Circle M Market Farm is a small family homestead in rural Blanchardville, Wisconsin, 40 minutes southwest of Madison as reached by curvy country roads. Located in the beautiful Driftless Region of the state, the farm is nestled into a cozy valley, bordered by creeks on two sides, an old oak woods on another and a restored prairie on the last. Tucked into a hilly patchwork of neighboring small farms, we share this particular 20 acres with our sheep, goats, chickens, steers, hogs, dogs, cats, and ridiculous geese with whom we live in a circle of nurture. Everything here has a purpose and function that feeds the land and lives around it. We care for the animals, they feed the soil, the soil feeds us and we feed you from our gardens and the bountiful farmshed of small artisan growers and makers in our community.
Circle M Market Farm is run and owned by me, Kriss, and my husband, Shannon. I’m a Pennsylvania transplant, former Chicago newspaper journalist, previous homeschool mom of four, current shepherd of mostly sheep, head weeder and general manager of the circus. I’m the dreamer at Circle M, but there would be no farm without without Shannon’s incredible carpentry skills. I have a day job as the Communications Lead for Wisconsin Women in Conservation and I serve as a Lafayette County Supervisor.
When we found this pretty farm, we simply had the goal of healing our our little piece of run-down land with its ramshackle buildings. (If you’d like to read how we came to be on a farm after living in urban Chicago for 20 years, click here. If you like reading Wendell Berry and James Herriot, you'll probably love our story.) We had no idea what that would mean, though I was quite sure it would involve "sheep therapy," as prescribed by one of our favorite writers, Gene Logsdon. So we went looking among the neighbors for sheep to poop and pee and fertilize our land. But we came home with 5 adorable milk goats that we had to bottle feed instead. A little while later came the lambs, the steers, the piglets, the ducklings and chicks. As we learned, we came to understand that our greatest joy would be seeing the land become productive again – a vision bolstered by the writings of Wendell Berry, and heartily encouraged by the elderly former farmers we were beginning to meet in our tiny town.
So Shannon and I adopted a four-year system of rotating pigs through large garden plots and started producing vegetables to share – starting with just 15 CSA shares in 2007 and growing to 165 by 2013. Our methods continued to evolve, and we continue to seek knowledge from other market farmers and neighboring farm families as we grow. In the meantime, we find ourselves increasingly asked to nurture rural dreams and train new organic farmers who want to experiment with a homestead model. When we added a farm stay component to the farm portfolio, we slowly subtracted market farming and now we rent our hoophouse and fertile soil to a young farming family. But our basic drive remains the same as the day we moved to the farm – to gently steward these 20 acres in a way that can keep them healthy, beautiful and productive for years to come.
As I've come to know my land and my community more over time, I've come to believe that soil and water stewardship are not just niche farmer priorities, but top priorities for our rural places as well as our world today. As a result, my love of farming has called me off the land more and more in recent years to participate in environmental advocacy and agricultural leadership at local, state and national levels. Shannon, while continuing to excel at his own more-than-full-time off-farm job, has patiently watched, waited, listened and built our infrastructure while I've experiemented with various farm enterprises.
We practice manage grazing with sheep and cattle, and raise hogs on the scraps from our gardens and breakfasts. We have planted and acre of our crop land into permanent pollinator habitat with native prairie plants, in cooperation with NRCS and Pecatonica Pride Watershed Association. We co-founded a Farmers Market in Blanchardville so that we could help attract traffic to our lovely, tiny downtown. Read about why I think farmers markets can be a major rural re-development strategy here.
We've worked to boost opportunities for Farmers Markets in all tiny towns by working with the legislature on a Wisconsin Cookie Bill that would allow small entrepreneurs to sell home-baked goods without having a certified kitchen. In this effort, we won a lawsuit in which the Wisconsin ban on selling home-baked goods was declared unconstitutional. Now markets are bigger, better, and more successful.
Finally, our rural dreams and philosophical commitments have come together in a thriving farm stay enterprise that combines small-scale, careful farming with conservation stewardship in a delightful balance that capitalizes on both and gives us the opportunity to share the agricultural perspective of rural people and food producers with a wider audience. Our foundational motto, "Make Our Farm Yours," holds true at Circle M now more than ever before.
The Circle M Mission is to care well for this beautiful little piece of earth and share that beauty with others – in the form of both food and farm life, feeding body and soul.