Joe Waskiewicz, J & J Farms
2010 Local Hero Awardee
When Joe Waskiewicz was growing up on Meadow Street in Amherst in the 1930s, every household on the street farmed the land. The smallest farm was ten acres. Today, Joe’s farm is one of just two that remain.
Joe’s grandfather, Dimitriou, began the farm in 1909. It became known as J & J Farms when Joe’s father and his brother John took over the operation in 1937. Joe stepped in when his uncle retired in 1960; his father retired fifteen years later. These days, most of the farm work is done by Joe’s sons, Mike and Butch (Joe Jr.), though Joe can still usually be reached in the barn during chore time. The farm grows top quality sweet corn and other vegetables; equally important is its dairy operation, the only one remaining in Amherst today. They sell to wholesalers, retail stands, and have their own farm stand by the road. J & J has a reputation for diligence, quality, and innovation, and were early supporters of integrated pest management.
J & J’s success over the years is no doubt due at least in part to their understanding of customers’ needs and willingness to grow the crops desired by the community. One very satisfied wholesale customer, Atkin’s Country Market in Amherst, has been purchasing from J & J for decades. The farm supplies Atkins with potatoes, onions, tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, shallots, and legendary cabbages that can only be described as enormous.
Reflecting on his farm’s celebration of its 100th anniversary last year, Joe commented that it’s hard to imagine another period in history when farming changed as much as it has since he was a boy. There have been great improvements in the variety of seeds available, as well as crop yields, and mechanization has made farming much more efficient. At the same time, farmers face new challenges. Years ago, kids would call the farm in January to line up work during the summer season. It’s much harder to find seasonal help now that families are more affluent; lots of teens don’t feel a need for a summer job and many who do would rather work at McDonald’s.
At eighty, Joe expresses pride that he was able to see the family farm over the century mark from his grandfather’s dream. J & J cultivates their own eighty acres, and rents an additional eighty from neighbors. “It’s important to keep the land productive,” says Joe, “I think it will be essential to food production in the future.”