WALPOLE, N.H. — Pete's Stand, a third-generation vegetable farm and farmstand owned and operated by Teresa and John Janiszyn, has been awarded the 2023 Cooperator of the Year by the Cheshire County Conservation District (CCCD) and the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NCRS).
The award is intended to honor the efforts of the farmer "to steward the natural resources on their land in cooperation with the Conservation District and the NCRS," according to the Conservation District. The CCCD says it "promotes the conservation and responsible use of natural and agricultural resources for the people of Cheshire County by providing technical, financial, and educational assistance."
The farm and stand date back more than 50 years. It was first operated by John's grandfather, Pete Janiszyn, who gave the stand its name, and then his father, Mike Janiszyn.
Farming has been a long family tradition, dating back to Pete's parents and beyond. Pete was a first-generation American, with farming family roots in Ukraine, and Ukranian flags adorn the farmstead. He moved to the Walpole area from Massachusetts and began farming in the 1940s.
The Janiszyns own 7.5 acres that they bought in 2020, and they lease another 50 on both the New Hampshire and Vermont sides of the river in Walpole and Westminster, respectively, for their farming operation. Crop rotation is part of their conservation strategy, and they also grow vegetables in two high tunnel greenhouses.
The farm and stand operate from mid-May to mid-December, employing approximately eight regular full- and part-time employees, including stand manager Hannah Dutille. During the growing season, that number swells to as many as 14 people, both in the fields and at the farmstand.
About 20 acres of their fields, including the parcel of land they own, lie in flood plains on both sides of the Connecticut River, and they had 18 acres dramatically affected by July's flooding.
"Much of the flooded land we replanted in cover crops," Teresa said. "Some of the crops would have been safe to harvest, but most of that died off anyway."
Looking ahead, she said, farmers, especially those in flood plains like theirs, will have to plan and prepare for "more and more extreme weather events."
They lost fields full of pumpkins, winter squash, tomatoes, peppers, and more, as the contaminated crops were not harvestable for consumption. They were able to replant some of the fields, but they had to look for support from several other farms for some of the vegetables for their farmstand.
The Janiszyns produce a wide variety of vegetables themselves, and they work with dozens of other local farms to stock their stand, including at least eight different farms that provide them meat and approximately 20 farms that are cheese suppliers.
These relationships have become even more important with the addition in 2020 of a new farmstand building with electricity, refrigeration, and freezers. The new building has allowed Pete's Stand to lengthen its operating year, and it has made the family able to help support some 45 to 50 other growers and producers in the region.
Boosting local producers
Pete's Stand has become a major player in supporting local up-and-coming farmers, meat and cheese producers, and specialty product producers such as bakers.
John began working on the farm in 2001 after he graduated from Southern Maine Technical College. Teresa moved to the area from Indiana in 2006 as a teacher, with degrees in history and special education, and began working at the farm in 2007. The couple has been together pretty much since then, marrying in 2009.
Their three children, ages 5, 10 and 13, have all helped work in the fields and at the stand. Between their own household and Teresa's background in teaching, they have a deep, personal appreciation for connecting kids to farms.
The Janiszyns have been strong supporters of Windham Northeast Supervisory Union (WNESU) Nutrition Director Harley Sterling and his local food and nutrition initiatives. Sterling incorporates as much locally grown food as possible into the supervisory union's school lunch programs, and the Janiszyns have played a key role in that.
In addition to supplying food for the lunch programs, the Janiszyns have groups of adults and students visit their fields and farmstand to help educate them about where good, nutritious food comes from.
In addition, the farm sells and donates food to numerous food banks. In 2022, the family donated more than 40,000 pounds of food to organizations like the Fall Mountain Food Shelf, Community Kitchen in Keene, Willing Hands of the Upper Valley in both New Hampshire and Vermont, and to local schools.
Pete's Stand also works with the Granite State Market Match program, which allows low-income shoppers who use the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program to double their dollars. For each dollar they spend, they get another dollar to use buying fruits and vegetables.
The stand does the most GSMM sales of any farm in Cheshire County, with more than 1,200 customer transactions totaling about $9,000 in additional dollars spent on fresh fruits and vegetables in 2022.
In addition, the Janiszyns sell food in bulk at very reasonable prices for canning, pickling and winter storage.
A long tradition of farming
Farming on the Walpole Flats is a tradition dating back for millennia, and the Janiszyns understand and appreciate that fact, recognizing the heritage of the valley flood plains along the Connecticut River that they mainly farm. These naturally open, unforested fields, which stretch the entire length of the Connecticut River Valley with rich, deep topsoil, have been prized for agriculture for thousands of years.
The Janiszyns frequently find oxen shoes and horseshoes in the fields, artifacts of farmers cultivating crops there in Colonial times.
The farmstand also sits in the middle of a long-used Native Abenaki village and farming site as well.
Over the years the family has discovered numerous Native artifacts, including pottery, stone ax heads, and dozens of arrowheads, some that archeologists have dated back at least 5,000 years.
With a complex operation like what Pete's Stand has grown into, farm life can be all consuming.
"The farm becomes everything," said Teresa, "Your social life, your family life, your work."
"And your dreams and your nightmares," John added, laughing.
Teresa said she has recently taken a position as an administrative assistant at WNESU in order to get a needed break from the farm.
"You have to learn to keep part of yourself for yourself," she said.
The Cheshire County Conservation District will be celebrating Pete's Stand's award at its annual celebration on Wednesday, Nov. 1, from 6 to 8 p.m., at Stonewall Farm in Keene, New Hampshire. The event will feature live local music, dinner, and a silent auction. More details can be found at celebrateCCCD.eventbrite.com.
This News item by Robert F. Smith was written for The Commons.