The Kitchen Garden

Published in CISA’s March 2012 Enewsletter.

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Caroline Pam and Tim Wilcox of the Kitchen Garden in Sunderland have recently teamed up with Jarrett Man of Stone Soup Farm in Hadley to create a bigger, better Kitchen Garden farm. After operating their own diversified vegetable farms for several years the three farmers decided that by joining forces they could grow more vegetables more sustainably, while at the same time improve their quality of life by dividing responsibilities and specializing in the areas they excel at and enjoy best. In the new farm operation Jarrett will manage field production, Tim will focus on harvest and product quality, while Caroline will handle marketing and business and develop a new culinary direction for the farm.

Tim and Caroline started the Kitchen Garden in 2006 with a mission of growing high-quality vegetables for home cooks and professional chefs and a long-term vision of sharing their passion for cooking with seasonal ingredients through on-farm culinary education and events. But as their operation grew from one acre of vegetables, one weekly farmers market and a handful of restaurant accounts to year-round production on 7 acres, a CSA, four farmers markets and a healthy wholesale business Tim and Caroline never found time to explore the food side of their business because they were so busy meeting growing demand for their vegetables and raising their two young children, aged 2 and 4. The farm’s growth was also limited by lack of access to additional land. Several of the farm’s 7 acres are poorly drained and proved unproductive during the past several rainy growing seasons. After many years of working the phones and asking around the neighborhood for additional acreage to rent or buy they finally secured a three-year lease to a 14 acre field adjacent to their farm.

Meanwhile, Jarrett has been running Stone Soup Farm on 7 acres at the New England Small Farm Institute in Belchertown since 2008. At the end of 2010 his short term lease at the incubator farm ran out and he purchased a farm in Hadley with 4 tillable acres in a leap of faith that he would be able to rent or buy additional land nearby. After a year without any luck securing more land Jarrett was facing the prospect of scaling back his successful CSA business growing vegetables for customers in the Valley as well as Cambridge and Boston.

One of Jarrett’s goals in farming was to create a real sense of community on his farm and he’d always had a vision of running his farm cooperatively but hadn’t found the right partners. Coincidentally, Jarrett and Tim were both students at Hampshire at the same time in 2005 and their paths continued to cross after both stayed in the Valley to start their own farms. Last fall, Tim and Caroline went to a housewarming party at Jarrett’s new farm in Hadley and started a conversation about their goals for their farms and lives that became more and more serious and focused over the course of the winter. It seemed almost uncanny how perfectly their various strengths, working styles and preferences dovetailed. Scaling up their farms started to seem like a real possibility as partners sharing the burden of debt and the multitude of responsibilities and skills required of farm business owners.

In February the three farmers linked their fates and created a new Kitchen Garden LLC. They are now busy seeding in the greenhouse and gearing up to begin distribution of their Spring Treat CSA and enrolling for an increased number of summer and winter shares. A new flock of 250 laying hens is scheduled to arrive the first week of April. The farm is launching a Market Share program where customers can purchase a small or large size share and receive credit on a gift card good for anything on the stand at any of their four weekly farmers markets in Amherst, Northampton, Greenfield and Springfield. Caroline is calling meetings with their established restaurant and wholesale customers to plan what they’re growing for them this season and developing new relationships with restaurants in Boston and Cambridge. Jarrett is overseeing renovations to the barn and driveway in Hadley to prepare for on-farm CSA pick-up and Tim is making improvements to the farmhouse in Sunderland to get ready for a season of cooking classes.

“At the end of last season, we knew that whatever we would be doing in 2012 would be radically different than ever before,” said Tim Wilcox. “We didn’t know what the New Year would bring, but we knew we had to ditch the status quo. We have surprised even ourselves with the bigness of our new plans.”

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