Deerfield’s Atlas Farms Helps Charities as Part of its Business Model

The Recorder, July 18th, 2016, by Andy Castillo. Several large green bins filled with produce sit in front of South County Senior Center on North Main Street every Friday morning from 10 a.m. till noon.

At first glance, the bins appear generic: square, plastic and unremarkable, and they would be, if not for a white stamp on the side distinguishing them as property of locally based Atlas Farm, which makes helping charitable organizations part of its business.

“We support our community and want to nourish our community,” said Lily Carone, Atlas Farm store manager and life partner of Gideon Porth, founder and owner of Atlas Farm. “However that can happen, we want to be a part of it.”

Carone said the farm harvests almost every day to keep stores supplied with fresh vegetables. Because of that, the farm has a lot of excess food that can’t be sold to stores anymore.

Instead of throwing day-old produce into the garbage and tilling unused crops back into the soil, the farm chooses to give it away — either for free, or at a reduced rate, to charitable organizations.

“Sometimes we harvest for them,” she added. “If we have a half-acre that’s just going to be tilled in, we’ll harvest and sell to them at a low price.”

Last year, Porth said the farm on River Road gave about 125,000 pounds of produce to charitable organizations, including the Food Bank of Western Massachusetts, Greater Boston Food Bank, survival centers, and the South County Senior Center.

“We have a concern for our community and for the larger concerns facing agriculture,” Porth said, adding that his concerns cover everything from the changing environment to food justice.

The farm’s generosity stems from a desire to make the world a better place through food justice and responsible farming.

Porth, who graduated from the University of Massachusetts with a master’s degree in plant and soil sciences, was interested in pursuing a career in farming science research. Instead, he started the farm in 2004.

Today, the farm covers 85 acres and sells produce across New England.

“It’s such an incredible waste for us to do that,” Porth continued, in regard to throwing away expired food. “It’s worth it for us to do a little extra leg work. It’s a win-win for everyone.”

Food Bank of Western Massachusetts

In June of this year, Chipper Sullivan, wholesale manager at the farm, said the farm has sold, at a reduced price, more than 1,000 pounds to the Food Bank of Western Mass., which was converted into 862 meals.

That number, Sullivan continued, is about what the farm gives every month to the food bank. Last year, the farm won the “2015 Farmer of the Year Award” from the food bank for giving the most food out of all farming organizations in the Pioneer Valley. Atlas Farm gave 111,792 pounds of food to the food bank.

Chris Wojcik, marketing and communications manager at the Food Bank of Western Mass., said donations from farms are valuable because a lot of people don’t have access to fresh, healthy food.

“We’re trying to distribute more healthy food to people,” he said. “What we don’t get a lot of, when organizations have food drives, is fresh produce. It’s a way to get more healthy food out to people who need it. Especially because there are a lot of communities in our region that don’t have access to those type of foods.”

Sullivan said he remembers a day when he brought 18 bins filled with 800 pounds of potatoes each to the food bank because they were an abnormal color and couldn’t be sold in stores.

Produce that returns unsold from farmer’s markets is also given to charitable organizations.

South County Senior Center

At the senior center on Friday, members on their way inside the center to play bingo, stopped at the produce-filled bins to stock up on groceries — a weekly routine for many.

“My son and I eat organic,” said Carol Steele, a member of the senior center. “Let me tell you, being a senior on a little pension, everything helps. We truly, truly appreciate this.”

Earlier that morning, Reenie Grybko Clancy, along with other volunteers, drove to the farm’s produce market on Greenfield Road and picked up the waiting bins filled with the previous day’s veggies.

“We are so thankful for them,” she said about Atlas Farm, while organizing a bin full of lettuce. “There’s only romaine, but romaine is good for you!”

Marlene Johnson, director of the senior center, said the farm also occasionally donates excess cream, milk and eggs.

“It’s free to any of the seniors coming by,” said Sue Corey, program coordinator at the senior center, adding that the previous week, the center gave the remaining food to South Deerfield Congregational Church next door.

Even though it’s expired off store shelves, Brad Dana, co-manager and purchasing manager of the farm store, said the quality of the produce is exceptional.

“Everything we donate is top shelf,” he commented, while loading bins destined for charity into a walk-in cooler. “I dare you to find chard this good at Whole Foods. The quality of the food we donate is really high.”