Solving Food Insecurity One Row at a Time
After leading his own companies for more than 50 years, Marvin Makofsky ’64 is especially passionate about his current role: chief vegetable garden officer.
He has applied the entrepreneurial thinking that served him well in business to the problem of food insecurity. In 2010, Makofsky began brainstorming ways to get fresh vegetables to clients of a food pantry in his community of Port Washington, New York. “People who can’t afford the price of tomatoes basically only get nonperishable things donated to them,” he explains.
He started recruiting community members with vegetable gardens to share their bounty. He also partnered with a garden center that agreed to share its refrigerators and serve as a drop-off point for gardeners’ veggies. Volunteers helped transport them to the food pantry, and Plant a Row for the Hungry was born.
Creative problem-solving was a hallmark of Makofsky’s long career in printing-related ventures. In 1972, he launched a company that designed specialized business forms but pivoted often as computers changed the way businesses operated. “Gradually, I saw the beginning of the end of business forms as we know it, and I saw the applications for envelopes and pocket folders,” he says.
This led him in 2001 to start Conformer Products Inc., which currently specializes in eco-friendly paperboard mailers that are popular with e-commerce companies. Daily operations are run by Makofsky’s son, Bob, and the two of them hold more than 20 patents for products, including envelopes. Bob’s involvement “allows me to do the things that I love to do in terms of giving back,” Makofsky says.
“Babson emphasized giving back and contributing to your local community wherever you set up your business. I’ve done that for decades, and it gives me a great deal of pleasure.”
Marvin Makofsky ’64
His innovative thinking has allowed Plant a Row for the Hungry, a nonprofit since 2016, to flourish. He launched a painted pots program that invites businesses and other organizations to purchase and display pots decorated by local students, including blind and autistic students through collaboration with the Helen Keller National Center and The Nicholas Center. There are now 125 pots across Port Washington, which serve as mini vegetable gardens tended by an army of volunteers. And, in 2022, Makofsky persuaded the local town council to allow him to plant a garden on unused town land.
Makofsky has developed strong partnerships with the ScottsMiracle-Gro Company and the Home Depot Foundation, both of which have donated materials and labor to Plant a Row’s efforts. He’s proud that he has engaged a wide swath of the community in addressing hunger, from preschoolers to senior citizens, high school art students to accomplished artists, beginners to master gardeners. All of these efforts have yielded more than 57,000 pounds of produce delivered to the food pantry since 2010.
Makofsky’s generous instinct was nurtured in college. “Babson emphasized giving back and contributing to your local community wherever you set up your business,” he says. “I’ve done that for decades, and it gives me a great deal of pleasure.”