Thriving Through Change: Four Springs Farm's Jinny Cleland.
By Alexandra Zipparo
There doesn’t seem to be anything that can stop Jinny Cleland of South Royalton’s Four Springs Farm. Throughout her 30 years as a farmer, Jinny has fused hard work and innovative ideas to respond to changes in her family circumstances and shifts in consumer demand and market conditions.
Jinny started farming around the same time she became a mother. Within five years, the farm evolved from a homesteading operation to a commercial farm, with both Jinny and her then husband both leaving their off-farm jobs. In 2001—now on her own – Jinny purchased the land she currently farms, opening it to the public in 2004.
Today Jinny grows vegetables, fruit and ornamental plants, raises poultry, and bakes cookies, sweet rolls, sandwich bread, and specialty bread loaves. She makes jam and jellies, does a lot of canning, and dries herbs and flowers. Four Springs Farm specializes in spring greenhouse plants – pansies, herbs, vegetable starts and other flowers -- which Jinny says is “one of the most productive parts of the farm.”
Having operated a CSA and been a vendor at the Norwich Farmers Market for decades, Jinny has witnessed “incredible changes” in consumer preferences with regard to local food. “People seem to buy fewer vegetables every week,” she says, “because they just aren’t preparing meals at home as much anymore.”
Jinny has also observed a decline in interest in the CSA model among consumers in her area. “People seem to be more interested in value-added items, especially with so many more places to get local food nowadays,” she said.
As a result, Jinny has decided to end the CSA, and invest her effort in value-added products and agri-tourism enterprises – hosting weddings, camping opportunities and offering on-farm education for youth -- that are showing stronger potential as profit centers. These enterprises leverage growing popular interest in the working landscape and align with Jinny’s land stewardship values. “If you own land, you should share it and use it, otherwise, nobody will see the beauty of Vermont,” she says.
She’s particularly enthusiastic about the farm “Immersion Experience” she is now offering for youth.
“The magic of finding a carrot in the ground, choosing a head of lettuce, or feeling the warmth of a newly laid egg is something privileged kids need to experience, as much as those with less,” she says. She notes that many of her young guests are very disconnected from the land and where their food comes from, but she is able to teach them basic things that they would never be exposed to, like the proper way to use a hoe.
Jinny is proficient in a number of homesteading crafts – she makes salsa, jams and jellies, cans vegetables, bakes, butchers her own meat, dries herbs -- and is eager to share these skills with anyone. Aside from the pure joy of doing it, she thinks we could all be a little more self-sustaining and resourceful. “I really like teaching people how to take the raw ingredient and make something of it- it is so important to know how to do that.”
Though she is clearly at the helm of Four Springs, Jinny runs the farm with the help of her five children, who bring diverse talents to the business. For example, the whole family will contribute the work needed to host a wedding next summer. One of her children, Allison, will source local flowers. A second, Katura, will cater some meals for the group using food produced on the farm. A third, Rosie, will coordinate the event, while her son, Will, will be in charge of the tech piece.
“I have five kids and each one has a special connection to the farm,” she says.
Learn more about Four Springs Farm at http://www.fourspringsfarm.comPhoto credits: Top photo, Orah Moore; middle and bottom photos, Will Cleland.
Last modified December 21 2012 01:21 PM