A vegetable patch is a place to grow food which is then taken to the kitchen, made into delicious food and shared with people. It is a place close to home that nourishes the lives of those who eat it.
Kitchen Garden Farm in Sunderland embodies this spirit, extended to a community scale. And from farming to making their famous sriracha and salsa, to the recent launch of a food distribution service, the Sunderland Farm Collaborative, the extent of farmer involvement behind the farm signals a born success. of staying true to their roots.
Agriculture comes first. “We started growing fresh vegetables on an acre in 2006 – really garden-wide,” said co-owner Caroline Pam, who is also a board member for Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture (CISA). “Our goal has always been to provide the best ingredients for cooking and to share them with people. “
Now the farm covers 70 acres in Sunderland and Whately, and just like in a vegetable garden, they still grow a bit of everything. “We’re picking a lot of green vegetables right now like lettuce and kale,” Pam said. “Our first carrots have just finished, the summer squash and cucumbers have started, and we have a lot of celery and herbs of all kinds, especially basil.”
Products from the vegetable garden are sold in local grocery stores including River Valley Co-op, Green Fields Market, Atlas Farm Store, and Leverett Village Co-op. Additionally, Pam said, “You can eat our produce locally at restaurants like Coco & the Cellar Bar, Daily Operation, Homestand, Paul & Elizabeth’s, Blue Door Gatherings and Wheelhouse, and order ingredients online through places like Sunderland. Farm Collaborative, Mass Food Delivery. and Old Friends Farm.
Pam says they also take what they grow in the kitchen and create with it. From the start, Pam and Tim Wilcox, her husband and business partner, searched for a value-added product that they could make from their vegetables.
“In 2013 we sold all kinds of prepared foods at farmers markets,” Pam said, “and at the end of this season we presented our first batch of sriracha at Chilifest – a competition weekend. food, music and all they have to do with hot peppers Host at Mike’s Maze in Sunderland.
It was a huge success and they decided to stick with shelf stable sriracha and later salsa as their specialties.
This side of business has since grown tremendously, with their products now in dozens of stores across the valley and hundreds across the country. And over the past year, the demand has increased.
“During the pandemic, people’s buying habits changed, interest in local products increased, more and more retailers wanted locally made products and as a result our sriracha and salsa sold for three times faster than expected, ”she said.
They kicked production into high gear to cope with the moment, but eventually the ingredients ran out. “Unfortunately, we are out of the original sriracha until the new crop of peppers arrives,” Pam noted.
Now they are gaining momentum. “We’re planting a lot more peppers, a lot more tomatoes and have a new warehouse, freezer and dehydrator on the farm to process them, in part thanks to a food security infrastructure grant,” Pam explained.
Another use of this new infrastructure is the Sunderland Farm Collaborative, a division of Kitchen Garden Farm and one of the local farm-to-consumer delivery companies born during the pandemic. They buy and bundle food from many local producers and deliver it to New England retailers and other distributors, providing a more direct connection between people and local farms.
This is perhaps the way the impact of this vegetable patch is felt the most far beyond where their food is grown. They also began renting warehouses, freezers and their dehydrator from other local farms, and working to coordinate deliveries not only with other farms, but also with regional distributors and food centers.
“We’re starting to look like a food hub ourselves,” Pam said, “but we weren’t going to be that. Especially with Sunderland Farm Collaborative, we were just responding to an immediate need and trying to bring more local food to more places.
Although it was not expected, it’s easy to see how it happened. Pam always seems to be thinking about Kitchen Garden Farm’s place in the food system and how they can work together within their strong network of local farms to make things better.
“I find it really interesting to hear from people about their challenges,” Pam said. “I always think about what mine are, and if there’s a solution that meets my needs and benefits another farm, that’s the direction I want to go.
The trust within their own team makes these new efforts possible. “We have a very strong community among our employees,” said Pam. “Max Traunstein, our production manager, started with us right out of college eight years ago. Sales manager Lilly Israel is in her sixth year. They are essential to what we do.
With Sunderland Farm Collaborative and their value-added production, they now employ over 20 full-year employees as well as seasonal workers. “We want to build a culture of professionals who build careers all year round,” she explained. Daily community lunches and a community garden for staff – a “kitchen garden,” Pam said – help the work feel collective.
With all the hats she wears, Pam’s take on where the local food system is going is well informed.
“We need more distribution and ways to bring out local food, but we could also continue to expand further. I am often asked: “Is the valley at full capacity?” Do we need more farms? ‘ I say yes. We have a large market here, and we only provide local food to a small segment of it.
How can the local food system develop? Greater collaboration, as modeled by Kitchen Garden and Sunderland Food Collaborative, is a big part of the answer. Growing more all year round would help. More public investment would certainly help, Pam says, referring to the food security infrastructure grant the farm received from the state that allowed them to thrive.
“When the government decides there is value and invests in farm infrastructure, that makes more possible,” she said. “It has an impact on the entire food system.”
Jacob Nelson is the communications coordinator for CISA. To find more local produce and farms near you, visit buylocalfood.org/find-it-locally.