HADLEY — The grounds at Plainville Farm appeared still Friday morning as snow gently fell, but behind doors was a different story.
Employees at the Hadley farm deftly peeled, diced and packaged butternut squash. The larger squash will soon be on supermarket shelves, but the smaller-sized vegetables have a different destination.
Twelve miles away at the Food Bank of Western Massachusetts in Hatfield, owners of the farm were celebrated for the bounty of small vegetables it provides for those in need. In 2016, Plainville Farm donated more than 160,000 pounds of produce — mostly squash — making it the Food Bank’s “Farm of the Year.”
Now in its second year, the gathering honors the more than two dozen area farms that donate fresh fruits and vegetables to the nonprofit organization, which serves communities in Berkshire, Franklin, Hampshire and Hampden counties.
“It’s a great way to recognize the incredibly generous donations of our local farmers,” said Lisa Limont, a food procurement specialist for the Food Bank.
Five of the 27 local farm donors attended Friday’s ceremony and brunch at the Food Bank, and also got a tour of its facility. The farmers present were responsible for donating almost 300,000 pounds of produce.
The farmers see their contributions as a productive alternative to food waste. They bring in produce because it’s too small or too big. Some donate because they just have too much.
“I feel guilty throwing stuff away,” said Wally Czajkowski, owner of Plainville Farm, which is located on Mt. Warner Road.
Food that is not destined for the store is sometimes made into animal feed, Czajkowski said.
“We feed a lot of animals. Why not give it to people?” he said.
While Czajkowski and Plainville Farm have been donating to the Food Bank for years, last year marked the first time Peter Mitchell and his farm, Head Water Cider, donated to the Food Bank.
The 120-acre property in Hawley grows a variety of apples to make hard cider. Less than ideal conditions across the region this past year meant that many orchards had smaller yields. For Mitchell, however; 2016 produced a bumper crop.
After they picked their fill of apples for cider, Mitchell joked that workers couldn’t just take the oversupply and throw apples at each other. Instead, he said, they donated 6,300 pounds to the Food Bank.
“Unfortunately we can’t donate hard cider,” Mitchell joked.
Meantime, the more-than-century-old Szawlowski Potato Farm in Hatfield donated more than 90,000 pounds of potatoes to the Food Bank.
Without the nonprofit to take them, Shelley Szawlowski said they would probably be sent south to a processing plant. This way, not only are the potatoes kept local, but they also help local families.
“We have the availability, the product … it’s a good thing,” she said.
For Gideon Porth of Deerfield’s Atlas Farm, donating the excess food means the hard work that went into growing the crops doesn’t go to waste.
“It’s a win-win,” he said of donating. “They really do a good job.”
In addition to the 27 area farms, the Food Bank receives produce from local grocery stores, wholesale food suppliers and other sources. In all, the nonprofit received around 2.4 million pounds of produce last year which includes more than a 250,000 pounds of potatoes, around 150,000 pounds of carrots and nearly that much in onions.
The produce is then distributed through area pantries, meal sites, the Food Bank’s brown bag program and the mobile food bank which brings fresh foods to 14 sites throughout the four western Mass counties.
From Oct. 1, 2015 to Sept. 30, 2016, the Food Bank served 223,457 people. More than 64 percent of those served live in Hampden County while about 13 percent live in Hampshire County.
To feed that many people, it took more than 10.1 million pounds of food, according to the Food Bank.
“At the Food Bank, we have a vision — creating a Western Massachusetts where no one goes hungry and everyone has access to healthy food,” spokesman Chris Wojcik, told area farmers at Friday’s ceremony. “We could not do the work we do without all your support.”
Sarah Crosby contributed to this report. Emily Cutts can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.