I always learn something new from Genevieve Stillman every time I see her! She is intelligent, witty, and willing to always share her knowledge. We often find ourselves in fits of laughter. This interview was no exception!
Always surrounded by horticulture since childhood, Genevieve knows so much about growing, that many times, I found myself saying. ‘Tell me more about that. Can you repeat what you just said?” WOW! I learned a lot about the organic label and got an inside glimpse of life on a full operating vegetable farm. Self proclaimed ‘wildlife freaks’, the Stillmans have nurtured their land and have created a unique crop of vegetables that are bountiful and full of flavor. They are passionate and uncompromising in their standards for growing nutritious and delicious food for their customers and their family.
CR: We want our readers to get to know you better. What is your name and where did you grow up?
GS: Genevieve Anna Morgan Stillman and I grew up in Sudbury, MA.
CR: What was life like where you grew up?
GS: I had everything I wanted. My dad was a Mechanical Engineer and traveled a lot but provided a very good living. I always had the latest toys and coolest stuff. I lived on a dead end street and we all played. Maybe we’d show up for a peanut butter and jelly sandwich but we stayed outside and played all day! It was a lot of fun. Also what was fun is my grandfather bought a farm. He was a Chemical Engineer. He didn’t want his boys to be slugs and bought a farm in Southborough to have them work on it. After he retired, he opened a golf course, designed it and grew special grass. It was a cool experience. I think that’s why I got interested in farming.
CR: What is the name of your company and how long have you been doing what you do?
GS: Stillman’s Farm, my husband, Glenn started operating it in Lunenburg in 1980. I got a job there and went to Farmer’s markets and learned how to work in greenhouses. Then, went to college and he asked me to marry him and then we moved to a farm. I’ve been fully engrossed in this for 21 years. I have a farm in New Braintree and we still have a farm in Lunenburg.
CR: What is the name of your major product/service?
GS: Our main product is produce or fruits and vegetables. We have our own label, ‘Conscientiously Grown’ Organic, conventional and IPM, which is, integrated pest management.
CR: What makes your product/service unique?
GS: We really into growing great tasting food and providing an amazing selection. Predominantly our market is in Boston. All of our vegetables are harvested by hand, Often produce that is developed to be mechanically harvested has lost its flavor and it’s not the best tasting but easiest to harvest. Beans are picked by machines and bred and they lose their flavor. For example, a rose is bred to not fall apart but has lost their beautiful scent. We haven’t found any good tasting beans that have been bred.
CR: How long have you been doing this?
GS: 21 years but I’ve been into the science of it since I was a child. The men in my life were engineers. My BS is in Landscape Architecture.
CR: What made you be interested in your industry?
GS: I’m a partner with my husband. I’m somebody who is interested in many things. I went to get a job after my degree. When I was ready to make a family, I said, you’re going to have to make this amount of money. You’re not going to be able to go to the football games. So this weighted heavily on my decision to not go into this.
CR: Why/how did you get inspired to start?
GS: I fell in love and then went into business! All the wildlife exploded since we moved there. I am in love with the land. When we first moved there, there was moss growing in the fields. It was a wreck. After 20 years, the soil is really good now and the fields are back.
CR: Did you have any special training to do your work?
GS: None other than family but mostly on the job training… One of my strengths in college is that I was the coordinator/moderator. And I’m still coordinating/moderating. Our two grown kids have their own farms and I’m still coordinating things. That was important training. I hated computers in college. In fact other people in school traded typing papers with me for my editing services. I’m a good proofer. The irony now is that I’m 80% is on the computer.
CR: Do you have any other unique or special talents you’d like to tell us about?
GS: I had a professor named Julius Fabos. He intimidated everyone, including me. People would get red-faced. He was so scary. He asked me this question you’re asking me and I couldn’t answer him because I was being modest. He replied, “You’re not good enough to be humble. People don’t get ahead if they say their product is mediocre. I am a very efficient person and somewhat undaunted. And I will try almost ANYTHING once…except bungee jumping! I won’t do that.
CR: What is your most favorite work you are proud of?
GS: As a whole I am incredibly proud of my husband as a grower as plants and greenhouse. (My husband) is just an incredible grower and that would be what, as a whole I’m most proud of. I’ve also shipped tomato plants as far as Colorado Springs, which was fun.
CR: Where can people find your products and what stores it is offered in?
GS: All of retail. The best thing to do is to find us on our website. There is a complete list of locations of our stand and our farm locations. http://www.stillmansfarm.com
CR: What is your most favorite customer story?
GS: There are the highs and lows. The best things are the customers that have been customers forever like my first CSA in Southborough and there are still my customers. And they become close friends. Our high maintenance customers are a source of amusement. They’re not the happiest stories… just amusing and quite often they are family dinner entertainment!
CR: How do you keep your customers happy?
GS: We try to accommodate whatever every customer’s wants and needs are. We listen when people have something positive or negative to say about our products and companies. I try to get to know my customers. I’ll have things set aside for my customers that I know are coming later and you anticipate what they’re going to like and what they’re going to want!
CR: Is there anything controversial about your product?
GS: If there was anything controversial, it’s the drive behind the organic label. There’s a lot of misinformation about the organic label. For instance, customers will come up and ask, “Is this organic?” And often, it turns out they’re coming from a place that is ignorant so I’m in a spot of asking them if they mean it’s certified organic or are you asking is there spray on it. They don’t have a deeper understanding of what organic means. When you read our whole page about how we cultivate on our farm, it is a sustainable farm. There are several of organic pesticides, there’s a whole list of chemicals that are awful. Some of them are more toxic to fish and amphibians than the synthetic sprays. How damaging is that to our internal systems? I don’t want cancer and I don’t my kids to have it. We are wildlife freaks. We take a huge amount of pride in the wildlife and that is where my priorities are.
I have the ability to have Willow Tea (Where aspirin is made from). However, though it’s natural, I would never give it to my children because I don’t know the strength of it. This is an analogy of how a synthetic product can be safer. Not everything is cultivated certified organic but the paperwork is mind-boggling. Husband, Glenn, is a Biochemist and if he sees certain chemicals, even some that are used on ‘certified organic’ products, he says ‘no way, not safe’.
CR: How can our readers learn more about you?
GS: My blog, http:/www.Stillmansfarm.wordpress.com and there’s also a link from our farm website.
CR: Where do you see yourself and company in five years?
GS: In the same route we’re on now. We used to make one year, five and ten year plans. It’s great to have big goals but we don’t’ get past three year plan. Things change so quickly and it’s so volatile. It’s a big disaster! EPA’s regulations, the price of feed and price of meat is going to be way up. The demand for corn is going to higher. Gas is going to go up. You’re going to see the price of pork, beef and eggs raise. Anything that’s grain fed, is going to become more expensive. People with chicken coups in their backyards may find it not so convenient and economical anymore. We feel like we’re in a stable place and we don’t have retirement. I’m going to watch my 14 year old son grow and hopefully watch my stepchildren grow and get married. Making small changes but always keep improving!
CR: Do you have any recent exciting news about your company you’d like to tell us about?
GS: We get really good publicity. There’s also the expansion of the winter markets. They have a building for it now. It’s called the Boston Public Market (BPM). http://www.bostonpublicmarket.org/ There’s also a video and my husband ‘s voiceover is in it. His voice is in the background of the video.’
CR: Have you ever had any celebrity brushes?
GS: We’ve had people that shopped at the markets but I don’t want to say their names! Several governors…there have been things requested to be sent to the mayor’s office, several newscasters from Channel 5 have shopped with us and several MBA basketball players.
CR: Tell our readers a favorite tool or product you absolutely could not live without and why!
GS: I can’t live without my computer now. If you asked me that 20 years ago, I would have laughed in your face! I now have 2,800 people subscribed to my newsletter. Everyone moved to emails and the web. I really like my chef’s knife. It’s something I use a lot. It’s the right size and I take it out of the block and I use it a lot. I do a lot of cooking.
CR: What is your favorite thing to cook?
GS: My favorite thing to cook…. hmmm I have to say my favorite thing is to leisurely cook over the fireplace. But I cook…. a lot! We eat at home most of the time and everything is homemade. There are always extra mouths at our table and there’s always a batch of cookie dough in the fridge for immediate gratification.
Thank you so much Genevieve for taking the time to do this interview and let our readers know more about the life of a farmer. The romantic in me longs for a day of cooking over an open fire pit. Don’t you, ladies? Check out their links below where you can learn more about Stillman’s Farm, their products, philosophy and labels. I also included some more information about Boston Public Market. Best wishes to the Stillman’s for happy safe holidays and continued success!