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New Sunderland Farm Collaborative ‘a lifeline’ for residents seeking local produce during pandemic

  • Joe Manning and Hannah Logan pack up internet orders of vegetables at Kitchen Garden Farm in Sunderland on Wednesday. Staff Photo/PAUL FRANZ

  • Caroline Pam, owner of Kitchen Garden Farm in Sunderland. Staff Photo/PAUL FRANZ

  • Joe Manning and Hannah Logan pack up a van full of internet orders of vegetables at Kitchen Garden Farm in Sunderland on Wednesday. Staff Photo/PAUL FRANZ

  • Emily Landeck and Meghan Arquin of Riverland Farm in Sunderland with vegetable starts in their greenhouse. Staff Photo/PAUL FRANZ

  • Four farms have teamed up to form the Sunderland Farm Collaborative, which is offering home delivery for individuals who want fresh, local food without leaving their homes. Contributed image/Jess Marsh Wissemann

Staff Writer
Published: 4/1/2020 1:44:15 PM

SUNDERLAND — Local farmers have teamed up to offer contact-less home delivery to customers seeking local produce without leaving their homes during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The newly formed Sunderland Farm Collaborative — which brings together Kitchen Garden Farm, Riverland Farm, Warner Farm in Sunderland and Queen’s Greens in Amherst — began accepting the first round of orders on March 23 for its first day of deliveries on March 28, with customers having the choice between home delivery in a dozen different towns or having their goods brought to one of four drop sites.

“There are a lot of people who have been finding this to be a lifeline,” said Caroline Pam, owner of Kitchen Garden Farm in Sunderland. “People who have lived through hard times before are really finding this connection to farmers and good food right in their community to be a positive (amid the crisis).”

The process begins when customers place an order through sunderlandfarmcollaborative.localfoodmarketplace.com. Customers can make an account, choose between home delivery or a drop site, and then begin adding items to their “shopping cart.”

“For each item, it says who the producer is, which is great. Everyone is able to see where their vegetables are coming from,” noted Emily Landeck, who owns Riverland Farm. “They add to their cart and then pay.”

Landeck said the Sunderland Farm Collaborative offers customers a chance to shop in one place for everything they might need.

“We all have complimenting crop offerings,” she said. “Someone could pretty much get the majority of their shopping done, and it would be supporting a wide range of local, organic producers that would otherwise not be seen on the greater food scene.”

In addition to the wide array of crops offered by the four farms in the collaborative, customers can order items such as breads, eggs, cheese, mushrooms, flour and beans, and even coffee, from other participating local vendors.

Currently, the collaborative offers home deliveries on Wednesdays and Saturdays to Sunderland, Whately, Deerfield, Hadley, Montague, Amherst, Northampton, Florence, Easthampton, Conway, Greenfield and Turners Falls. Drops sites include Millstone Farm Market in Sunderland, Leverett Village Co-op in Leverett, Abandoned Building Brewery in Easthampton and Progression Brewing Co. in Northampton.

“We’re experiencing this really amazing influx of demand and interest,” Landeck said, noting there had been changes in home deliveries and drop sites since the first round of deliveries. “We’re trying to grow and scale in the way we can responsibly … to provide the best service possible.”

Landeck said staffing and vehicles are being shared between the four farms, though it is possible more staff may be necessary to meet their growing demand. Pam noted the collaborative received so many orders during its first order period, it had to close the online order form a day early to ensure deliveries could go out as scheduled.

“We didn’t know for a fact there was a huge demand, but we discovered it very quickly,” Pam said.

Pam and Landeck said plans for such an initiative grew as they began to realize the impact the COVID-19 public health crisis was going to have on their businesses and the way people access food.

“With restaurants closed and people being asked to stay home, everything was disrupted,” Pam explained. “We realized that in order to be able to sell all the vegetables we still planned to grow, we were going to have to find new outlets.”

That’s because, broadly speaking, most of the farms involved in the collaborative rely largely on selling wholesale to co-ops, grocery stores and schools.

“So, what’s new for us is going back to consumers,” Pam said.

With restaurants limited to offering takeout and the government pleading with individuals to stay home to limit exposure to the virus, Pam said people are likely cooking at home more.

“It seems that people are discovering that being able to buy from your neighborhood farm, and rely on that it’s safe, is really valuable,” she said.

Landeck said she thinks the collaborative has shown people are beginning to think more locally.

“People can come to this farm and can see exactly what we’re growing and how we’re growing,” she said. “I think there’s a lot of trust to be put in local, small farms.”

Although they already practice strict food safety guidelines, Landeck said members of the collaborative are having daily conversations about how to strengthen those practices in the midst of the pandemic.

“It’s a great way to create a good work environment, but it also means we’re having to be cautious about how we’re spending time outside of work and making sure we’re keeping the farm safe in all that we do and not just when we’re at the farm,” she said.

At the speed at which things are changing, Landeck said she and the other owners constantly have their “ears to the ground” for the latest on health regulations.

Both Pam and Landeck said they have been “warmed” by the outpouring of support shown by the community.

“I know home delivery is a service that is very much peaking right now,” Landeck said. “But it also shows our community has our back and wants to support small farms (and) eat locally.”

The next order period, which will be for April 4 deliveries, opened on March 30. Landeck encouraged people to follow along online to keep up with future changes or updates. Questions can be directed to: hello@sunderlandfarmco.com.

“This is an evolving thing for us,” she said. “We’re trying to make it work for everybody involved.”

Mary Byrne can be reached at mbyrne@recorder.com or 413-772-0261, ext. 263.




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