Back to business for island farmers
The landscape of the central part of the island may not change much over the next five, 10 or even 100 years. However, the two farms that were protected under the recent land agreement will most likely see some changes during the next few years to continue as viable commercial enterprises.
Although some islanders were more concerned about scenic vistas, sustainable farming was always at the heart of Joe and Jessie Dutra's and George and Martha Neale's decisions to sell the development rights to their farms.
"The time was right for us to protect the farm right now. I am 59 years old and my health is getting to the point where I can't do this as a one man operation anymore," Joe Dutra said of his dairy farm. "Whether or not this deal had gone through, we had to look at how we can have this farm keep up with the pace of modern farming."
Some options the Dutras have considered are hiring someone to manage the farm or to switch to some other product for the farm to produce.
Jessie Dutra points out that part of sustainability for a majority of small farms comes from the ability to retail farm goods at the local level, a consideration that the Dutras have not ruled out entirely, but which is not in their immediate plans.
"The Rhody Fresh cooperative has looked at getting into ice cream, so we did consider a stand at one point, but we have decided that is not what is feasible for us right now," she said. "Our goal is to make sure the land is protected and farmed. There is a movement towards local farming for a reason, it is good for everyone involved."
The Dutras said the decision to not go forward with the dairy stand was not based on pressure from any one group, but rather what is best for them at the moment.
"There are 75 individual farms in Rhode Island that fall under the same state and federal program that the Dutra's and the Neale's farms do, and every single one of them has a retail provision included in their agreement. Jamestown is not unique in that," Town Administrator Bruce Keiser said.
The Neales are planning to of- fer their farm products through a retail operation at their farm, but George Neale said the timetable is something that has been in the works for over a year.
"Right now our biggest hold up is that there is no place locally to process the product. The closest operations are in Vermont, New Hampshire and Massachusetts. It is expensive to ship the product to get processed and then brought back here to sell," he said.
Another change for the Neales is bringing additional goats into their herd to vary their product.
"My wife really likes the goats, and cows and goats work well together. Goats eat what the cows don't," Neale said.
One thing that doesn't change is the up before dawn, work after dark life of the two farms. Neale said that on a typical day his wife gets up before the sun to do her farm chores, goes to work and then comes home and does more chores after sunset.
"Farming is a historic way of life," he said. "It is more like a museum that needs to be preserved."
Jessie Dutra echoes his comments, adding, "It is not a career, it is a lifestyle."
Preserving the farms did not come without a cost to all those who will enjoy their bounty for years to come. Keiser said there are still ways for the local community to share in the preservation and for the town as a whole to benefit from the donations.
"The benefits to those who give to the farm fund are three-fold," Keiser said. "First, it gets us back to the level of bonding we anticipated given the level of private contributions."
"It will also help to reduce our town debt, which is part of good budgetary management," he added. "Recent projects have added to the debt burden and we would like to minimize that debt for the good of the town."
The third benefit comes in the form of things not yet seen.
"We have several other projects we would like to take on, including the Fort Getty master plan, and Fort Wetherill, which might require bonding and we don't want to put them off," Keiser said.
All donations made to the town for the farm fund are tax-deductible and will go directly to reducing the bond debt from the farm preservation.
This is the first installment of a series about farming in Jamestown.