Second Food Bank Farm coming online in North Hadley

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Staff Writer
Published: 4/3/2020 7:19:16 PM
Modified: 4/3/2020 7:19:02 PM

HADLEY — A second Food Bank Farm to provide organic produce to area households at risk of hunger, and to children in high-poverty school districts, will begin operations this year on land in North Hadley preserved by Kestrel Land Trust.

Located off Shattuck Road in Hadley, 59 tillable acres on the 142-acre parcel will be dedicated to the Food Bank’s second farm.

“This an incredibly valuable source of fresh vegetables that we can grow locally and get out to 175 food pantries and meal sites in western Massachusetts,” said Andrew Morehouse, executive director of The Food Bank of Western Massachusetts, based in Hatfield.

To supplement the existing Food Bank Farm on Bay Road in Hadley, Morehouse said the Food Bank is partnering with two commercial farmers, Joe Czajkowski of Lakeside Organics in Hadley and Gideon Porth of Atlas Farms in Deerfield.

Both farmers will be growing organic vegetables, some of which will go to the Food Bank — adding to the 113,000 pounds of fresh vegetables received annually from the current farm on Bay Road — but with more than half of the crops going directly to help feed area students.

“The majority of vegetables that the farmers will keep and sell will be going to high-poverty school districts,” Morehouse said.

Purchased by Kestrel in October 2019 with a bridge loan from The Conservation Fund, the site was sold March 20 to the Food Bank, and is part of a larger preservation of 193 acres in both Hadley and North Amherst. The project, coordinated by Kestrel, received assistance from the state’s Department of Agricultural Resources and money from both communities’ Community Preservation Act accounts.

Morehouse said discussions began with Kestrel about six years ago on how to supplement the 60-acre Food Bank Farm, with 32 tillable acres, that began operations in 1992.

After exploring the possibility of acquiring a Granby farm, which fell through, Kestrel Executive Director Kristin DeBoer identified the Szala Farm as a possibility.

DeBoer, in a statement, said the full scope of the project, which includes 25 acres of open space preservation in Amherst and 26 acres of separate farmland preservation off Comins Road in Hadley, has multiple benefits, especially during the COVID-19 outbreak.

“At a time when our nation is going through this challenging pandemic crisis, it is more evident than ever that the supply of fresh local food is vital to local sustainability, and that public access to local trails offers solace outdoors when people need it most,” DeBoer said.

The Food Bank Farm, currently operated by Mountain View Farm Community Supported Agriculture of Easthampton, supplements the 500,000 pounds of vegetables from about two dozen other local farms, with state funding supporting the purchase of another 500,000 pounds of local vegetables.

In total, that represents about one-third of the 3 million pounds of vegetables distributed annually to the four westernmost counties, and a fraction of the 12 million pounds of food that go out from the warehouse.

Morehouse added that one thing that made the new farm possible was a contribution from the H.P. Kendall Foundation in Boston, which aims to strengthen the food system of western Massachusetts and New England by helping local farmers gain market access to schools.

“This purchase demonstrates the power of collaboration of local groups committed to food security, open space, and creating opportunities for young and expanding farmers,” Kendall Foundation Executive Director Andy Kendall said in a statement.

Morehouse said Czajkowski already has relationships with Springfield and Chicopee public schools, as well as the University of Massachusetts.

A 3-acre section of the farm will be carved out to become a model farm where volunteers and school groups will work together to grow and harvest crops while learning about sustainable agriculture, environmental stewardship and food access for all. Morehouse said this will showcase low-till or no-till farming.

Meanwhile, Kestrel will retain a trail easement over the farm for walking on designated farm roads that will provide links to conservation lands and wetlands on the Amherst side.

Located off the Route 116 bypass, this new Szala Family Conservation Area will connect to the existing Cole and Podick Conservation Areas, conserved through a partnership with Kestrel in the 1970s.

Kestrel, which will hold a conservation restriction, will work with Amherst to create a welcoming entrance with improved parking and trail access to connect trails to ones on the new Food Bank Farm.

The third piece of the project is 26 acres off Comins Road that will also go into the Agricultural Preservation Restriction program. This land includes a farmhouse and several barns and outbuildings, and 15 acres of active agricultural fields in conservation restriction held by Hadley Conservation Commission

The co-owner of Mapleline Farms, Jessica Dizek, said that her operation will be stronger as a result of this protected land.

“As longtime farmers in this agricultural area of Hadley, we have been really worried that the increasing number of housing developments in this part of town would soon overtake the land,” Dizek said.

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


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