Modern Farming in Rhode Island: A Community Conversation

Posted by Joyce Leigh on

Farming is on the rise in Rhode Island. Since 2002, the state has seen a 42 percent increase in the number of farms. Today, 1,240 farms call Rhode Island home. The state is second in the nation for direct retail sales, which means selling to the public through farmers markets, farm stores, restaurants, and institutions.

The Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management (DEM) is doing its part to keep farms in the state, too, working with local organizations such as the Young Farmer Network, Farm Fresh Rhode Island, and Market Mobile. In addition, Rhode Island’s Local Agriculture and Seafood Act (LASA) offers grants and programs that link existing farms with new farmers who can’t afford to buy it.

But there is more work to be done.

Televised Discussion with Studio Audience

Rhode Island Monthly magazine and the Rhode Island Foundation present a panel discussion, Modern Farming in Rhode Island: A Community Conversation, produced by Rhode Island PBS. Taping of the discussion takes place on Thursday, November 29, 4:30-7 p.m. at Rhode Island PBS studios, 50 Park Lane, Providence, RI. The event is free, but studio seating is limited and reservations are required by Tuesday, November 27.  Light refreshments will be served and there is free parking on-site.

Agriculture in a Social Media Landscape

To thrive in the modern world, many local farmers are developing innovative marketing strategies through social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. They are also taking advantage of mobile payments or apps that offer local pickup or delivery. 

“Farms tend to be smaller and there’s much more capacity to make a living on small acreages than there used to be,” said Ken Ayars, chief of Agriculture at Rhode Island DEM. “You can direct market and make a living off a farm that’s two to four acres in the state, and that wasn’t necessarily the case thirty or forty years ago.”

However, there are still challenges involved with running a profitable farm and getting more people to purchase local products. Ayars estimates farms are producing only about 10 percent of the food consumed.   

Katie Steere, owner of Deep Roots farm, finds that selling directly to customers through an onsite farm store has been most successful for her and one of the best ways for small farms to survive. Others have found that offering Community Supported Agriculture, or CSA, is the most financially sound plan for them. In a CSA, consumers subscribe to a farm’s harvest by making a payment at the start of the planting season in exchange for a weekly or biweekly share of the farm’s yield.

Preserving Farmland to Fulfill Future DreamsModern-Farming_CommConv_strip.jpg

In spite of the progressive developments, there is still work to be done when it comes to preserving farmland that’s at risk to be lost to real estate development or making land accessible to new farmers.  Rhode Island has the priciest farmland in the United States so, for many new farmers, it’s hard to find land they can purchase right away.  Leasing farmland for a few years while they work towards fulfilling their dreams has been the only option for some who hope to one day purchase their own land with the help of USDA grants and loans geared towards helping new farmers.

The common thread among Rhode Island farmers is a love for the land and a dedication to provide the most nourishing food to the community. They are committed to the lifestyle and sharing it with dreams of hosting farm dinners, classes, and events, or opening an on-site café. 

Discussing Issues and Opportunities

NBC10 news anchor Mario Hilario will moderate the discussion for Modern Farming in Rhode Island: A Community Conversation and explore the issues and opportunities faced by today’s local farmers with panelists:

  • Jamie Coelho, associate editor, Rhode Island Monthly
  • Ken Ayars, chief of the Division of Agriculture, RI DEM
  • Mike Hallock, CEO, RI Mushroom Company
  • Katie Steere, owner of Deep Roots Farm
  • Sarah Turkus, organizer of the Young Farmer Network of Southeastern New England and manager at Osamequin Farm

Broadcast Premiere

Rhode Island PBS will air Modern Farming in Rhode Island: A Community Conversation on Friday, December 21 at 8pm. The program will also be available on the station’s YouTube channel after the premiere.

WSBE  Rhode Island PBS transmits standard-definition (SD) and high-definition (HD) content over the  air on digital 36.1; on Rhode Island cable services: Cox 08 / 1008HD, Verizon FiOS 08 / 508HD, Full  Channel 08; on Massachusetts cable services: Comcast 819HD, Verizon 18 / 518HD; on  satellite:  DirecTV 36  / 3128HD, Dish  Network 36.