Valley Bounty: A farm stand in good hands: Wanczyk Produce in Hadley delivers quality, care, and has big dreams for the future

Wanczyk Produce in Hadley.

Wanczyk Produce in Hadley. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

Jackie Pliska, owner of Wanczyk Produce in Hadley, took over the family farm stand in 2022. She hopes to expand the business to be open year-round, and also hopes to get approved to accept HIP benefits as soon as that program starts enrolling new farm stands.

Jackie Pliska, owner of Wanczyk Produce in Hadley, took over the family farm stand in 2022. She hopes to expand the business to be open year-round, and also hopes to get approved to accept HIP benefits as soon as that program starts enrolling new farm stands. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

Jackie Pliska, owner of Wanczyk Produce in Hadley, took over the family farm stand in 2022. She hopes to expand the business to be open year-round, and also hopes to get approved to accept HIP benefits as soon as that program starts enrolling new farm stands.

Jackie Pliska, owner of Wanczyk Produce in Hadley, took over the family farm stand in 2022. She hopes to expand the business to be open year-round, and also hopes to get approved to accept HIP benefits as soon as that program starts enrolling new farm stands. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

Jackie Pliska, owner of Wanczyk Produce in Hadley, took over the family farm stand in 2022. She hopes to expand the business to be open year-round, and also hopes to get approved to accept HIP benefits as soon as that program starts enrolling new farm stands.

Jackie Pliska, owner of Wanczyk Produce in Hadley, took over the family farm stand in 2022. She hopes to expand the business to be open year-round, and also hopes to get approved to accept HIP benefits as soon as that program starts enrolling new farm stands. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

Wanczyk Produce in Hadley.

Wanczyk Produce in Hadley. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

Cut flowers sold at Wanczyk Produce in Hadley.

Cut flowers sold at Wanczyk Produce in Hadley. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

By JACOB NELSON

For the Gazette

Published: 05-31-2024 3:54 PM

Jackie Pliska, owner of Wanczyk Produce in Hadley, has dreams of keeping the farm stand business open year-round instead of seven months each year. But first, she has to finish college.

Pliska started working at the family business when she was 11. She swept floors. She learned to work the cash register. Then, when her grandfather fell ill and couldn’t run things, she stepped in to manage the stand.

“When he passed away, things were up in the air about who would run it,” recalls Pliska. “Eventually I decided to stick with it. I wanted to create a retail space where people could buy affordable, healthy produce grown by local farmers, and hopefully help boost the local economy.”

Since 2022, Wanczyk Produce has been Pliska’s show to run, even as she completes her degree at the Isenberg School of Management at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. Once she does, she plans to take classes at the university’s Stockbridge School of Agriculture too.

Her grandmother, Janet Wanczyk, helps staff the stand on weekdays, and other family and friends help on weekends when things get busier.

Under Pliska’s care, the farm stand has stretched its season and expanded its offerings. If strawberries or corn are in season on Hadley farms, chances are they’ll be found on the stand as they always were. But now they’re selling new-for-them things like cut flowers, hanging baskets, salsa, jam and dairy products, all from local farms.

“I like to say we’re a one-stop farmers market,” she explains. “We work with over 40 different farms across Massachusetts and bring their harvest here, so you can come to one place for it. We try to cater to everyone and make it really simple for anyone who wants to shop here.”

Customer ease and accessibility is what Pliska says sets Wanczyk Produce apart from some other roadside farm stands. For payment they accept debit, credit, cash, Venmo and SNAP (formerly called food stamps). They’re also located right next to a PVTA bus stop, making things a bit easier for customers without cars.

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Besides accepting SNAP, Pliska hopes they’ll soon be able to accept HIP (Healthy Inceptives Program) benefits too. HIP is a state-run program that offers SNAP customers an extra $40 to $80 per month, depending on their household size, to spend on locally grown fruits and veggies at approved vendors like farmers markets and farm stands. The program is not enrolling any new farm stands now, but once they are she plans to apply.

“We also have employees working at all times,” she says. “We can help you figure out paying in multiple ways, and we offer curbside service. People who have trouble walking or even mothers with children who don’t want to get out of the car can pull up to the stand, honk their horn and we’ll serve them right from their car.”

The reason many people shop for produce at local farm stands is for freshness and quality. Wanczyk Produce pays attention to both, following the mantra, “if we wouldn’t buy it, we won’t sell it.” New produce comes in daily, some of it hitting the stand within an hour of being harvested. Everything else is stored in a walk-in cooler when not on the stand, and inventory moves quickly.

Early in the season, Hadley asparagus from the nearby West Farm and Four Rex Farm were a big draw, along with crisp rhubarb. All kinds of leafy greens are now available too, as well as the first tender root crops of the year like carrots and radishes. The season’s first strawberries are imminent, while hot house tomatoes, other berries and eventually sweet corn aren’t far behind.

Wanczyk Produce does grow some of their own crops — mostly peak summer produce like tomatoes, cucumbers and peppers. Otherwise, what they sell is gathered from other local farms. In many cases Pliska or someone else is driving out to each farm to pick up orders, leaning into individual relationships with other farmers.

“Wally Czajkowski at Plainville Farm here in Hadley has a bunch of products we buy throughout the summer and fall,” Pliska says. “Over towards Amherst, we buy a lot from Old Friends Farm, and Kitchen Garden Farm up in Sunderland.”

Looking ahead, Pliska sees diversification as the key to unlocking Wanczyk Produce’s potential. That goes for business relationships, products they sell, and customers they serve.

“We want to expand the number of local farms that we work with,” she says. “We really want to be 12 months out of the year, which means working out some logistics and adding more year-round products, like baked goods and things. And I really want to get approved to accept HIP along with SNAP. HIP hasn’t been open to new businesses since I’ve owned the stand, but I know there are lots of people who would use HIP here if they could, so I’m hopeful.”

Wanczyk Produce is open seven days a week from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. at 180 Russell Street in Hadley. This year, they plan on staying open through Thanksgiving at least. After that, time will tell how the future unfolds.

Jacob Nelson is communications coordinator for CISA (Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture). To learn more about local farms and farm stands in your neck of the woods, visit buylocalfood.org.