ELMIRA, N.Y. (WETM) – A historic produce farm on Elmira’s southside recently made the bittersweet decision to close for the first time in over a century. But, the family wants the community to know that this isn’t the end.
Janowski Gardens, which has been in operation since 1873, announced in April that the farm would close for the summer in 2022. Bob Janowski, the patriarch of the farm, is 94 years old and hasn’t worked in two years, according to his son-in-law, Denny Smith (who’s in his 70’s himself). Bob’s brother Paul, who helps Denny the most with the plowing and planting, is 83 with a broken leg after an accident in March.
“We knew that things needed to slow down a little bit so that we didn’t wear ourselves out,” Denny said.
Following the announcement, the farm received an outpouring of support from the community. Smith attributed this to the farm’s reputation for clean vegetables that aren’t sprayed with chemicals and are delivered to an urban community in downtown Elmira.
But after spending decades in this way of life, putting a sudden pause on the farm elicits mixed emotions in the family, as well. Smith said that while he’s relieved because he can now focus on his painting career, he’ll still miss it.
“It’s wonderful work!” Smith said. “You get out there in the field in the daytime, it’s sunshine, you feel invigorated. So I am going to miss it; I really am. It kept me in terrific shape in the summertime. I’d lose 15 pounds every year, and I’d pack it back on in the winter.”
Smith added that for Bob and Paul Janowski, the farm has always been and will always be a part of them. “Bob was in the army for a little while,” Smith explained, “but otherwise, all of their lives have been spent right here in this land.”
But the family’s passion for growing hasn’t diminished at all.
“It’s not over,” Smith said emphatically. He explained that the farm and its signature produce stand will be back in some form or another for the 2023 season. And depending on Paul Janowski’s recovery, they may even have the chance to plant some lettuces, beets or corn yet this summer.
“It may be that we’ll simply let these fields rest this year, and come back next year,” Smith said.
Looking further down the road, the farm is faced with the tough question of what will happen to the operation and the land that has been in the family for so many years.
“My wife Diane [Bob’s daughter] has given it an awful lot of thought,” Smith said, “and we have talked about some of the standard things that you think about.” These include hemp, marijuana, hops, and even solar farming. But as with many small family farms, Smith has taken the attitude of dealing the cards he’s dealt and not worrying himself too much over the future.
“We’ll see what the summer brings us.”