Longtime organic farmer is applying the regenerative agriculture concept to Dane County’s real estate market
When Mark Voss began thinking about a career shift and got his Realtor’s license in 2017, he quickly grew to love working with people to help them find just the right home — but he admits he struggled to align real estate’s consumptive nature with his sustainability background and values.
Scientists are only beginning to understand something called the mycological network: a hidden underground social network in which tree roots and fungi communicate through what some have dubbed the Wood Wide Web. It’s a fascinating concept that adds to our growing awareness that all living things are interconnected in mysterious yet vital ways. It’s also an apt metaphor for the new regenerative real estate concept that urban organic farmer and former public school teacher Mark Voss is bringing to Madison.
“I’ve been interested in real estate for a long time and I just see it as a real leverage point for change,” says Voss. “Place is where people live, but place is also where change happens, and real estate is all about place.”
Voss retired from teaching in 2021 to work full time in real estate; he’d been working simultaneously as a Realtor with Keller Williams since 2018. He has also owned Voss Organics on Madison’s north side for 20 years. He’s well acquainted with the concept of regenerative agriculture, a catch-all term for farming and grazing practices that restore and revitalize soil to combat climate change. When he began thinking about a career shift and got his Realtor’s license in 2017, he quickly grew to love working with people to help them find just the right home — but he admits he struggled to align real estate’s consumptive nature with his sustainability background and values. Then a conversation with a colleague changed everything, introducing him to a Portland, Oregon-based company called Latitude Regenerative Real Estate and a world in which it was possible to integrate land stewardship, community, wellness and education into real estate.
“I did a little research and called the co-founder of that organization, and we had the most warm, value-aligned chat that I’ve ever had about real estate,” says Voss. The synergy was immediate and Voss dug in, educating himself, seeking certifications and even connecting with other Latitude agents on a hiking trip out west. In March 2021, he opened a Madison office of Latitude Regenerative Real Estate.
Voss says that our homes are our “consumption centers.” We buy products, bring them home and consume them. We create garbage, sewage and pollution from natural gas or electricity. We mow, fertilize and apply pesticides to our lawns. “So what if, when you’re involved in a real estate transaction … what if I can introduce the idea of stewarding that property and … help them really elevate their property to be the most productive, rather than consumptive and extractive?” he asks. “All properties have regenerative qualities and regenerative potential.”
These things include harvesting rainwater to recycle into the landscape, installing solar panels or creating gardens for pollinators and birds — measures that not only improve a property, but also serve as a model within the neighborhood to spur conversation and cultivate broader change. Voss has already begun leveraging partnerships with like-minded service providers, such as energy auditor Kevin Kane with Wisconsin-based Green Homeowners United. Kane is an economist who provides the audit paperwork necessary for applying for green mortgages (through a federal program that gives money over the appraised value if you’re investing in energy upgrades and sustainability work on your home). Voss pays for all of his buyer clients to receive an energy audit from Kane at closing, and he is working with local banks to introduce more green mortgages. Voss also points to Madison’s active permaculture community and landscape designers such as Karina Mae DeSano of Garden Search & Rescue, which integrates pollinators and food crops into urban and suburban landscapes. Voss says the potential of partnerships like these reminds him of the mycological network.
“What if we can try to mimic nature as professionals and create this professional ecosystem where we’re connectors?” says Voss, who, like Kane, has an economics degree. He understands that efforts like his might be more popular with progressives, but regeneration is also about resilience and self-sufficiency, which resonate with fiscally conservative folks as well. “If you put aside the crunchy granola/organic farmer stuff, this just makes good economic sense,” he says.
There is a lot of national support behind Voss’ efforts. Latitude is the only real estate firm in the country that is accredited through the International Living Future Institute in Seattle, Washington. Accreditation is a rigorous process that includes criteria for building materials, water, energy, landscape, ecology and equity within the community. Voss also sought and earned the National Association of Realtors’ “NAR Green Designation,” which includes coursework related to reducing the carbon footprint of buildings. But locally, Voss says, Madison is ripe for regenerative real estate.
“I feel like Madison is a place where these ideas are already under consideration,” Voss says, citing efforts by groups and positions like the Dane County Food Policy Council, the city of Middleton’s sustainability coordinator, and the strong network of the Dane County Farmers’ Market and the FairShare CSA Coalition that initially drew him to Madison back in 1994. “I was a young, hungry and uneducated farmer wannabe at that time and there were so many good farmers with open hearts that wanted to help,” he says. “So I feel like that spirit is here within Madison and Dane County, and I just get up every day like, ‘What can I do today?’ because there’s so much to do to connect.”
Maggie Ginsberg is an associate editor of Madison Magazine.
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Maggie Ginsberg is a senior editor at Madison Magazine. Her long-form features have garnered numerous honors since 2006 including from the National City Regional Magazine Association, the Milwaukee Press Club and the American Society of Journalist and Authors. In addition to helping edit the work of Madison Magazine's contributing writers, freelancers and essayists, she writes features and the monthly Looking Back historical photo department page. Online, Maggie conducts monthly author Q&As and covers the local literary scene with her Sunday Reads monthly e-newsletter. Her own debut novel, "Still True," was published by the University of Wisconsin Press in September 2022 and was the honorable mention selection for the 2022 Edna Ferber Fiction Book Award, as well as a 2023 Midwest Book Award honoree.