The Janiszyn family has been farming in the Connecticut River valley for over 100 years and that legacy finds itself in good hands here in 2023. With a happy new year in hand, we sat down with John Janiszyn in our WOOL studio. John currently runs the farm along with his dad. His dad is still very active on the farm as well as being a full-time teacher at Springfield High School.
John’s grandfather (Pete), had an older brother named Jake. When Jake returned from World War II in the 40’s, he set up a farm stand in North Westminster; about where Westminster Auto is currently located. Younger brother Pete returned home from New York after a time to help farm. He set up his own farm stand on the Walpole side of the river; over where the entrance to Agway is currently located. The fields up behind Agway at the time were being used for sweet corn which was sold throughout the region. Pete inquired if he might use some of that land to grow some additional produce – thus was born Pete’s Farm Stand.
As a teen, John would take part in the many farm chores that come along with growing up in a farming family. To hear John talk of the farming life, as a younger man, he spoke more as if the life had chosen him, not so much a life that he chose. After wrapping up the Christmas Tree season, John and his family were able to take a much-needed break and visit with family over the holidays. Things will remain quiet at the farm stand until at least until March. Much of the time in the coming weeks will be filled with cleaning up, making repairs and doing some carpentry work, a second love for John.
At a young age, John heard the Bruce Hornsby song, The Way It Is and he was dumbstruck. It filled him in a way he was unable to verbalize but he knew in his bones that music was something more than just sounds on a radio. Over time, he would discover Bob Dylan, Neil Young, Tom Petty and others. All of them capturing his young imagination and filling it with melodies while playing pool in his childhood home.
A family friend had always joked that they should start a jug band. John immediately piped in, “Well, I’ll play the harmonica.” He did so without knowing how to play a harmonica or even owning one. Others said they’d cover the washboard or another instrument but oddly enough, one friend actually told John that they had a harmonica and would sell it to him for the sweet price of $16. He remembers it was a G harp – the same key as many of the Bob Dylan and Neil Young songs he had been listening to. John would now became an active participant in listening to music. He said he remembers getting lost in the music and just playing along with it for hours and hours, never actually hearing what he was playing but continually doing so. Sounding almost spiritual as he spoke about the experience, he recalled that when he discovered the Robert Johnson collection, he knew something else was afoot. The blues showed him the doorway to Little Walter, Sonny Boy Williamson, Junior Wells and many others. Hearing their inflections, their nuances and raw energy clearly spoke to him and he emulated what he was hearing as best as his young self was able to replicate. But as youth will do, there was much more to do than just idle away the hours playing music.
Music definitely played an important part in who John Janiszyn was in his teens, hanging out and jamming with high school friends. But it wouldn’t be until an open mic night over at PK’s in Bellows Falls that John would experience a truly transcendent night of music making. No musician is ever certain where it comes from or how it happens. But when it does, you don’t forget it and you can only hope it pours through you again. Sitting in with local musician Ezra Veitch, John spoke of a night where that overwhelming fear of standing on a cliff edge sneaks up on you as you’re about to play a solo. When that time arrives, you give in to the energy and become completely unaware of where it comes from but as it passes through you – no words can describe the feeling. It’s something that musicians around the globe seek on a nightly basis. You can see that the memory and the revelation of that night still linger with John to this day.
After high school John heads out to Trade School in Portland Maine. He finds a passion for carpentry and after completing school connects with a company in Burlington that specializes in deconstructing old homes – taking every board, molding and cabinet down with care. It’s a painstaking craft but one John found interest in. But then something fascinating happens. His father had been asking him to come home and help with the farm. On this specific day, John recalls with clarity sitting up on the tractor. The sky was overcast and there was a slight fog rolling off the Connecticut. The rye was rising up about a foot tall and was a vivid kelly green, juxtaposed against the grey of the day. As the plough dug into the earth, he watched behind the tractor as the blades turned the earth and the smell of the soil captured him in a moment so clear and true. It made him think of his grandfather and all that he had done on this land. How it connected him to the earth, to his community and to his family. In that moment of clarity, he knew he was to carry on the legacy of the Janiszyn family. At the ripe old age of twenty-something, he felt it in his bones. It’s what people of all ages seek to find throughout the length of their lives and sometimes, never do. You can still see the clarity within John’s eyes as he speaks about it today.
While music still holds an important part of his heart, it’s farming and how it connects him to his roots and his lineage that fires his spirit. Recently Pete’s Farm Stand has been working with the Monadnock Conservancy, to purchase nine acres of land in Walpole that the Janiszyn family have been farming for many years. This intended purchase of land, will ensure that this parcel will always be used for agriculture in the future. A fundraising effort has been set up to assist with this purchase. If you’d like to donate to this cause, you can do so by clicking here for more information. This is a tough task, given how land has become such a commodity and farm land ends up getting squeezed out. You’d be hard pressed to find more amazing soil, than the soil in and around the Connecticut River Valley. The land speaks for itself simply by looking at the many area farms dotting the coastline up and down the Connecticut River.
So what does 2023 hold for Pete’s Farm Stand? Hopefully much of the same as 2022. While the farm land sleeps, John hopes to rekindle some of the magic he’s found in music in the past and as the winter passes, the Janiszyn family will once again till the soil and prepare for a spring filled with growth, connection and rebirth with their land.
Thanks to John for taking the time to talk candidly about Pete’s Farm Stand! Happy New Year to all.