Local Hero Profile: J&J Farms
By Ben Hill, CISA Intern
Published in CISA’s September 2016
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“We’re a century farm,” says Joe Waskiewicz of J & J Farms in Amherst, which was purchased by his grandfather in 1909. Managed by Joe, 86, and his sons Mike and Butch, J & J Farms produces top quality sweet corn and vegetables, which they sell wholesale to local retailers and at their Meadow Street farm stand. They are also the last dairy farm left in Amherst. Joe attributes their longevity to their commitment to quality: “I think quality is the first thing customers look for. I don’t care if it’s a car or a loaf of bread, having a quality product is the most important thing.”
Joe has seen his farm change drastically over the years as tastes have evolved, since it is unfeasible to cultivate crops that do not produce a profit. In his words, “You can raise almost anything, but it won’t do you much good if you don’t have a market.” For example, tobacco used to be an essential crop on the farm, but the market for that is largely gone. J & J has responded to the change by focusing their energies on vegetables and dairy.
A change that has been helpful to J & J Farms is the increased appreciation for local agriculture. In a shift that Joe attributes partially to CISA, interest in local food has skyrocketed, particularly in the form of purchases directly from the farm and through their wholesale customers, like Atkins Country Market.
Some changes have brought about prosperity, such as technological advances that have reduced J & J’s reliance on skilled laborers, but other realities of modern farming have posed new challenges. Though the farm produces 1200-1300 pounds (about 150 gallons) of milk a day, the wholesale price for milk has fallen over recent years (want to learn about the complex world of dairy pricing? Click here!). J & J has considered processing and selling their own milk directly to customers, but significant regulatory challenges have stopped them from investing in the equipment needed to do on-farm processing.
Challenges aside, Joe is passionate about his work, a very important trait of a successful farmer in his eyes; “You have to like what you’re doing in order to be a success.” He says that seeing the crops he has planted slowly grow up one day at a time is one of the most rewarding things because those crops will go on to feed people and make people happy. His passion has led him to success, as he has kept his family on the land that they have farmed for generations, all while producing thousands of tons of quality food.
Though Joe is mostly retired, his two sons Mike and Butch are still running the farm, carrying on the family tradition and preparing the business for future generations. An interesting characteristic of J & J Farms is that everyone participates in managing all aspects of the business. Instead of designating one person to direct the dairy operation and another to manage vegetable production, the Waskiewicz family believes in having everyone contribute to the discussion. This system can be less efficient, but a tradition of collaboration is important to Joe and his family.
With a mix of hard work, creativity, collaboration, and love for the land, J & J Farms has the potential to continue providing the Pioneer Valley with quality local products for another century.