Voices from the Farm: Jamie Cruz of Springdell Farm
Jamie Cruz is one of the coolest people you'll ever meet. She is an ultimate powerhouse, the 4th generation running Springdell Farm in Littleton, Massachusetts. You can find her in the fields, on a tractor, running their ultimate luxe farmstand, or leading community events at the farm. You’ll know it is her from the perfectly knotted bandana, a contagious smile, and adorable baby named Briar on her hip. Jamie has been running Springdell with her mother, Paula since she was 22. She has traveled the country serving with the American Farm Bureau Federation, and she currently serves on the Littleton Agricultural Commission. She is full of conviction, old wisdom, a love for the earth, and a commitment to serving her neighbors.
Springdell Farm grows a diverse array of fruits and vegetables along with beef, pork, lamb, goat and poultry that can be purchased at their stand. Respect and care for their land and animals is a fundamental value that permeates the air. Customers are invited to explore the farm and feel connected to where their food is coming from. The farmstand is loaded with an abundance of what is in season, cuts of meat wrapped in old fashioned butcher paper, local cheeses and milk, spices, honey, herbs, and so much more.
We had the wonderful opportunity to hang out with Jamie on the farm and talk about Springdell, her reflections on life as a farmer, and what we can do as a community to support small farmers. Come fall in love with Jamie and everything that Springdell Farm has to offer.
SOTB: There is a line of strong women that have been a huge part of this farm. Can you tell us the lineage?
Jamie: My great grandparents, James and Marea bought this farm during the Great Depression. My great grandmother had grown up on a farm, so she brought a lot of experience. She was the one who sold everything, and she was out in the field running the tractor. Then my grandmother Helen was really important on the farm as well and worked in the fields Then it was my mom, Paula.
SOTB: And now you. The strength of women and family, it is special. Now it’s you and your mom, do you both have a particular focus?
Jamie: I run the crop production, greenhouse, the stand, wholesale, CSA and anything retail. My mother is the beef, cattle and livestock manager.
SOTB: You grew up on the farm; did you always know you wanted be here?
Jamie: I was always planning to go to school and then come back and be a part of the farm. But it worked out different than I was planning. My mother and I actually inherited the farm around the time that I would be going to school, so my decision was in a way made for me. I just got right to work and haven’t stopped.
SOTB: You had your son last year. How have you been balancing being a new mother and running this farm?
Jamie: It was such a big change, but at this point I have adjusted. He is with me on the farm every day. In the beginning I had no idea how much everything would be different. Briar was born during a snowstorm in January.
SOTB: It is as if Mother Nature made you stop and rest. In the slow time, do you and your mom sit and plot out the year? Is there a system that has been going on for years?
Jamie: We plan, we talk. Some people put stuff down on paper or into Excel spreadsheets, planning out where everything is going in the field. We've tried that, but our fields are ready when they are ready, so we just work with what we have. When something has to get planted it might end up going into a different spot than where we originally thought it would go.
SOTB: So you are almost letting the land dictate what it needs.
Jamie: Yes, I guess that is how we are, and it is that old school mentality that keeps us true to our roots.
SOTB: Do you try some new crops each year?
Jamie: Oh yes, we do try to put in some fun new stuff. This year for example, I am growing these enormous white kohlrabi. I don’t branch out too much because we already grow the alphabet. But when we do, our CSA customers get excited about it.
SOTB: Are the CSA customers a little bit more hip to the game of trying everything?
Jamie: Absolutely. I think that comes with the whole concept of CSA, which is that the farm is going to tell you what is on your menu this week, you aren’t going in with a list of what you want. That is why CSA isn’t for everyone. There are some people that don’t want to try all the weird bell peppers, or they don’t like the yellow peas; they just want green ones.
SOTB: So those folks can come to the stand and get everything on their list.
Jamie: Yes, we have everything they need at the stand.
SOTB: Let’s talk CSA, how does CSA benefit beyond the pleasure of getting that stocked box of goodies?
Jamie: CSA is really important because it offers farmers security during the winter months to keep the process going. We can purchase things we need for the farm, work on things in the winter, make travel plans for seasonal workers, and have equipment serviced. Beyond that, I think that those who get involved in CSA shares are investing in us not only monetarily but also they are rooting for us and are part of our growth. When community members feel connected to a farm, they feel they are growing and celebrating in the success.
SOTB: Can you spill the beans on your strawberries? Is there is something magical about yours?
Jamie: Our strawberries are special. It was the first crop we sold. We have some very old varieties. My family is obsessed with this one type called Cavendish.
SOTB: Cavendish? Give us the details.
Jamie: They are this dark red, they look over ripe, and they have a white ring around the top. You have to eat them a few hours after picking.
SOTB: Are they sweet or are they mellow?
Jamie: They are sweet. They are just to die for. Some customers come in, and if we don’t have any on the counter they will lean in and ask quietly if we have any Cavendish behind the counter saved (laughing).
SOTB: Amazing, they are in the know! How many other varieties do you have?
Jamie: Oh about 25 or so.
SOTB: Stop it right now.
Jamie: (laughing) Well, they all have their different things, some are teardrops, some are really round. Some have a white ring around their stem. Some are red all the way to the top. Some are red while some are orange. Some have a little white tip some have big seeds.
SOTB: 25 varieties! Have we all been living in the dark all these years? Do they all come out at the same time
Jamie: No, we have early ones, then the main crop, and then a later crop. So they come in different waves.
SOTB: There is a lot to look forward to!
SOTB: We are saturated with news and information so it can be tricky to know what is going on in all slices of our community. What are farms up against that you think people need to know about?
Jamie: Farms work 365 days a year but rely on just a few good months to generate real income to sustain their entire year. It is a hard way to earn a living. It is the reason why only 1% of the population has remained on the farm while the other 99% has moved on to other careers and job opportunities. But for the most part that 99% percent has gotten far-removed from food and agriculture. They move to these ‘rural’ communities nestled outside of Boston. They love the look of the tilled soil and the cows dotting the pasture. They forget that a majority of the farms in and around their homes and communities are small farms that rely on their community to earn their living. What I'm saying is that folks need to support the farms by shopping at the farms. June is strawberry month around here, not September. Get out and support the strawberry grower. Don't grab the imported asparagus at the supermarket; go to the little stand up the street and get theirs instead. Folks need to step outside of the grocery store and onto the farms if they want to keep them as neighbors. A dollar spent at a local farm goes a lot further than most could imagine.
SOTB: Interesting, what about from a government perspective?
Jamie: Farms are also over-regulated. And the more we try to regulate them, the more we drive them out of business. Two key items I am focused on are the Food Safety Modernization Act and the Federal Fair Labor Standards Act from 1938 that is still in effect. We are actually hosting an event in our fields in June to talk about issues in agriculture, food labels and so on. Those two items will be touched upon. I am inviting some other local food producers and those involved in agricultural advocacy to join me at the event as we dive into real issues in food with our growing community.
SOTB: What a great idea, can we come and hear directly from farmers and ask questions?
Jamie: Yes! Many people ask these questions, and I thought it would be a great opportunity for the community to hear directly from the farmers.
SOTB: Another important thing you have done is informing the public on development pressures. You had mentioned on social media that developers send you seemingly enticing letters, offering big money for your land.
Jamie: Yes, we keep them in a box to always remember what we are up against. Development pressure is real where we are, and it is important that our neighbors know that we fight to be here.
SOTB: With all the pressures you face 365 days a year, how do you recharge?
Jamie: Oh, I like martinis (laughter). In the spring, summer and fall, very rarely will I take a day off, but when I do I usually try to get out and go hiking in the woods. I wish I could shut my phone off, but it is the nature of the beast. Owning your own business is great and sometimes it is hard, but you are married to it so you are always taking it with you.
SOTB: How about this season, what are looking forward to most?
Jamie: I want a really good year. I want mother nature to play fair, sales to be good and crops to be healthy. Every year we go in hopeful, that this is going to be the perfect year.
SOTB: What do you want your son Briar to learn from being on the farm?
Jamie: To love the outdoors, and to have an appreciation for land, the environment, our earth and mother nature, and to be kind to animals and people. That's what I hope for.
SOTB: Do you think your satisfaction from being a farmer is all of those things?
Jamie: I think so. There are only a few of us who get to call ourselves farmers. Granted we aren’t a large scale farm. We don’t feed thousands and thousands of people, but our kind of people are a dying breed. We are lucky to still be here and call this place home. We have people who trust us, and they want to come here. People appreciate what we do, and we appreciate being able to do what we love.
SOTB: There is this level of calm confidence about you. Could it be a result of living in the seasons? From growing things from nothing? It feels that the number of people like you, those with such a calm direction about their life's work at your age is so small. You are a unicorn.
Jamie: (laughing) I think people deal with so much pressure with careers, or rather the ideas of careers and the level of success. I was told to never worry about competition, know they are there but focus on what you are doing. If you believe in something no matter how much somebody knocks you down or pushes you back or says it is a bad idea, just go with your heart. I have always loved the farm. I’ve grown up here, and it’s in my blood, so I just know that I am meant to be here.