Thursday, May 06, 2021

Person of the Week

Cari Jansen: I Think That I Shall Never See...


Artist and animal welfare advocate Cari Jansen has, with her partner Garret Sands, turned Spruce Ledge Tree Farm into a working farm and a place for creativity to flourish. 

Photo courtesy of Cari Jansen

Artist and animal welfare advocate Cari Jansen has, with her partner Garret Sands, turned Spruce Ledge Tree Farm into a working farm and a place for creativity to flourish. (Photo courtesy of Cari Jansen )

It happens every year after the holidays are over: What to do with the tree? Cari Jansen has one solution, at least if you bought the tree from Spruce Ledge Tree Farm in Deep River, which Cari and her partner Garrett Sands own. Bring it back!

Cari and Sands will take the tree to Shut the Door Farm Rescue where the needles make a nice meal for sheep and goats. Goats are famous as indiscriminate eaters, but Cari says the sheep also enjoy a Christmas tree meal.

Tree farming is a new career for Cari and Garrett, both artists, who have just completed their second holiday season as owners of Spruce Ledge. They have joined the Connecticut Christmas Tree Association and the Connecticut Farm Bureau and now can talk with some facility about things that are harmful to growing trees like aphids and mildew.

Spruce Ledge is also diversifying its offerings, selling pumpkins at Halloween. As with their trees, which they will have to supplement until their own stock is sufficient, they are also supplementing their pumpkin harvest until the ones they have planted grow. Cari emphasizes that both the trees and the pumpkins they buy are organically grown on Connecticut farms

Cari, a graduate of Paier College of Art in Hamden, once did her painting on traditional canvasses but not anymore. Now she customizes clothes, often jeans or leather jackets with designs suggested by their owners.

“Each is one of kind,” she says. “Whatever takes your fancy.”

People who wear her decorated garments include musicians and performers who want something to distinguish them on stage, but many of her customers are simply “folks who have an old leather jacket that looks a bit tired. A lot of people want something one off,” she says.

In addition to clothes, she also has decorated furniture.

Cari first opened her business Funky Stuff the Collective, incorporating the work of other artists and craftspeople, in Watertown in 2015. At the time she lived in Morris in Litchfield Country. In 2017, SCORE, the Service Corps of Retired Executives, which provides assistance to businesses at all stages of development, named Funky Stuff as a Small Business Champion, one of only 102 in the country so recognized.

In 2019, Cari moved Funky Stuff to New Haven, but, despite its SCORE recognition, COVID-19 dashed her hopes for rapid expansion and the store closed.

She still has her own her clothes decorating business working at home and that’s not all she does. She has also volunteered for many years for a dog rescue organization.

Her two horses are also rescue animals. Riding is one of her lifelong passions. When she chose Paier for college, one of her reasons was that Hamden was close enough to let her get home to Fairfield County to ride her horse on weekends. Currently, her horses are also contributing something necessary to the growing trees at Spruce Ledge: manure.

During the summer, Cari had an idea for a field covered with wood chips on their property. She thought it might be a usable entertainment area for local bands to perform. She put an invitation out on Facebook, explaining that there would be no pay, other than tips the groups could collect, but at least they had a venue.

“I was thinking about the pandemic and what it was doing to creative people who would have been playing in bars and restaurants. There are so many musicians in this area,” she says.

The response, according to Cari, was over whelming and there were concerts on weekend nights until October when cooling weather ended the programs.

There were some wooden crates left in the field and Cari says she saw an evolution on how audiences used them. When people came at first, they just sat on the crates. The next step was to bring lawn chairs and put feet up on the crate. After several weeks, Cari saw regular attendees bringing table cloths and setting out picnics on the crates.

Cari says concerts will start up again when the weather permits.

“We want to do more,” she says. “We are always looking for events.”

When Cari and Garrett were looking for a new house several years ago, had thought they would settle in Durham where a friend lived. A realtor showed them a 1742 farmhouse in Deep River, and that changed their plans.

“When I walked into the living room and saw the wide boards on the floor, the fireplace, I knew this was it,” Cari says. “It has a gazillion fireplaces. You just have to love it.”

She admits the house in many respects is a fixer upper but says “its bones are good.” At the moment, she is involved in redoing the kitchen, but she wants to keep the spirit and style of the house the same.

“Not anything fancy schmancy,” she says.

She is committed to the house, to the farm and to Deep River.

“Our future is here,” she says.

Rita Christopher is the Senior Correspondent for Zip06. Email Rita at

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