ARGYLE, Wis. – Scott Laeser and Chelsea Chandler are walking a mile – and more – in someone else’s shoes. They have their feet in both agricultural policy and farming. The shoes fit.
The couple who own Plowshares and Prairie Farm near Argyle were finalists in the 2019 Wisconsin Outstanding Young Farmer program.
Laeser and Chandler in 2013 started a community-supported-agriculture farm. Currently they grow myriad varieties of certified-organic fruits and vegetables with the help of seven part-time employees. Production is concentrated on 2 acres of the couple’s 75 acres of land.
Although Laeser grew up in the city of Kenosha, Wisconsin, he spent weekends at his grandparents’ farm near Argyle. Then when his parents retired they bought a 200-acre farm not far from Plowshares and Prairie Farm Argyle. Laeser and his dad worked to restore the land.
That work as a youth inspired Laeser to pursue a bachelor’s degree in biology from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He earned a master’s degree in environmental studies from Yale University. He learned agricultural policy in positions in Washington, D.C., and in Seattle.
He had moved west to Seattle to be closer to Chelsea Chandler, who was then working as a staff scientist at the Stockholm Environment Institute’s office in the city. She was working on tools to quantify strategies for reductions of greenhouse-gas emissions. She had earned a bachelor’s degree in atmospheric science and a master’s degree of environmental management from Yale University-School of Forestry and Environmental Studies.
Laeser volunteered at a community-supported-agriculture farm in Seattle. When the couple in 2013 moved to Wisconsin they promptly launched their own community-supported-agriculture farm. They also continue their work in agricultural policy. Chandler works as the director of environmental initiatives for the Wisconsin Academy of Sciences, Arts and Letters. Laeser is the water-program director for Clean Wisconsin. He works to connect farmers and agricultural groups with municipalities and nonprofits to reduce agricultural runoff and improve water quality. Both organizations are based in Madison, Wisconsin.
Kriss Marion, owner of Circle M Market Farm of Blanchardville, Wisconsin, met the couple a year before they began farming. Laeser said Marion provided helpful advice about organic farming. She also shared her employees.
“Organic farming is very labor-intensive, requiring a lot of weeding and harvesting by hand,” Marion said. “I wanted to help Scott and Chelsea because people in the organic-farming industry have been so generous sharing their knowledge with me. I wanted to pay it forward.”
Katy and Mark Dixon of Christensens Farm of Browntown, Wisconsin, also shared with Laeser and Chandler their knowledge of market gardening and community-supported agriculture.
“Scott and Chelsea stand out in terms of their overall care for the land and their consideration of the environment – water, soil and wildlife,” Katy Dixon said. “I admire them for how they live and work by their beliefs.”
Laeser’s wetlands-restoration work as well as his work for Clean Wisconsin are appreciated, Marion said.
“Scott helped to launch the Southwest Wisconsin Groundwater and Geology Study,” she said.
That’s an effort to test water quality from hundreds of wells in Grant, Iowa and Lafayette counties.
Laeser and Chandler also networked with other community-supported-agriculture growers in the Fair Share CSA Coalition, whose mission is to support and connect farmers and consumers. The organization is based in Madison.
Plowshares and Prairie Farm currently has about 70 subscribers. Those subscribers receive vegetables and fruits in a 20-week timeframe between June and the end of October. Laeser and Chandler provide drop-off sites in Madison, Fitchburg and at their farm near Argyle.
Of being nominated for the Wisconsin Outstanding Young Farmer program, Chandler said, “We were humbled and happily surprised, especially after only farming for a few years.”
Laeser said of the Wisconsin Outstanding Young Farmer program, “It was a phenomenal learning experience. We don’t often have a lot of time to hang out with other farmers, and it was great to learn from everyone as we all wrestle with challenges.”