TOWN OF PLYMOUTH
At a time when Wisconsin dairy farms are closing at a rate of nearly two per day, diving into agriculture without a farming background might seem like a puzzling choice.
Ben and Meghan Snare saw it as an opportunity to connect nonfarmers with sustainable food and cultivate a more fulfilling lifestyle outside their former 9-to-5 existence in the Chicago suburbs.
The Snares run Field and Farm Co., a 10-acre community supported agriculture, or CSA, operation in the town of Plymouth. The farm, in business since 2016, is in a sleepy area of Rock County between Orfordville and Beloit.
The rural surroundings are the antithesis of the family’s previous life. They used to live in Palatine, Illinois, a northwestern Chicago suburb with a population slightly bigger than Janesville’s.
Both Ben and Meghan have business backgrounds, working full-time jobs for technology companies. They’re still working remotely with occasional office visits in Illinois.
Ben said a trip to Paris a few years ago led to their career switch. Thousands of miles from corporate stress, he and Meghan spent their mornings getting coffee and talking about future priorities.
“What do we want? We just started looking at what we love to do. We loved being outside, loved nature. We really cared about where our food came from,” he said. “In the suburbs, we always had a garden, and we really enjoyed it. So we started exploring.”
Initially, they considered a seasonal, “toe-in” approach with an apple orchard or pumpkin patch before deciding on something bigger, Meghan said.
They had no connection to Rock County before moving here. Finding land for sale that met their needs was difficult; they searched anywhere within a two-hour drive of their Illinois home, Meghan said.
Illinois is still important for the Snares. Their three regular drop sites for CSA shares are all south of the border—one in Chicago and others in the suburbs of Barrington and Glen Ellyn.
But the Snares found a local support network soon after they arrived. Through Stateline Farm Beginnings, a program that pairs inexperienced farmers with industry veterans, the Snares began working with Turtle Creek Gardens CSA outside Delavan.
Turtle Creek Gardens co-owner Janet Gamble said the Snares’ youth and entrepreneurial spirit were apparent. As agriculture changes, the industry needs clever people who are willing to take chances and try different things to survive, she said.
For example, the Snares are trying to build a collaborative network between local farms. They already work with another farm to source their beef.
Collaboration would allow existing farms to focus on what they do well. Partner farms would contribute their specialties, thus diversifying each farm’s CSA offerings, Ben said.
“We’re working with local farms to figure out, OK, how is this whole ecosystem going to work?” he said. “We can all benefit and all still make money, but we all don’t have to do 100 things.”
Still, Field and Farm is intended to be more than a hobby. Ben and Meghan want a business with a foundation strong enough to support their three kids—Emma, 5; Hayden, 2; and Wenonah, 5 months—if they want to take it over.
The Snares are experimenting with hemp this year. They want to serve more farm-to-table dinners after hosting a few last year. They are considering building an event center to host dinners and fulfill other agritourism functions. They plan to maintain the CSA, which has now expanded to 50 shares.
Meghan said the couple’s business experience has largely been applicable to running a farm. Their new life has taken their skills and put them to different use.
It’s a use that “reorients our day-to-day” to something more fulfilling, she said.
“We don’t want this (corporate careers) to be the end of our life. Like, ‘OK, we’ll go through the next 20 years doing everything everyone does,’” Meghan said. “And at the end of the day, we’re like, ‘OK, well that was it.’
“We want all of our days to essentially add up to something meaningful.”
In a few weeks, Janesville will take the first step toward a public Wi-Fi network downtown.
But before bringing a laptop to stream the latest season of “Stranger Things” on the Rock River, residents should know the initial network will be restricted in location and connectivity strength.
The public network will cover the ARISE Town Square and primarily will be used to control information kiosks and lighting on the Court and Milwaukee street bridges. Neither the lighting nor the kiosks—one on each side of the planned pedestrian bridge—has been installed yet, city Information Technology Manager Gordy LaChance said.
The network will have the ability to support only about 12 simultaneous connections. Barring unforeseen delays, it will be operational sometime in August, he said.
Even though the Wi-Fi will mainly support the lighting and kiosks at first, LaChance hopes a private entity will eventually take control of the system to strengthen and expand it.
The city does not have the resources to maintain the network beyond its initial rollout, which will cost about $7,000. With the town square becoming a new public event space, a more powerful network would be required if a few hundred people in the area tried to connect, LaChance said.
Janesville is partnering with Novak Networx to operate the system.
Several years ago, Novak Networx started a public Wi-Fi network in Janesville that partnered with a few businesses to provide free internet.
That network, known as the Janesville Wi-Fi Project, still exists in a limited form. Company owner Robert Novak said the town square internet is much different because its equipment has stronger capabilities.
That means someone could invest more money into the system’s bandwidth, and the equipment would be able to support a more robust network in the future, he said.
Novak was optimistic that someone else would take over the Wi-Fi. Expanding a Wi-Fi network can be relatively inexpensive because it’s done in pieces, he said.
LaChance credited council member Sue Conley with bringing the idea to his attention.
If Janesville needed Wi-Fi to support the information kiosks and bridge lighting, then it was worth exploring a community network in the area, she said.
“Cities all over the country are trying to provide that, but it can be difficult to determine what provider you use and who pays for it,” Conley said. “It’s not an easily implemented project.”
Like Novak, Conley hopes a private entity will take over the network.
LaChance encouraged residents to give the public Wi-Fi a try. Just don’t rely on it to do important work right now, he said.
Janesville will collect data on how many times people connect or try to connect to the Wi-Fi. This will give the city a better gauge of how many people would use such a network, he said.
“I think the idea is to make the town square a very attractive place,” LaChance said. “Certainly these days one of the amenities that you expect in a city is to be able to connect to some form or another of public Wi-Fi.”
Karl Marx Black
Dennis M. Borgwardt
Rebecca “Becky” Stevenson
Frances Virginia Williams