It's 4am on a Saturday morning and Twin Oaks Farm is awakening for the Market day. Two vehicles to load and then head in two different directions north; one vehicle to Northampton and the other, with John Spineti piloting, heading to the Amherst Farmers' Market. It’s a warm, humid morning, perspiration sets in just looking for the car keys, much less having to load and prepare. John, Twin Oaks’ long-time owner, already with a cool towel around his neck for the drive, is dreaming about breaking his fig tree 'record!' 12 trees sold in a Market day! Many other thoughts are also going through as he heads north on I-91. Shell peas. Snap peas. Japanese eggplant. Roma tomatoes. Persian cucumbers. Perhaps one of the seemingly limitless varieties of potatoes he grows with lyrical names like French la ratte and Russian banana fingerling.
Rolling along the highway, a two decade old Subaru Legacy wagon and a converted Coleman pop-up camping trailer, older than the very Market itself, heading towards the day's sales. The car and trailer, both loaded with more than ever anticipated by either manufacturer, has been making this trip every Saturday morning for years now. Which is to say that by all outward appearances, right now, John, listening to NPR on his way, seems totally at ease. Like there’s no place on earth he’d rather be.
John’s reeling off the laundry list of vegetables, herbs and other herbaceous wonders he grows at Twin Oaks. “…Peruvian blue potatoes, very unique; genuine Japanese eggplant, thin, two feet long; banana trees, fig trees, pomegranate trees, rubber trees…three or four varieties of snap peas, snow peas, sun gold tomatoes.” A very eclectic assortment on offer.
This year’s seemingly endless winter pushed the planting season back a couple weeks or so, but such is the life of New England farmer. And John Spineti would know. He’s been the standing president of the Amherst Farmers’ Market longer than Franklin Deleno Roosevelt was in office and has been selling at the market, since its inception, the market he helped found 45 years ago.
Farming is in John Spineti’s blood. His father farmed the same property John farms today. “My family always farmed…my Dad, his ancestors in Italy. They were all farmers,” John says. “I can trace my family’s ancestry all the way back to Croatia in the Sixteenth Century. These little agrarian villages.”
John remembers his family’s Victory Garden celebrating the end of World War II (“Roses, v-shaped”). But though he has fond memories of childhood summers spent helping his family on the farm, when it came time for John to look for a career, like so many sons and daughters, he set out to blaze his own trail.
Setting his sights on the burgeoning technology sector, John studied chemical engineering where he received a B.S. from MIT in Cambridge, and then eventually earning an Ed.D from UMass and a coveted job with Pratt and Whitney, where he helped design fuel cells for the Apollo Lander. It was the late 60's, the Cold War and the race to put a man on the Moon was fraught with any number of geopolitical consequences. And here was this farm boy from Agawam, helping brave young men and women slip their terrestrial binds. But all the while, John felt his heart drawn to the familiar gravitational-pull of the family farm.
So back to the farm he went. And to the classroom. John left Pratt and Whitney for newly opened Springfield Technical Community College where in addition to teaching, he helped design assorted science and math curriculum's. And after the school day was finished, he’d farm.
“Classes would finish at about 2 or 3 in the afternoon and I’d run home to the fields and green houses,” John says.
Amongst his neighbors, his penchant for plowing into the evening hours earned him the nickname, “the Night Farmer.”
In 1972, John and several local farmers had an idea. Let’s organize a farmers’ market in downtown Amherst.
“We pre-dated the local food craze by a few years,” John chuckles.
The Amherst Farmers’ Market was the first of its kind in the state. And now, 45 years later, it’s the state’s oldest and surely amongst its most beloved markets.
“Where else can you shake the hand of the farmer who planted the potatoes or raised the lamb that you’re going to have for dinner tonight?”
John retired from teaching in 2000 and along with his wife Linda, devotes much of his time to the tireless, year-round work of operating Twin Oaks Farm.
“We don’t have any employees on the farm. So the work is 12 hours a day, every day of the year, selling, growing, preparing, weekends and holidays,” he says.
And John doesn’t have any plans to hang up the keys to his (impromptu) tractor collection, now at the number 14 mark, any time soon.
“I could go another 10 or 15 years,” he says. “I love talking with families who have been coming to the market for years and I think they enjoy seeing all of us. Nowadays, you can buy organic food just about anywhere it seems, but there’s only one place where you can chat up the farmer - at the Market.”
Indeed it’s these relationships, forged over countless Saturday morning conversations, that drive John and the rest of his brethren at the market to get up way too early week after week. It’s the sense of community, of home, of building something enduring and meaningful. That sense of commitment comes through in the vibrant colors and flavors at the market every Saturday. Stop by, say hi and see for yourself. Always at the ready with a quip, prepared for banter and can converse about any topic! Meet the man who, while never having traveled more than a half-days' distance by car, has encyclopaedia knowledge of a truly global capacity. John Spineti of Twin Oaks Farm....
Bringing you organic, grass-fed, pasture-raised, locally-sourced blog posts on a semi-weekly basis from the Amherst Farmers' Market.