Michael Fields Agricultural Institute logo
At the intersection of food, soil, climate, farming and water.

News from Stella Gardens

Greetings from Stella Gardens! As many of you know, Stella Gardens is the two-acre mixed fruit and vegetable growing area located behind the main building at Michael Fields. These gardens were first created in the early 1980s as a place where community members could come together to hold discussions on the future of healthy farming. Over the years, Stella Gardens evolved into a training ground for young people thinking about starting a farm enterprise, as well as folks interested in getting back in touch with their food system by learning how to grow produce for themselves and their community. As part of this training program, Stella Gardens yields both budding farmers and gardeners, and healthy, organic fruits and vegetables.  This produce is purchased by the many new and long-time customers of our farm stand, among other customers over the years, who support our mission and crave access to healthy food. So, in essence, the mission of Stella Gardens has become two-fold: to provide an outdoor classroom for future farmers, and to create a direct relationship with community members who see value in participating in a local food system.Sonia planting comfrey under the apple trees.

But, as might be expected, Stella Gardens is continually evolving, and this year has seen several changes. First, October31 will mark the end of my inaugural year as Stella Gardens Manager, having taken over from the previous long-time Garden Manager (and my gardening mentor) Janet Gamble. I began as a Garden Student in 2008 and 2009, and in 2010 and 2011 I continued to work with Janet in Stella Gardens, as land for her new farming enterprise, Turtle Creek Gardens, began its three year transition from conventional to organic. Last year I was asked to stay as Stella Gardens Manager, and I happily agreed. This first year has been an amazing season full of learning experiences.  But, of all the things that I have learned this year, two things stand out:  One, I realize that I love my job. I loved working with the interns this year and I love working in the gardens.  I think it’s an amazing thing to create healthy food from good soil, seeds, water, and hard work, and to help create a beauty that everyone can see and touch and taste.  Two, I have learned, more than ever, the value of creating community.  Although I am secretly shy and introverted, I have found real pleasure in getting to know the people who buy fruits and vegetables from us, and who come to Stella Gardens to volunteer and visit.

So, what other changes have we made in Stella Gardens this year? We began by revitalizing the garden internship program. This year we had four amazing young women living and working together through much of the season. They came from Milwaukee, Chicago, and Barcelona, Spain, and stayed with us from 3 to 8 months.  Together we planted the gardens with annual vegetables and perennial fruit trees. Among the 50-60 varieties of vegetable crops we grew, we added 12 plum trees, 23 apricot trees, 9 peaches, 4 hazelnuts, 10 blackberries, 7 gooseberries, 7 hardy kiwis, 19 grape vines, 12 chestnuts, and 3 paw paws to the mix.  Need I remind you that a drought year is not a good time to plant perennials?  But we persevered, carrying buckets of water until these last few fall rains. This means that in the next few years we will begin to have loads of fruit available for our customers at our farm stand. The five of us also took numerous trips to other farms to see how new and experienced farmers continually expand the boundaries of a new kind of agriculture. From these people we gathered inspiration and ideas for how we can also change our world.

As we wind down another season in Stella Gardens, I find that there are many folks that I would like to thank for helping to make this a successful year.  My hearty thanks go to all of the customers who purchased produce from our farm stand at Michael Fields and at the East Troy Farmer’s Market, to the owners of Wild Flour Bakery and The Red Door for purchasing our produce for their menus, and to Climbing Tree and Nature’s Classroom and the East Troy and Elkhorn School Districts, who purchased our produce for their meal programs.  Last, but not least, I want to thank the interns, our worker-shares and volunteers, and the staff at Michael Fields for supporting me and Stella Gardens.  And, if this sounds like we’re closing our farm stand for the season, please let me shout loudly that we still have plenty of fall produce for sale in the cooler and we expect to expand this selection soon with greens from our lower greenhouse.  Thanks for your support.