A Growing Passion
Organic vegetable and herb grower Jack Stacy’s sole regret about his business is its start-up date. “Had I known years ago how really enjoyable it would be, I would have done it much earlier.”
Hailing from Newton, Massachusetts, at a time when his family, like most, raised vegetables and chickens in their yard, Jack Stacy never considered the farming vocation. Deciding to follow in his father’s footsteps, Stacy enjoyed learning the automotive business and ran his own repair shop in Dennis Port for many years. When his brother passed away unexpectedly in 1989, Stacy stepped in to help run his business, Mike Stacy Landscaping, and ended up deciding to close his auto shop permanently. “I just didn’t know from the get-go how much I would love it all.”
During those years, Jack Stacy’s grandson got involved too, selling homegrown vegetables and herbs at a garden stand on the property and at the Orleans Farmers’ Market. “Matt Ernst, my daughter’s son, was in high school, 17 or 18 at the time, and really excelled at it.” Several years later in 2004, Ernst acquired Mike Stacy Landscaping from his grandfather. “He does a great job,” says Stacy.
Stacy built greenhouses on his property for a tenant who then ran a perennial nursery, and leased some of his commercial building to other businesses. Mike Stacy Landscaping was going well, leaving Stacy free for a new venture.
“It was five or six years ago, and the beginning of the rage for heirlooms,” says Stacy. “That year I did 50–100 tomatoes plants, and they just sailed out of here.” Each year he expands and says, “What was once a hobby has become a small business.”
The decision to grow organically happened when Stacy, who favors books over the internet, read Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring. “I had never even thought about it prior to that.” He plowed through the Rodale books on organic gardening and joined the Cape Cod Organic Gardeners Club to learn more. Its founder, Jean Iverson, who at age 89 still runs the meetings, is one of Stacy’s greatest mentors and friends. “Based on her I’ll never retire.”
The support for Stacy’s enterprise zigzags throughout his family tree. John, his tech-savvy son, helps with the computers and the plantings, his daughter Debbie works both growing and selling and he credits his wife for keeping him out of debt. “She’s the real boss.”
Three to four years back, Stacy’s son John moved to the Cape permanently from New Jersey and began working with him weekends and evenings after his day job. John joined his sister Debbie as a full-time vendor at the Saturday morning Orleans Farmers’ Market. Lines of customers ramble past their booth as meticulously composed baskets of produce quickly empty. A back injury sustained by John has forced a hiatus of raising vegetables for market this season, but the hope is to return full force in 2012.
“I’ve always insisted on quality,” says Jack Stacy. “It pays off. People appreciate it and you can get a decent price, but you must give them that quality.” Stacy’s children have come to realize it too. “It’s worked well for them.”
Raising stunningly glorious vegetables, many of them heirloom varieties, is no easy chore. Heirlooms especially are more insect and disease prone, and they’re not as productive as hybrids. “But they’re worthwhile,” says Stacy. “Even if you don’t get many, they have a taste to die for.”
“The key to good growing on Cape Cod is compost full of organic matter,” says Stacy, using a blend from Ernst’s landscape business. He also sows winter cover crops of rye and buckwheat and favors an annual dose of slow release soil amendment from North Country Organics in Vermont.
“Several years ago, I decided to bite the bullet and become a certified organic grower,” says Stacy. “It’s a lot to commit to—the cost, the paperwork, the yearly applications and the soil tests. But more people, even off-Cape or vacationing here, seek me out because we are certified.” They find Stacy through word of mouth, blogs or Facebook, even a CapeCast video by Eric Williams featuring his heirloom tomatoes.
Stacy’s growing year starts with organic seed, ordered from diverse catalogs, saved from his crops, imported from Italy, and selected from the Iowa-based Seed Savers Exchange. Beginning in January, first into the soil are the culinary herbs. Seeds get a jumpstart atop stacks of heated pads lined up in the former automotive bays of his garages. Once sprouted, Stacy moves the trays under an expanse of grow lights, and finally, into one of the three greenhouses on the property.
“For us it’s a very specific growing niche,” explains Stacy. “There are no small six packs. We have good quality starter plants in four-inch pots. People like that.” For many gardeners the excitement is in trying the more obscure varieties Stacy unearths; this year he counts over 125 tomatoes alone. Stacy also grows for other farmers like the Martha’s Vineyard ski instructor who heads east from the western mountains too late in the season to begin seeds. A specific variety of artichoke that thrives here is one of the plants he cultivates for her.
Standing amidst a greenhouse of trial test tomatoes in late July, Stacy muses about next year. He sees himself growing much larger vegetable plants for “more and more customers who arrive fairly late to start a garden.” New, too, will be certified organic raspberry, strawberry and blueberry plants.
“For me personally, I just love growing the plants for May and June. You take that seed and it materializes, and what you get is very gratifying,” says Stacy. “It blows my mind.”
The response Stacy gets from people all over who enjoy and appreciate his efforts humbles him. “We could never do it without the volunteer hours from so many people over the years.” Two in particular have been so generous that Stacy details their contributions.
Bob Duby is a retired executive who began helping out just because he loved it. “With all the tasks, I think he felt sorry for us,” says Stacy. “I just couldn’t do it all without him.”
Stacy is visibly moved when speaking of Sophie Corrigan, a young mother tragically killed last July walking alongside Route 28 with her sisters. “Sophie was a prize and she just loved being here.” Corrigan also helped sell his harvest at the Orleans farmer’s market. “She was a joy to be with.”
Gazing contentedly over his acre of growing fields, Stacy muses, “Down the line I have faith that something will be done to always use this land agriculturally. That would make me very happy.” In the blinking of an eye, he changes gears and repeats what he has said at least three times before, “You know you must have more important people to cover for the magazine.”
We beg to differ, Mr. Stacy.
Sophie Corrigan Memorial Fund
This past summer, Jack Stacy planted a bed of his wildly popular fennel in Sophie’s honor. Proceeds from the sales of the fennel harvest went to a memorial fund set up for her two young children at Cape Cod Five. In the coming months,
look for future collaboration in Sophie’s honor with Jack and Salty Lou’s: a lobster pie with local vegetables including a rich, fennel-enhanced stock, hand decorated with a heart in Sophie’s honor representing her love and respect for Mother Nature. A portion of the proceeds from “Sophie’s Pick” will be donated to the Sophie Corrigan Memorial Fund. Hopefully the pie will be available this winter. Stay tuned!
Mentioned in this Article:
Matt’s Organic Garden
36 Upper County Rd.
Hosted by Eric Williams
Michelle Koch writes about what she loves most—people connecting with the land and the sea and each other. When a day begins with picking raspberries she’s grown herself, and closes counting humpbacks in the Atlantic, she pinches herself. She grows flowers and bakes with whole grains for her Sea Turtle Farm booth at farmers’ markets, loves working with eighth graders at the Nauset Middle School, and lives with daughters Chloe and Camille and dog Woof in Orleans.