This article was originally posted on ccof.org/blog
Urban development of agricultural land is one of the biggest obstacles facing future farmers. Agriculture professionals found property much easier to find 20 years ago, when farmland was abundant, but today, as less agricultural land becomes available, the high cost of limited supply scares away budding potential farmers. One of the hardest parts of getting an organic farming business up and running now is not cost of labor, lack of consumers, or inability to find wholesale buyers for crops: it’s finding a place to start planting. Fortunately, Spade & Plow Organics was able to secure enough local land to serve Santa Clara County Residents.
Sam Thorp and his brother, co-founder Nick Thorp, are seventh generation farmers following in their father’s footsteps. Their dad Mike, the third co-founder of Spade & Plow, was the first in his lineage to get certified organic back in the late 1980s. “We want to grow a business that we’re proud of,” says Sam.
You’ll find Sam and Nick at several Bay Area farmers’ markets each week. Spade & Plow sells their produce wholesale to companies like Earl’s Organics, which makes their products available from a variety of local grocers. Unofficially, Spade & Plow’s organic artichokes are some of the best you’ll find in California. They are known to sell out halfway through the Campbell Farmers’ Markets (one of the Bay Area’s biggest).
Sam’s favorite part of farming is communicating directly with consumers. “When you farm traditionally or distribute your products through brokers, you never hear, ‘Oh, I didn’t like last week’s artichokes,’ or, ‘Your latest batch of baby greens was great!’ You never get to hear how your food impacts the end consumer.” Sam’s passion emulates that of a chef, working tirelessly to hone his craft, produce the best tasting products available, and step out of the kitchen to hear how his patrons enjoyed their meal. The Thorp family is no different, rife with passion and enthusiasm for the food they grow.
The Thorp family was growing certified organic long before it was cool. And, luckily for the residents of Santa Clara County, they still do so today, almost 40 years later. Mike, the Thorp family patriarch, was one of the earliest farmers in California to become certified organic by CCOF back in the 1980s, with CCOF certification number 62.
The success of Spade & Plow is multifaceted, much like the men who started it. Spade & Plow’s three co-founders come to work each day with complementary, diverse backgrounds that support Spade & Plow’s accomplishments. Mike worked for big names in agriculture—including Cal-Organic and Earthbound—for years and offers his expertise in production and ground management. Sam understands much of the wholesale and distribution side of the business, with his history rich in the logistics side of production. Nick, who studied Agriculture Management at California State Polytechnic University, San Luis Obispo, has ample experience with mechanical agricultural equipment. He’s been able to save Spade & Plow thousands of dollars by building post-harvest equipment and fixing tractor implements himself. Together, their experience paired with a lifetime of family communication practice pays off big time.
Currently working from 10 acres of land in the San Martin Valley, the Thorps acquired an additional 27 acres of land in 2017 that’s expected to reach 100 percent production by 2019. At present, they have more than 400 Santa Clara County residents receiving their CSA boxes. The Spade & Plow products in the boxes are often accompanied by products from other local businesses, including bread from Second Story Bakeshop in San Jose, CCOF-Certified Frantoio Grove olive oil, Chromatic coffee, and eggs from Pasture Chick Ranch in Hollister. Spade & Plow offers flexible programming for their CSA boxes, including pay-as-you-go programs and customizable shares.
With more professionals pointing to healthy diets as supplements to modern medicine, the demand for quality organic products is expected to increase significantly over the coming years. Consumers increasingly seek products that support the health and longevity of their families. The Thorps remind us all that farming is hard work, work that cannot be done without deep passion for cultivating food from the land.
Sam said, “It’s easy for consumers to say, ‘Organic is too expensive,’ when they don’t understand the work that goes into it. Look at the work and care that goes into organic farming. A lot of people understand that there is a lot of work in agriculture in general, but the amount of skilled work required is unfathomable. Every aspect, from planting to harvesting, is so detail-oriented—it takes so much skill and so much focus, so much physical hard work. Even post-harvest, distribution, and deliveries require not simply work, but skilled work. It’s not just anybody who can get out there and farm organically. People who work in agriculture have a lot of passion—we have to have it to do what we do.”
Learn more about Spade & Plow on their website at www.spadeandplow.com. Follow Spade & Plow on Instagram.
You can also catch Spade & Plow at the following farmers’ markets:
Mountain View and Campbell on Sundays
San Mateo and Morgan Hill on Saturdays
Palo Alto VA Hospital on Wednesdays
Seasonally in Los Altos on Thursday Night (beginning May 2018)
Seasonally at San Pedro Square Market on Friday Afternoons (10am-2pm) in San Jose
You can also join them for the farm dinner held at Forager Restaurant in San Jose on May 18, 2018.
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Photo Credit: Jennifer Smith