I sat in awe watching Mary Rossow harvest her late summer crop in Aurora, all the while she gently unearthed carrots and vibrant varieties of chard and gorgeous kale. Effortlessly she worked, her 4-year-old son Aldo in tow, chit chatting away about this and that, and just behind him, his 2-year-old brother Kieron pushing a toy dump truck repeating, “Wait for me!” over and over again.
“When you do what you love, it isn’t work,” Mary responded when I asked her how she “did it all” – mothering, wife-ing and now taking on a new venture with her husband, Matt, in their west suburban-based family business, Chanticlare Farm.
Now one-year-old, the idea of Chanticlare has always been in the Rossow’s hearts, even before they met. Raised on a farm in west Ireland, Mary cared for livestock and learned the importance of being a steward of the earth and the power of connectedness that gardening brings.
She also loved creating arrangements of native flowers for her local church. Matt grew up in Naperville where his family produced a massive family garden every year. His mom, Sue Rossow, had Matt out in the garden from the time he was 3-months-old.
“[The garden] took so much of my time, that it was only natural to have the kids out there with me,” Sue explained. “Matt had always wanted to have his own garden, but I never thought he would pursue farming as a living. I’m so proud of him and Mary!”
Once Mary and Matt met, their love blossomed and what quickly followed was the germination of a seed that lay dormant in their imaginations. The first glimpse of Chanticlare Farm started to come to life as the couple started their first garden together, which quickly grew from a hearty backyard harvest into something bigger.
Mary knew they needed room to grow and Matt agreed.
“We really wanted to start bringing good food to our table and everyone around us,” Matt said.
Pursuing this dream, like any other entrepreneurial endeavor, meant digging not only into the earth, but the couple’s consistent positive work ethic. And while the early stages of owning a business brings challenges, Mary and Matt’s philosophy of bringing good healthy food to their community drove them in the wee hours of the morning as they regularly harvested with headlamps on.
“We are so committed to growing healthy food for our family and our customers,” said Mary. “This farm is truly an extension of our garden, our table and our lives. It is in respect for these interconnections that we have chosen to farm using sustainable, ‘beyond organic’ methods.”
With a philosophy best defined as “biological” and “ecological,” Chanticlare Farm has an ongoing transparent dialogue between farmer and consumer.
“It is in this spirit that we encourage you to come visit the farm and see for yourself how your food is grown,” Mary said.
Physically seeing the food you are going to consume brings about an excitement in me, and the vibe at Chanticlare is one of family, love, hard work and friendship. I can taste it in the sweetness of the red peppers I brought home today and see the appreciation of growing things in the bold yellow color of the black-eyed Susan flowers that Mary tended with her own two hands.
From salad mixes of chard, arugula, spinach and kale to four varieties of garlic, Chanticlare Farm is not only thriving, it’s beginning to partner with microgreen farmer, Matt Greene, who produces the nutrient dense “mini greens” and oyster mushrooms.
Beyond the produce, Mary and Matt are also giving thought to encouraging a “good bug blend,” where plants are introduced to draw the insects that would naturally eat the pesky bugs that destroy crops. In the future, Matt would love to support the honey bee population, which is at risk of extinction because of honeybee Colony Collapse Disorder.
Opportunities to experience the Rossow’s bounty include every Sunday through September at the Oswego Country Market and Saturdays through Oct. 29 at the Kankakee Farmers’ Market. Chanticlare also offers community supported agriculture shares, which promotes the direct connection between food consumers and the farmer who grows their food. Members can purchase a share from the farm in exchange for weekly or bi-weekly boxes of produce.
“In this relationship of mutual commitment, the farm feeds the people; the people support the farm and share the farm’s inherent risks and potential bounty,” Mary said. “From this, you receive the freshest possible vegetables on a weekly basis and rediscover the pleasures eating seasonally.”
Chanticlare Farm grows more than 30 different kinds of vegetables and annual fruits, plus a variety of herbs and fresh cut flowers. Participating in a CSA box will give consumers a chance to enjoy fresh, healthy and familiar staples, but the opportunity to sample some less common vegetables. Each box includes a newsletter with happenings from the farm and a recipe to help with meal planning.
“By joining a CSA you know where your food comes from and how it was grown. You are supporting a local farm, reducing food miles and your carbon footprint, getting the freshest food possible, and expanding your culinary knowledge,” shared Mary. “And there are the health benefits of eating fresh food, which not only affect your own well-being, but that of all your family and friends with whom you share your table.”
For more information about Chanticlare Farm, visit its website at chanticlarefarm.com.
This article was originally featured in the Kane County Chronicle on September 21, 2017.