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.”