farms coming back in RI

posted November 30, 2010

so says the Providence Journal.

After century-long decline, Rhode Island farms are experiencing a growth spurt
By Peter B. Lord, November 13, 2010

Founded in 2002, Aquidneck Farms’ 260 acres of pastures in Portsmouth are on schedule to support nearly 20,000 pounds of high-quality, grass-fed beef this year. Farm manager Jim Booth says his biggest challenge: The farm can’t keep up with demand from farmers’ markets and restaurants.

Patrick McNiff faces a similar challenge on his 100-acre operation based at the south end of Jamestown. Last year, he raised and sold 3,000 broilers, 50 hogs, 150 turkeys, 15 lambs and 3 steers. This year, he expects to double and triple those numbers. But he still can’t grow enough to keep up with the demand he generates through Twitter and Facebook as well as traditional marketing.

The two are prime examples of a dramatic reversal of the 100-year decline in Rhode Island agriculture. Thanks to local farmers’ markets and growing interest by local restaurants and the public for high-quality, locally grown foods, the two started new farms that are thriving. They are far from alone.

A federal survey found 300 new, small farms in Rhode Island in the last several years, with agriculture one of the few growth industries here in this recession. And now Rhode Island farmers want to do even better.

McNiff and Booth were among some 200 farmers who met at the University of Rhode Island on Tuesday night as members of a new group called the Rhode Island Agricultural Partnership.

They set up a new website designed to be a portal to access all kinds of information about Rhode Island agriculture.

And they came up with a five-year strategic plan, written by farmers and for farmers, that takes some strong positions. It calls for: No more net loss of farmland to development; new efforts to make locally grown food available to more people; better marketing, and even branding, so Rhode Island meats and vegetables and fruits are more identifiable as such.

“This is an exciting time to be in agriculture,” said Jan Eckhart, owner of Sweet Berry Farm in Middletown and chairman of the new group’s steering committee. “Despite the economy, agriculture is a growth industry. There is renewed appreciation for what we do.”

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