Voss Organics has been a mainstay at the Dane County Farmers' Market since 1994, but Mark Voss' journey to becoming an organic farmer has certainly not been conventional. After earning a degree in economics from the University of Illinois, Mark joined the Peace Corps and was stationed in the west African country of Togo, where he was assigned the task of helping local farmers establish viable market crops.
Although Mark knew nothing about farming, the local farmers were able to give him a basic understanding, while Mark helped to organize co-ops to increase profits. During his time in Togo, Mark was impressed by the farmers' refusal to use synthetic pesticides or fertilizers, even though the government of Togo was mandating it.
The farmers' passion left a strong impression on Mark, and upon returning to the United States, he began reading everything that he could about organic farming. During this time, he went back to school, and received a teaching degree from San Francisco State University. Shortly after, he was fortunate enough to obtain an apprenticeship with an organic farm in Wisconsin.
After learning the necessary skills, Mark began his own CSA (community-supported agriculture) operation on a substantial plot of land and began to sell produce at the Dane County Farmers' Market. Mark ran the CSA for five years, but scaled his production down to one 400-square-foot greenhouse after his children were born. Around this time, he also began teaching French at Kromrey Middle School in Middleton.
Today, Mark continues to teach French as well as a program for at-risk youth at Middleton High School that allows the students to plant their own garden, as well as participate in growing over 2,000 pounds of food each year for local food pantries. When not teaching, Mark manages his greenhouse in Madison, along with his wife and two children, who also help him set up his stand and sell plants on Saturdays. The produce from Voss Organics has become quite popular and is now featured at two Madison restaurants, Harvest and L'Etoile.
Voss Organics can be found each Saturday at North Carroll Street on the Capitol Square, where Mark offers seedlings for heirloom tomatoes in the spring and fresh-picked tomatoes in the summer. He also sells potted herbs and flowers.
The Daily Page: What's the one item you wish you grew but can't?
Voss: Mangoes, I wish I could figure out how to grow mangoes in Wisconsin.
What plants do you recommend most to customers?
1. Nyagous Tomato. It has a great smoky flavor, and I would consider it the "filet mignon" of tomatoes.
2. Jaune Flammee, a very early, orange tomato from France that keeps on producing all season.
What would you attribute the success of your plants to?
My special handmade soil mix, which is vitamin-rich and helps produce thick, healthy plants. Also, I play them classical music, with some occasional tropical rhythms.