SUNDERLAND — Kitchen Garden Farm grows new farmers along with the vegetables.

Lilly Israel and Max Traunstein, employees at the farm since 2016 and 2014, are assuming ownership of the 65-acre vegetable farm on South Silver Lane. Caroline Pam and Tim Wilcox, who founded the farm on a rented one acre plot in 2006, will sell the new owners the farm for $2.2 million.

“For the past six years I was the production manager at Kitchen Garden Farm,” Traunstein said. The graduate of the Stockbridge School of Agriculture at the University of Massachusetts Amherst understands his good fortune. “There are a lot of parties involved to make this happen.”

Israel also graduated from the Stockbridge School and has been sales manager at the farm for the last five years. She also managed the vegetable washing and production areas. The farm is well known for a focus on the specialty vegetables used in Italian foodmaking and condiments. The farm’s sriracha sauce and salsas are nationally distributed.

Pam and Wilcox had the farm appraised for $2.5 million, but reduced the asking price by about 20% to make it affordable for the new owners. No value was assigned to the intangible assets of customer lists, goodwill, intellectual property and recipes, Israel said, so the employees could acquire the business.

“We are not having to put in any of our own capital … and that’s the only reason two young farmers were able to take on this project,” Israel said.

The farm includes 65 acres of plantable fields, of which about 35 acres is rented. Some of the property is situated in Whately. The main location in the southern reaches of Sunderland has a house, outbuildings, tractors and equipment, five greenhouses and a beautiful view toward the Connecticut River.

Pam and Wilcox are a couple while Israel and Traunstein, both 31, are not. Couples are the most common configuration for owners of smaller farms like Kitchen Garden. Pam and Wilcox are uncertain of their future plans.

“We are very consciously not stepping directly into anything and allowing ourselves a moment of taking a beat and being open to new experiences and new opportunities,” Pam said. “We’re trying to wind back a little bit and enter a new learning mode.”

Israel and Traunstein have no intention to change how the farm is run or which products are produced. The fiscal stability of the business is grounded in the value added products, the prepared foods and condiments, that offer some continuity of income in the winter months.

Pam and Wilcox had a fascination with Italian cooking and food. The farm reflected their tastes by producing vegetables featured in Italian dishes. Cooking greens, specialty peppers, heirloom tomatoes, herbs for cooking, root veggies like radicchio and kohlrabi are all grown organically.

The website for the farm assures quality conscious consumers the greens and sauces are nutritious and clean. Pam and Wilcox established the farm as organic. Their attention to best practices for cultivation included the reclamation of soils previously devoted to conventional growing.

The focus on quality has attracted the attention of upscale restaurants. The Blue Heron, up the road in Sunderland town center, features Kitchen Garden vegetables. The Upper Bend in Turner’s Falls, Clover in Cambridge, Calico in Easthampton and several high-end eateries in Northampton serve dishes with Kitchen Garden produce.

Kitchen Garden greens are available to less affluent consumers through a share in the Healthy Incentives Program, or HIP, by way of the Sunderland Farm Collaborative. Area residents on Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, can sign up for a weekly bag of fresh food. Two sizes, $40 and $60 weekly, are available, after which participants will be refunded their payment through the collaborative.

New owners Israel and Traunstein are getting their feet wet in the tasks of farming that don’t involve the soil. Scheduling is a new skill. Responding to regulatory requirements, ordering supplies and doing payroll are unfamiliar paperwork. The multiplicity of new demands isn’t what makes Traunstein nervous. For him, the unpredictability of the weather is a worry.

“This is a sad reality,” Traunstein said. “The thing that I’m most nervous about is the climate … and seeing, year over year, the weather patterns shifting and not necessarily always in a way that favors farmers. The amount of pressure we’re getting from that, the excess wetness and disease and insect pressure … is scaring a lot of farmers.”

Israel, manager of the indoor operations, may feel less pressure from global warming. Her concern is to nurture the human resources of the farm and to take care of those who work the soil and scrub the dirt off the tubers.

“I’ve never been responsible for 25 people and their livelihood. That’s the most anxiety provoking reality for me,” Israel said. “We want to pay them a good wage and give them a nice place to work … That’s a really high priority for me.”

Residents interested in a weekly vegetable share from Kitchen Garden Farm should call 413-387-5163 before May 1, when the shares begin, or by emailing info@kitchengardenfarm.com. Wholesale inquiries should be made to orders@kitchengardenfarm.com.

dpruyne@thereminder.com | + posts