Sprout Farm Takes Off
Just off the beaten path, along the treelined winding roads south of Route 28 in Mashpee, a treasure of a farm stand awaits discovery between the road and the soaring pines of adjoining conservation land. Damp soil and flowers scent the breeze, bright colors dapple the sunlight, and a man helps himself to compost from a rich brown pile crowned with a maze of volunteer bleeding heart flowers.
“We’re that little hidden gem with good products and decent prices,” said Jay Sprout, farmer and proprietor of Sprout Farm, as he appeared from the maze of growing things. He is standing amid a riot of spring color surrounded by flats of vegetable seedlings and blooming perennials. Baskets of flowers sway above his head in the sunny breeze as bees buzz lazily through the blossoms.
His name really is Sprout. “It’s a recurring surprise to our customers,” said Phyllis Sprout, Jay’s wife and farming partner, with a chuckle.
Sprout Farm began in 1984. “We started as a subsistence farm. My wife believes in Orwell’s 1984, so we had chickens, goats, and a garden. We raised three children that way,” Jay said from his comfortable porch perch overlooking their fields, greenhouses, and farm stand.
“And then Sprout Farm grew,” Phyllis said.
In the early 1990s the Sprouts began selling veggies on the roadside by the honor system. “We still have some of those customers from the early years who say, ‘remember that gray change box?’” Jay said. At the time Jay worked in the garden shop at Kmart, so farming at home was a natural progression. “I expected to take early retirement with the farm stand as a supplement, and it snowballed,” Jay said.
The view from the farmhouse porch takes in the four greenhouses of the farm, the fields to one side, and the acres of conservation beyond the fields. The farm stand is nestled in the middle of it all, forming an oasis amidst the colorful tables of blooming flowers and seedlings which tempt gardening customers on this warm May morning.
As a brown dog settles comfortably at my feet, Jay tells me that after the children grew up and left home, the couple downsized their livestock. Now they only have cats and dogs on the farm, and instead of feeding their family with the produce they grow, they sell it.
Sprout Farm is just under three acres. Of the four greenhouses, two are strictly for flowers, hanging baskets, and perennials. There are 800 hanging flower baskets in the main greenhouse. The third greenhouse is for seedlings, and the fourth is dedicated to growing tomatoes in a forest of 25-foot-long tomato vines. Last year’s tomato harvest was 10,000 lbs.
We leave the porch as Jay leads me through fields, showing the new growth of actual sprouts. I see tender shoots of an Italian garlic Jay said is different than the usual fall garlic planting because it goes in the ground in the spring for a late summer harvest.
Young pea tendrils are inching their way up wire frames, and a row of 300 pots awaits plantings of carrots. On Sprout Farm, orange carrots grow in white pots yielding 10 to 15 carrots each. Beyond the carrot pots, six rows of raspberries spread 60 feet long next to a fledgling row of blackberries. This is the farm’s only fruit.
Jay and Phyllis said the farm is the result of hard trial-and-error work. “We had to learn from our mistakes. There were no guides to show us how to do this,” Jay said. They learned the hard way that running the greenhouses too wet in the springtime can cost crops. “Now we know to keep the water off on cloudy days to avoid disease,” Jay said.
Another hard won lesson was patience. “It’s hard not to plant too soon or too much. It’s hard for us to wait and it’s hard for our customers to wait,” Jay said.
The fields give way to the greenhouses, and we enter the fourth one, teeming with tomatoes in the May warmth. The heat feels soothing and the heavy air is thick with the unmistakable perfume of tomato growth. The fruit hangs in green clusters from probing vines, a heady preview to the approaching summer season.
Both Jay and Phyllis love the independence of the farming lifestyle. “It’s being your own boss, and reaping the rewards of your own labor. If something goes wrong, you know who to blame: yourself,” Jay said.
One challenge the Sprouts face is finding help on the farm. “It’s an all-around job, and includes helping customers. The pay is low,” Phyllis said.
Another challenge the Sprouts mentioned, that all local farmers face, is finding land on Cape Cod. “The future of farming on the Cape? It’s hard to afford land. The challenge is finding the land.” Jay glances toward the acres of conservation land adjoining his fields and raises his hands. “That land is not being used,” he said. The Sprouts both feel lucky to have bought the acres they have in the 1970s.
In May the Sprout Farm greenhouses are full of flowers and seedlings for planting. Rows of annuals and perennials—peppers, Swiss chard, eggplant, and herb seedlings—are ready to be purchased by home gardeners at the farm stand for the spring season.
By July, Sprout Farm will have entered the summer season, when Jay expects 200 hundred customers daily. The farm stand will be full of fresh vegetables ready to grace the dinner plate. Lettuce, kale, Swiss chard, salad greens, zucchini, summer squash, green and yellow beans, and potatoes. Raspberries for fruit lovers, and eggplant, onions, carrots, cucumbers, and tomatoes.
Sprout Farm will continue right through the fall season with the addition of apples and broccoli. The farm closes for the winter after Christmas sales of imported trees and wreaths, to open again the following spring.
The seasons change, but the Sprouts aren’t going anywhere soon. “It’s a life. We get up in the morning, put the coffee on, and get down to it,” Jay said from the open door to the tomato greenhouse. Inside the door fruit ripens. Outside the door customers entranced by joyous color design their summer gardens. The tall conservation trees border the last field. Their tops sway in the breeze, always visible.
97 Quinaquisset Avenue, Mashpee
774-392-3168 / sproutfarm.net