Hadley’s second Food Bank Farm celebrates healthy harvest

  • Food Bank of Western Massachusetts Executive Director Andrew Morehouse in June 2020. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 10/7/2021 8:42:33 AM

HADLEY — About 1,000 pounds of vegetables, harvested from a half-acre garden at the edge of the second Food Bank Farm in North Hadley over the summer, was provided to local households at risk of hunger at the Amherst Survival Center, just a mile or so away.

Using no-till farming techniques, such as placing cardboard to make the beds and covering the soil with tarps and compost, the produce was grown with minimal impact on the land.

“This is a really good way to make super healthy soil,” said farm assistant Al Driscoll.

For Food Bank of Western Massachusetts Executive Director Andrew Morehouse, the no-till site will eventually expand to a 3-acre community engagement farm where school groups and youths can come to get their hands dirty and learn about sustainable, Earth-friendly practices of growing crops.

The community engagement farm is one aspect of the newest Food Bank Farm that was celebrated on Wednesday morning, when Food Bank and Kestrel Land Trust officials, representatives from the towns of Hadley and Amherst, and John Lebeaux, commissioner of the Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources, were on hand to mark what Morehouse describes as a “community partnership to preserve farmland and provide locally grown organic vegetables for our neighbors facing food insecurity.”

The event came at the end of the second season of crops being grown at the 142-acre property, situated several hundred feet off a dirt road that traverses the woods of Shattuck Road, and which was acquired for $1.2 million by the Food Bank, which serves 173 food pantries and meal sites across the region.

Joe Czajkowski of Lakeside Organics in Hadley and Gideon Porth at Atlas Farms in Deerfield are contracted to handle the farming. Czajkowski said this past season included growing 12 acres of butternut squash and 3 acres of grape tomatoes, along with some broccoli and Brussel sprouts. In addition to the Food Bank, the vegetables go to high-need school districts, including Springfield public schools.

Morehouse said the success of the first Food Bank Farm on Bay Road 29 years ago, making the agency a pioneer among the 200 food banks across the United States, prompted him to begin the process of replicating this in 2013.

“In 1992, we were the first food bank in the country to own a farm, and now, we are the only food bank to own two farms,” Morehouse said. “We’re proud to partner with Kestrel Land Trust on farm preservation while meeting the needs of the communities we serve.”

Kestrel Executive Director Kristin DeBoer identified the site owned by the Szala family, noting that Hadley soils are the best in the world. The highest and best use of the land, she said, would not be for houses, but rather for food, and the people who need it most.

“After all the searching, I just feel this is the right place,” DeBoer said.

The partnership also depended on a $340,000 investment from the state’s agricultural resources department and contributions from Community Preservation Act funds in both Hadley and Amherst, along with private foundations.

“It is clear that Hadley residents strongly support this collaboration,” said Town Administrator Carolyn Brennan, adding that the food from the farm will significantly impact the health and well-being of many people.

Amherst Town Council President Lynn Griesemer, who also sits on the Amherst Survival Center’s board, said there is appreciation for produce grown locally.

“Fresh food is so valued, so immensely valued, by people who come to the Amherst Survival Center every day,” Griesemer said.

Amherst Assistant Town Manager David Ziomek said the second Food Bank Farm fits in with the legacy of nearby family farms in Amherst and Hadley. He recalls walking the land as a child and later in the 1990s having conversations with late owner Tony Szala, who didn’t sell the land at the time and often lamented the impact on the property from construction of the Route 116 bypass in the 1960s.

“He lived the land. You could sense he wants to do something with the land, but he wasn’t ready,” Ziomek said.

Since the land had been fallow, the farmers over the past two years have had to resume production and other improvements have had to be made, including Sunnier Days Construction of Greenfield building two greenhouses where seedlings can be grown. The Food Bank also received awards of $295,000 from the Massachusetts Food Security Infrastructure Grant program and $62,000 from the USDA Natural Resource Conservation Service for continued farm improvements.

Lillian Baulding, communications and engagement officer for the Food Bank, said a second location to harvest food ensures that demands will be met.

“To have a farm really makes us sustainable,” Baulding said.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at smerzbach@gazettenet.com.


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