Spade & Plow Organics: Continuing the Legacy of Santa Clara Valley Farmers
Spade & Plow Organics out of San Martin sure seems to have it all figured out. This certified organic farm was established in 2015, and already has a flourishing community supported agriculture program (CSA), loyal farmers’ market customers, and a close knit team. Spade & Plow Organics might certainly be a newcomer to the South Bay small farm scene, but make no mistake, this empowered group of young farmers is setting out to change the way the world thinks about its food – by serving their community first.
I joined Sam Thorp, co-owner of Spade & Plow, at one of their production sites just off Highway 101. Tall, slim, and with a quick grin, Sam was full of the kind of quiet energy that made me wonder how many plans must run through his mind in a day. He laughed as I looked around, and said chuckling, “Sometimes we joke and say that the only things in San Martin are Spade & Plow, and the best taco truck in the world.” It sounded like a recipe for success to me. I had first been introduced to Spade & Plow Organics at the Downtown San Jose Farmers’ Market, where the welcoming attitudes of Sam and his partner Jenn quickly drew me in. While they were new to the market, they had already garnered the attention of local chefs and customers alike thanks to their superior displays of organic, locally-grown produce.
As it turns out, the inspiration to start an organic farm in the Santa Clara Valley had been a long time coming for both Sam and his brother Nick, another co-owner of Spade & Plow Organics. Although the farm is new, farming has been a family affair for their entire lives. On their website, they fondly reminisce about early mornings with hot chocolate and heading out to the family farm with their father Mike, who is yet another invaluable member of the Spade and Plow team. I spent the morning with Mike Thorp, and could easily see why both of his sons had chosen to follow in his footsteps and become seventh generation farmers. He was a natural teacher, and as I walked beside him, he showed me how to harvest the artichokes that would be heading out to market that week. I peppered Mike with questions as I struggled to keep up with his sure steps. Like his sons, Mike grew up surrounded by agriculture. After graduating high school, he started his own organic farm, and worked for several other small and large scale growers over the years. Mike then decided to come on full time as support for both Sam and Nick as they pursued their dream of starting Spade & Plow Organics.
The Spade & Plow team is rounded out by Jenn Smith, whose eye for photography and storytelling abilities give Spade & Plow a strong presence in social media and at markets, and Martin Bernal, a Santa Clara Valley native with an extensive history in organic agriculture. Together, Sam, Nick, Mike, Jenn, and Martin are working with a clear goal in mind; grow certified organic, quality produce that can be shared with the surrounding Santa Clara Valley community. While many farmers often travel in from other counties to sell their produce, Spade & Plow’s commitment to be local was there from day one. The team only focuses on farmers’ markets in the Santa Clara Valley region, and they are careful to not overextend their business. Their CSA program also serves surrounding South Bay Area communities. The amount of love and care the team manages to instill into every aspect of their operation is clear, from their hand-stamped CSA boxes to their displays at the farmers market. Spade & Plow Organics also does their part in supporting and collaborating with other local business, by arranging pick-up locations at small brick and mortar shops in downtown San Jose, and including additional local goods like coffee in their CSA offers.
While Sam is overjoyed at the positive response Spade & Plow has received from the community, he was also clear in acknowledging the struggles they’ve faced in getting the farm up and running. One of the biggest challenges? Finding land to farm in the first place. “We really wanted to farm in this county, and while you see this struggle everywhere, it is even more prevalent in the South Bay. Land is picked up by developers, and it makes it even more difficult to find something within a farmer’s budget. But we still strive to grow food as close as possible to where it will be sold and consumed,” said Sam. The Spade & Plow team continued to search until they found their first plot of land in San Martin, and just recently began farming an additional plot just across the road, bringing their total to 40 acres.
The pattern of valuable farmland and open space disappearing under the spread of urban development, while not just a localized issue, is indeed exacerbated in the Bay Area. According to the American Farmland Trust, 45% of Santa Clara County farmland was converted to other uses between 1984 and 2000 alone, and will continue to decline unless additional protections are put in place. This is an especially sobering fact, considering the cultural and agricultural significance of the Santa Clara Valley for surrounding urban and rural communities. The Spade & Plow team knows just how important their farming is, and they are working with a collective passion to keep those farming traditions alive in their community. “We are serving as a bridge to connect small businesses, restaurants, and individuals through good farming practices and good food, and we will continue to try and make that food more accessible to the greater South Bay community,” imparted Sam.
Support Spade & Plow’s mission by shopping with them at the College of San Mateo Farmers’ Market year-round, and at the Downtown San Jose Farmers’ Market May through November. For more Digital Dirt stories, head to our page at pcfma.org/digitaldirt!
Remember, dirt first!