Less than an hour's drive tucked in the city of Gilroy, is Spade and Plow, an organic farm growing various fruits, vegetables, and flowers for Santa Clara County residents. Like Christine's Cookie Co., Spade and Plow is on a mission to connect consumers directly to the farmer by growing quality, organic produce, and they work diligently to embed sustainability into all their farming practices.
We got the chance to tour their beautiful farm and learn about what it takes to be an organic farm in the agricultural industry. The following interview features Sam Thorp, who co-founded Spade and Plow with his dad and brother. Find out more about their work, as well as how you can support their organic farm, in the interview below.
Tell us about the start of Spade and Plow and your experience in corporate agriculture.
So five years ago, we were all coming from a corporate ag background and were trying to get away from that model because we didn't believe it was truly sustainable. We wanted to grow things small scale, produce unique varieties of produce that weren't typical of the wholesale industry, and be connected to the end customer and community.
The labeling practices in corporate ag can be misleading - even though something is labeled organic, it doesn't mean the farm has sustainable practices. In addition, laborers weren't treated well and were often seen as very expendable and were underappreciated.
Could you describe the organic certification process for those that don't know much about CCOF?
USDA is the umbrella that sets national standards for organic food, and CCOF is one of the certifiers under USDA. There are several certifiers throughout the country, but CCOF is the most reputable, often setting the standards for other certifiers. They're also based locally here in California.
A certifier is required to come once a year, but CCOF often comes more than that. They go through all of our records, invoices, making sure that we aren't applying or using any materials that don't meet their certification criteria - this includes fertilizer, compost, etc.
If so, has climate change affected your business?
Definitely - for example, with the fruit trees we have, because they've been in the ground for much longer, they require specific temperatures that they've been used to for the past few decades. Even on the vegetable side, we've had to shift when we grow specific varieties of produce. Some vegetables are planted earlier, some later. It's challenging when there isn't much consistency with the weather as we plan year after year.
Do you see any positive, more sustainable shifts in the agricultural industry?
The industry is definitely switching to become more sustainable as farmers utilize resources more efficiently and consumers are demanding more sustainable practices. What is so exciting about the ag industry is that you get this unique cross-section of the traditions that have been performed for generations and a community of entrepreneurs that are trying to push the envelope. You can't have one without the other. The industry, especially in organic, is still so young there is so much opportunity for new markets and techniques, but we still have to follow the traditions that have been around since the beginning. It's exciting to see the next generation of farmers pay respect to the traditions, but pushed the boundaries when it comes to distribution, variety selection, consumer education, and sustainable packaging.
What would you recommend any individual to start doing if they want to support sustainable agriculture?
As consumers, the organic certification process should be a high priority, making sure that you're shopping not only organic, but certified organic. If you want to go beyond that, promote the farms you like as much as possible to spread the word. You can also learn more about the industry and get involved by working and discovering one of many career paths in agriculture and figure out what you'd like to do from there.
What keeps you going with Spade and Plow?
It's a tough job with its ups and downs, and there are many hurdles to get through in this challenging industry with trying to make everything work. But I would describe it as a slot machine - sometimes you get that crop failure, other times you have pallets and pallets of perfect heads of cauliflower. There are lots of those successes happening every day, as well as the failures. But it's all about balancing those ups and downs and finding fulfillment in connecting with the customers you're feeding.
Where can people find Spade and Plow?
We do a home delivery CSA program and deliver throughout Santa Clara County. We're also at three local farmers markets which you can find on our website, and you can find us at a ton of local restaurants as well. If you'd like to connect, check out our website, blog, and social media, and feel free to reach out to us anytime!