Laurenitis Farm, Mesa Verde donating vegetable start kits to local food pantries

  • Karina Laurenitis and Chloe Ellis work at Laurenitis Farm on Amherst Road in Sunderland. The farm is putting together “victory garden kits” that will be donated to the Amherst Survival Center. Staff Photo/PAUL FRANZ

  • Karina Laurenitis, Maggie Forcier, Emma Miner and Chloe Ellis work at Laurenitis Farm on Amherst Road in Sunderland. Staff Photo/PAUL FRANZ

  • Karina Laurenitis and Chloe Ellis work at Laurenitis Farm on Amherst Road in Sunderland. Staff Photo/PAUL FRANZ

  • Laurenitis Farm in Sunderland is putting together “victory garden kits” to help individuals who are facing COVID-19-related unemployment and subsequent food insecurity. Staff Photo/PAUL FRANZ

Staff Writer
Published: 5/30/2020 1:32:51 PM

A Sunderland farm and a subsequently inspired Greenfield eatery hope to improve food access by providing vegetable start kits to those in need, and they’re seeking the community’s support.

Laurenitis Farm on Amherst Road in Sunderland is putting together “victory garden kits,” or vegetable start kits, said Karina Laurenitis, who manages social media for the farm. The kits, which are being subsidized by community donations, will be handed over to the Amherst Survival Center for distribution at its food pantry.

The initiative comes as people across the region face COVID-19-related unemployment, according to Lev Ben-Ezra, executive director of the Amherst Survival Center.

“The way I see it, prior to COVID-19, Amherst Survival Center served roughly 6,000 people a year,” Ben-Ezra said. “Those are people who were navigating food insecurity at a time when our economy was thriving.”

Unemployment brought on by the pandemic, she said, has only increased food insecurity.

“We’re just at a point now where there are very few people that can withstand a long-term period of unemployment without it wreaking havoc,” she said. “We know there are so many people who are struggling right now.”

So when Laurenitis Farm approached the Survival Center earlier this spring about partnering with them on vegetable start kits, they were immediately on board, Ben-Ezra said.

Once the kits are donated to the center, they will be available to people registered with the center’s food pantry, which serves 13 towns — Amherst, Belchertown, Deerfield, Granby, Hadley, Leverett, Pelham, Shutesbury, South Deerfield, South Hadley, Sunderland, Ware and Whately — as well as anyone experiencing homelessness.

The kits, which Laurenitis said cost about $25 to create, will be offered in different sizes and contain a variety of vegetable starts. The farm has set a goal of $2,500 to create 100 kits for donation and distribution.

“We started most of our vegetable seeds about a month or month and a half ago, so we have all the starts going already,” she said. “We were just hoping the community would rally to help us purchase the pots and boxes … and the staffing to help put the boxes together.”

Laurenitis said the campaign, which began with a post on the farm’s Facebook page on May 12, was within a few hundred dollars of its goal as of Wednesday afternoon.

“It happened a little faster than we thought, but we’ve been here long enough that we knew if we asked, people would help us,” she said.

One of those donations came from Greenfield restaurant owner Amy McMahon.

In fact, McMahon was so inspired by the farm’s effort that she put out a call on her restaurant’s Facebook page asking for people to donate vegetable starts that she could deliver to the Center for Self-Reliance Food Pantry on Osgood Street in Greenfield.

“I realized it would be very easy for us to do the same thing in Greenfield,” said McMahon, co-owner of Mesa Verde on Fiske Avenue.

McMahon has so far donated starts to the food pantry that were purchased at local farms and markets, including Atlas Farm, the Greenfield Farmers Cooperative Exchange and the Greenfield Farmers Market.

“I just liked the idea of empowering people to grow food everywhere,” she said, noting that supplying people with processed food, though often necessary, can be a Band-Aid solution to the issue of food insecurity. “I like the idea of giving people the option to grow their own food.”

She said the starts have been well-received so far by the Center for Self-Reliance Food Pantry.

“I’ll do it as long as starts are available,” McMahon said. “I’d love to get a more formalized program in place.”

In Sunderland, Laurenitis said no donation is too small, noting the majority of money raised to date has come from contributions of $1 to $5.

“We are just so grateful for everyone who has contributed. We’re a small business and a farm to boot, so we’re running on pretty small profit margins,” she said. “This would have been a really challenging thing for us to do on our own, so we’re really happy to have the community support.”

To donate to the Laurenitis Farm’s fundraising campaign, visit or drop off donations in person at the farm at 475 Amherst Road in Sunderland.

In Greenfield, McMahon said customers can simply drop off starts at Mesa Verde, and they will be delivered to the food pantry.

Mary Byrne can be reached at or 413-772-0261, ext. 263. Twitter: @MaryEByrne

An earlier version of this article misquoted the number of people Lev Ben-Ezra said the Amherst Survival Center serves each year. 

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