Longtime employees buy Kitchen Garden Farm in Sunderland

Longtime employees Lilly Israel and  Max Traunstein are purchasing Kitchen Garden Farm in Sunderland.

Longtime employees Lilly Israel and Max Traunstein are purchasing Kitchen Garden Farm in Sunderland. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

Longtime employees Max Traunstein and Lilly Israel are purchasing the Kitchen Garden Farm in Sunderland.

Longtime employees Max Traunstein and Lilly Israel are purchasing the Kitchen Garden Farm in Sunderland. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

Present owners Tim Wilcox and Caroline Pam started Kitchen Garden Farm in 2006.

Present owners Tim Wilcox and Caroline Pam started Kitchen Garden Farm in 2006. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

Longtime employees Max Traunstein and Lilly Israel, at left, are purchasing Kitchen Garden Farm in Sunderland from present owners Tim Wilcox and Caroline Pam, at right. That is Rigatoni strolling into the photo lower right.

Longtime employees Max Traunstein and Lilly Israel, at left, are purchasing Kitchen Garden Farm in Sunderland from present owners Tim Wilcox and Caroline Pam, at right. That is Rigatoni strolling into the photo lower right. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

By CHRIS LARABEE

Staff Writer

Published: 03-10-2024 10:39 PM

SUNDERLAND — The change of the seasons, as farmers know, often brings a slew of other changes along with it, and at Kitchen Garden Farm, this spring brings the largest change of all.

Soon, the farm will change hands for the first time since its founding in Hadley in 2006. Longtime employees Lilly Israel, 31, and Max Traunstein, 31, are purchasing the farm, as well as the buildings and equipment, from current owners Caroline Pam and Tim Wilcox.

The deal will shift ownership of the 65-acre farm known for its peppers, salsas and sriracha to Traunstein and Israel, who have 10 and eight years of experience at Kitchen Garden Farm, respectively. With the sale, Pam and Wilcox look to ensure their “life’s work” continues to thrive.

“I always wanted there to be opportunity for people who wanted to do more to be able to do more, and it seemed to me that you were the ones to keep this farm going and make the decisions to bring it into the future,” Pam said to Israel and Traunstein during an interview at the farm. “And I wanted to give you that opportunity when you were ready for it.”

The new owners said there’s certainly some nerves about taking over the farm they’ve sort of grown up with — Kitchen Garden Farm was Traunstein’s first job out of college — but this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

“I feel like this farm has really made me the person that I am and has the type of structure of a farm that I would want,” Israel said. “The way we do community here, the size of the farm, the way the value-added business is set up to support the economics of the farm … I just couldn’t imagine walking away from this place.”

“When you’re going to college for ag, you think you’re going to own a farm someday. … After working on the farm for so long and watching it scale, the fear in me grew that, ‘Oh I could go and start my own thing, but I’m going to have to start from the ground up again and that would suck,’” Traunstein added, “Over the past few years, I’ve grown in my management, very similar to Lilly, and just have a really good sense of how this farm operates, and the idea of starting over was scary and starting to be out of the question.”

After launching the farm in Hadley, Pam and Wilcox purchased their South Silver Lane location in 2007 and began farming the land in 2008. From there, the two continued to expand the farm’s footprint, building a new kitchen, adding new products and eventually building a mini community, as they fleshed out their staff to 25 people.

Article continues after...

Yesterday's Most Read Articles

Music in the sky: Summit House Sunset Concert Series returns to its 173-year-old home
Knitters’ paradise: Webs, ‘America’s Yarn Store’ and a mainstay for Valley crafters for generations, turns 50
Easthampton to lose Pepin school gymnasium as public recreation space
Easthampton’s 11 Ferry St. project promises affordable five-story, 96-unit complex
Taylor Haas takes the reins as new executive director at Three County Fairgrounds
Sunderland receives $195K grant to study, design multi-use trail from Whately to Amherst

“Caroline and I, we’re good at seeing opportunity and imagining what new ambitious goal we could have. And every step along the way, it required people in supporting roles of responsibility,” Wilcox said. “We realized, I think, by like 2020 we had actually built an organization here and that became as important as the work we were actually doing physically; the way that we were running the company became really important.”

Now, 18 years later, Wilcox and Pam are looking to explore some new opportunities, although they expect to stay in agriculture in some fashion. Pam expressed interest in doing some consulting work with other valley farms, while Wilcox said he wouldn’t be against getting back out in the fields at some point.

“We’re providing a turnkey so that they’re ready to start off running at a viable scale,” Pam said, adding that she and Wilcox “don’t want to rush into anything.”

With their own personal experience, as well as the supports Pam and Wilcox have put in place, Israel said she and Traunstein are well-positioned to ensure the future success of the farm.

“It’s a proven model. We have seen all the finances, we know that unless something majorly bad happens we will theoretically at least eke out a profit. It’s not what Tim and Caroline have done, which is leap into the total unknown and build something from scratch,” Israel said.

Part of this positioning is the unique terms of the purchase, which, along with the farm’s equipment and buildings, includes a “significant amount of owners equity” contributed by Pam and Wilcox as an “acknowledgment” of the new owners’ contributions over the years, as well as financing from the Farm Service Agency, Farm Credit East, the Carrot Project and the Lotta Agricultural Fund.

Another aspect of the purchase, which will allow Israel and Traunstein to avoid putting personal capital into the sale, is a community GoFundMe for closing costs, which can be accessed at bit.ly/49E8CnE.

As they prepare to take over the farm, Traunstein and Israel said the only change will be the names of the owners.

“The change is that we will be running the farm and that role change will be more than enough,” Israel said. “What we have going on at the farm is a proven model, and coming into a totally new role [with] lots of new responsibilities that we’ve never done before, I don’t want to mess with that.”

For more information about Kitchen Garden Farm, visit its website at kitchengardenfarm.com or its Instagram page @kitchengarden.farm.