OMRO — Mike Stadler of Pine River has gardening in his blood. “My passion is gardening,” he said. “Farming has always been in my family. My grandfather was a dairy farmer. I worked on truck farms since I was 11 years old.”
He has always grown vegetables on his 17-acre farm for the use of his family. He also has an apiary for bees, from which he harvests honey. “I did it because I wanted to eat healthy,” he said. “The reward of growing things and eating what you grow yourself without any chemicals” is also important. “Watching things grow from just a little tiny seed is amazing, as well as the wonder of bees and how they participate in the food chain,” Stadler added.
He also runs the ¾-acre garden at Casa Esther, a Catholic Worker house in Omro. The Catholic Worker movement aids the poor and homeless and was founded by Dorothy Day. The house in Omro is run by Fr. Joseph Mattern, a senior priest for the Diocese of Green Bay.
“He helped me out when I needed help, so I am returning my obligation,” Stadler said. “I was never told I had to do anything for him, but I felt it was my duty. Once I put things together for the garden, it’s pretty easy.”
Stadler was born and raised in Milwaukee. His wife, Susan, was educated at the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh. Stadler enjoyed fishing, so they settled in the area in the early 1980s. Susan taught first and fifth grades in the Omro schools for 30 years. Stadler had his own construction business and built houses until the housing market collapse in 2008.
He then turned to his love of gardening. His sales of vegetables and honey at several area farmers’ markets have supported him for the past 20 years.
Bringing his love of gardening to his commitment to Casa Esther came naturally. He relies on natural methods — such as rain water, drip irrigation, green manure, mulching and layers of plastic — to build up the soil.
“Before I started, the soil (here) was like walking on gravel,” he said. “Now it’s like walking on carpeting. Now it’s a perfect medium for vegetables.”
Most of the plants are grown from seedlings purchased from an Amish man who uses the same practices of sustainable gardening that Stadler favors. “He uses untreated seeds so I start with plants that don’t have poisons on them,” he said.
“About 90% of Fr. Joe’s garden is given away to needy people in the community,” Stadler said. Some food is donated to the Omro Food Pantry, right next door to Casa Esther. “We never have to throw anything away,” said Stadler.
There are many garden volunteers who help out at Casa Esther.. “We never run out of people who want to help,” he said.
“We’re trying to follow Dorothy Day’s example of growing gardens and feeding the people,” he said. “That’s what our passion is. We try to help everybody who comes to us. Whenever anyone comes to Casa Esther with any type of need or concern, as Fr. Joe says, ‘We always say yes and then we do what we can.’”
He also participated in the establishment of a peace pole on Aug. 6, the anniversary of the dropping of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima, Japan, in 1945. The pole is inscribed with a prayer for world peace in four languages — Ojibwa, English, Polish and Spanish. The pole is located at the corner of Webster Street and Highway 116 right in front of Casa Esther. The promotion of world peace is a particular interest to Stadler.
For his own livelihood, he joins forces with two other farmers to grow vegetables on their farms to sell food at weekly farmers’ markets in Oshkosh, Berlin, Omro and other locations.
“Everybody’s happy,” Stadler said. “There is a steady clientele and it makes me feel good.”
He also likes being part of a wider community of faith. “The church is a gathering point for people to group together and do things together,” he said. “There is a camaraderie in bringing people together.”
Name: Mike Stadler
Parish: St. Mark, Redgranite, and Sacred Heart, Poy Sippi
Favorite saint: Michael
Words to live by: Promote world peace.