Organic farmer grows crops and care

By Joel Waldinger | November 8, 2022


When it comes to organic farming Robert Pierce has the answers. “I believe that if you eat healthy foods, you get a healthy mind.” Pierce learned about food at an early age from his grandmother on Madison’s Southside. He now farms several very large gardens of his own.

He nurtured this homegrown idea since coming back from Vietnam, quitting school and setting out to become a certified organic farmer. “South Madison was a food desert and there was not enough, fresh, safe, affordable food in the area. I wanted to help all, by bringing that healthy food back.”

As one of the few African-American farmers in Wisconsin it hasn’t been easy. In fact, Pierce describes it as “lonely.” Pierce’s secrets are not found buried in the soil; the seeds of success are found in his heart – along with patience, persistence, and passion. The bounty of his labor is often shared at the South Madison Farmer’s Market. Pierce along with his daughter Shellie (and her sisters before that) have run the market for more than 20-years. Shellie describes the market like this, “South Madison Market is, is a hub of love. When he’s there, it’s like a little celebrity. Everybody wants to talk to him.”

For many years Pierce has also planted a lifeline for those coming out of prison in a program called FAIR – Farming after Incarceration Release. “It’s a program that, was put together to help learn how to do a farming operation for themselves to be able to eat right. And also, to make money by selling the food that they grow at the farmer’s market. And the importance of that is how to become self-sufficient. It gives them a sense of hope.” Shellie said, “He doesn’t just teach you how to farm, but he also teaches you, kindness, love, little stern sometimes, how to be your own person.” And progress on this farm always comes with a smile.

Joel Waldinger

Joel Waldinger

Joel Waldinger is a reporter for the “Wisconsin Life” project and considers a sunset over the “big island” on Manson Lake to be a perfect ending to a day of fishing and fun in the Northwoods. 

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