Hi everyone. Here's the first in what we hope will be a semi-regular feature about the folks who make the Amherst Farmers' Market such a special place. Like us on Facebook to keep up with all the goings on at the Market this summer!
It’s a cold, grey, rainy morning at Twin Oaks Farm in Agawam. The kind of New England spring day that makes one pine for the summer sun’s warm embrace. John Spineti, Twin Oaks’ long-time owner, is dreaming about Japanese eggplants. Or Persian cucumbers. Or perhaps one of the seemingly limitless varieties of potatoes he grows with lyrical names like French la ratte and Russian banana fingerling. Which is to say that by all outward appearances, right now, as he gets his Spanish onions in the recently thawed soil, rain dripping from the brim of his ball cap, John seems totally at ease. Like there’s no place on earth he’d rather be than on his farm, planting onions. In the rain.
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.”
This year’s seemingly endless winter pushed the planting season back a couple weeks, but such is the life of New England farmer. And John Spineti would know. He’s the president of the Amherst Farmers’ Market and has been selling at the market he helped found for 43 years.
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, eventually earning a doctorate and a coveted job with Pratt and Whitney, where he helped design fuel cells for the Apollo Lander. It was the late 60s, 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 curriculums. 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, 43 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’s retired from teaching in 2000 and along with his wife Linda, devotes much 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 the tractor 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!
Come say hi to John and our all our great local farmers at the Amherst Farmers’ Market, Saturdays, rain or shine, 7:30 am to 1:30 pm, in the lot next to the Amherst Commons. See you there!
Bringing you organic, grass-fed, pasture-raised, locally-sourced blog posts on a semi-weekly basis from the Amherst Farmers' Market.