholesale outlets, and farmers markets. They’re very happy with their lifestyle and Mike acknowledges that he acquired an important part of his background in Stella Gardens, the outdoor classroom of Michael Fields Agricultural Institute dedicated to training the next generation of young farmers since 1997.

Mike was in the student program at Michael Fields in 2002. He grew up in the suburbs of Madison and he didn’t have any hands-on experience when he realized he wanted to be a farmer. Stella Gardens at Michael Fields Agricultural Institute was a unique and practical opportunity for him to learn farming skills.

In Stella Gardens I started making mistakes, but at the same time I was able to make my own decisions. We had to find the most useful equipment to work with. The other interns and I had to figure out several techniques to grow different kinds of crops (…) Sometimes we were wrong and it was possible to make mistakes, something that you cannot do in a farm as a business, Mike recognizes.

After his internship at Stella Gardens, Mike started running a farm on his parents’ land, and he also studied agronomy at UW-Madison. He admits that this degree was useful for him, but his experience in Stella Gardens was better in terms of getting practical experience.

Crossroad Community Farms started in 2005. Over the years, Mike and his wife have built a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture); they also have a booth at the Westside Community Market and provide organic vegetables to various restaurants in the Madison area.

This January, Mike has been one of the first instructors of the Whole Farm Workshops at Michael Fields, a meeting point where beginning farmers and advanced growers develop the skills and competencies they need to take their agricultural careers to the next level. Mike provided information about managing weeds for vegetable production. He showed attendees how to use cover crops, different equipment, and useful techniques for cultivating vegetables.

Mike says that it’s difficult to explain this practical information in college or even in a book:

These kinds of workshops are really important in order to share the knowledge based on the farmers’ experience and based on what we’ve got from other professionals. It’s a really good thing to bring people together in an area and be able to share what we they are doing.

I have always been interested in where food comes from and I wanted to provide for myself. Once I started to learn about that, it was an addictive thing for me.” Mike thinks that having a CSA farm is really rewarding and he wants to continue working on it. His goal for the future is to keep producing good quality food and deliver it to their community.