Harvest of History
Cape Cod Home / Annual Home 2023 / Home, Garden & Design
Writer: Julie Craven Wagner / Photographer: Dan Cutrona
An historic working farm on Cape Cod sows the seeds for the future.
The words of author Karen Blixen, as she wrote under her nom de plume, Isak Dinesen in her memoir Out of Africa, evoke emotional response to the peace and majesty of being the steward of an awe-inspiring farm at the foot of the Ngong Hills in Kenya. In our own part of the world, Marstons Mills to be exact, another intrepid woman has accepted the stewardship of a very special parcel of land with roots reaching deep into the Cape’s history. In 2016, Dr. Joan Spiegel and her partner Russell Giammarco purchased Olde Homestead Farm, a sprawling six-and-a-half acre property that boasts the distinction of being the oldest private working farm on Cape Cod. It is also the only farm in the area with a working, functional silo, a feature that serves as a beacon as visitors round the corner as the farm comes into view.
First settled by Isaac Crocker, one of the more prominent farmers of the time, the home was built circa 1750 as evidenced by the original structure that sits humbly above Crocker Pond. It is easy to imagine the rolling hills of the site, ensconced in a flurry of fertile production during the Colonial period, but today, the organization, care and thought Spiegel and Giammarco—only the fourth family to have lived at the farm over the almost 275 years—have invested into the property are no less awesome. Today’s farmers however, while rooted in centuries-long best practices, are a different breed than what we have come to associate with the term. Spiegel and Giammarco’s approach to care and use of this special piece of land embraces some very simple and straightforward concepts: sustainability, feasibility, and tranquility.
“Our goal is to contribute to the environment, not take away from it,” Giammarco explains. As a result, the couple’s choice of crops and livestock might be considered unexpected by the casual observer. However, a deeper understanding of their practices and philosophies reveals an operation that is uniquely positioned to co-exist in today’s modern world, all while serving as an example of scalability.
It all started with the bees. “I had always been fascinated by the idea of beekeeping,” Spiegel shares, who along with Giammarco had delved into the world of beekeeping a few years before purchasing the farm. Spiegel, a practicing anesthesiologist in Boston, has always been drawn to science, research, procedure, and analytics to determine successful outcomes. Speaking with her, and spending time with her, it becomes abundantly clear that her curiosity and commitment to anything she takes on is riveted fast and firm. Giammarco, a retired detective from Yarmouth is equally inquisitive, making for a dynamic coupling. The pair share the honey collected from their 15 hives at local farmers’ markets and have provided consulting services for locals who are seeking an understanding of beekeeping on their own property. When the opportunity arose to purchase the farm, Spiegel and Giammarco knew they could finally create an environment they had previously only imagined.
“It was definitely a dream,” Spiegel explains. “But unlike a dream you don’t suddenly wake up and things look like they do now. There was a lot of work to be done.” That work started with picking up where the previous owners—Cape Abilities, a local nonprofit organization dedicated to supporting individuals with disabilities—left off. The original home had been largely restored and updates to the kitchen and bath were accomplished by Spiegel and Giammarco, which provided modern living space. The barn was very much in need of upgrading and Spiegel and Giammarco set about applying their efforts there. Now the barn has four stalls, worthy of Churchill Downs, and the silo was restored with the help of an Amish crew versed in the vanishing skills a silo’s reconstruction requires.
Today’s farmers however, while rooted in centuries-long best practices, are a different breed than what we have come to associate with the term. Spiegel and Giammarco’s approach to care and use of this special piece of land embrace some very simple and straightforward concepts: sustainability, feasibility, and tranquility.
Today, the farm’s livestock consists of a variety of chickens and Guinea Hens, turkeys, alpacas, three Maine Coon cats, a barn cat, a llama named Spotticus, butterflies, and of course bees. “We are often asked about our plans moving forward,” Spiegel shares. “It is important for us to be a welcome addition to the community, so we make our decisions very carefully after a lot of research and deliberation.” Those considerations are what led the couple to choose alpacas as part of their overall plan; a plan that confirms their commitment to their low-impact philosophies around farming practices. According to Spiegel, they are quiet, clean animals, who provide a sustainable product with their fur as it is shorn for transformation into a variety of things. But perhaps even more importantly, the by-product of their manure is one of the best fertilizers available.
“Their manure is referred to as ‘magic beans’ and our plan is to use it throughout the farm,” Spiegel says. “We have been using the chickens’ manure as fertilizer for a few years and most people consider that to be one of the best, but alpacas are even better.”
There is plenty of need for the fertilizer as the couple’s plan for 2023 includes planting a few acres of lavender. Recent installations of blueberry bushes, Tupelo trees, hyssop, anise and masses of clover are all intended to provide forage for the bees and other pollinators. “Everything we grow or raise is to provide the best environment possible for all of the pollinators,” Spiegel explains. In addition to the bees, the site is a haven for Monarch butterflies, dragonflies and an entire field guide of bird species.
Careful thought and consideration were also at the heart of creating a new living space for the couple when, in 2021, they moved into a spacious post-and-beam addition that provides a comfortable base of operations for the farm. The couple chose a kit from Legacy Post & Beam Homes in Nebraska and Spiegel, of course, applied her inquisitive sense of discovery as she researched and acquired most of the elements and design inspiration for the home. “I love good home design, and the hunt is half of the fun,” she says with a grin. “And things like Pinterest boards are where I live. When I am looking for something, I want to make sure I have exhausted every option and that I am getting what I need, and at a price I like.” A tour through her home, as well as the property as a whole, is an adventure of discovery filled with an endless repetition of, “Where did you find that?”
Dr. Joan Spiegel and Russell Giammarco have applied their vision and their passion to one of the most unique properties on the Cape. Their stewardship has maintained an historic property unlike any other in theses parts, to endure for generations to come.
Another indisputable element of living in an active environment involves the day-to-day changes one is able to witness only if you are in the scene. Spiegel and Giammarco’s passion for stewardship of this historic property have them excitedly greeting each day with anticipation of the evolution of possibilities. In the remaining issues of Cape Cod HOME this year, that discovery will be shared throughout the seasons to come. This farm’s journey is assuredly going to provide some insight and surprises to how an historic farm can become a fulcrum for the modern world.
Julie Craven Wagner is the editor of Cape Cod HOME.