2010-03-11 / News

Conanicut Grange Report

By Bob Sutton
Carol Anderson and Debbie Swistak, the two sisters who own and operate “Jamestown Designs,” grew up on Jamestown during the time that the Newport Ferry was islanders’ main access to the rest of the world. The old Jamestown Bridge connected the western side, but it was a toll bridge, narrow and slippery.

There was very little on the western side of the bay worthy of either the toll or the risk of passage across the narrow, slippery bridge; no huge super markets, no big box stores and no 70-mph, cell phone-distracted, Interstate 95 commuters en route to Providence. Island teenagers took the ferry to high school and in so doing, gained an opportunity for independence and maturity not necessarily available to our busmonitored, teacher-aided, crossing guard-protected students of today.

Debbie and Carol’s father, Jack Anderson, ran the local dairy, which was originally located on Carr Lane but was relocated by their father to the building on Narragansett Avenue now occupied by Nick DiGiando’s landscaping business. From 1943 to 1959, “Anderson Dairy” picked up raw milk from nine island dairy farms (Jamestown photo historian, John Doty, has some great 1940s pictures of the trucks), processed the milk, bottled the milk and delivered it three times a week to islanders’ doorsteps. He also delivered to the several small markets located throughout the community and during the summer, accommodated the hotels and the summer residents.

The nine dairy farms varied in size from the Dutra Farm, which milked over 30 cows, to others as small as two or three dairy cows. It was this farm/dairy infrastructure that provided the Vitamin D requirements for Conanicut Island. Anderson Dairy assured island farmers of a market for their product, provided employment for both full time and summer workers, and was perfectly compatible with a largely sustainable island economy that existed in Jamestown at that time.

There is currently a TV commercial that shows a supposedly smiling cow in a beautiful California green pasture with other smiling cows – and the voiceover announcer tells us to buy California milk from “happy” cows. Suspending for the moment the difficulty and likely inaccuracy of assigning human emotions to farm animals, if you go to the California Dairy Association website, you can view a video of husband-and-wife family farmers talking about how they keep their cows “happy.”

The U.S.D.A. reports the reality: Dairy farms in California produce over 40 billion pounds of milk annually, of which 88% is produced on farms with over 500 milk cows. Herds between 5,000 and 10,000 cows are not uncommon, and are on the increase. The vast majority of dairy farming is large-scale assembly line production – or “factory farming.”

The average cow lives out its productive life, not in green pastures but standing on man-made surfaces, milked by robotic computer programmed machines, fed from computer-programmed feeders that monitor and record every aspect of her life. If she understands any human emotions whatsoever, it is more likely despair and futility than happiness.

When Henry Ford invented and created assembly line production of automobiles in the early 1900s, he could not wait to tell and show the world how it all worked and how, for the consumer, it was a great improvement to the automobile product. The Modern Marvels cable TV show relishes showing us modern computer technology-driven assembly line creations of all nature of things. If assembly line production of milk and trucking it 3,000 miles across the country is so great, why does the California Dairy Association spend millions of dollars on an ad campaign to convince us their California milk production is done the old-time Conanicut Island Anderson Dairy way?

Conanicut Grange member Joe Dutra was one of the founding farmer members of the “Rhody Fresh” dairy products. As a founding member, Joe, whose father and grandfather sold their milk to Anderson Dairy, understands the value of local, fresh, pasture-fed milk. On the Rhody Fresh milk carton, it says, “By purchasing Rhody Fresh Milk you’re getting fresh milk from local farms that do not use artifi cial growth hormones. You’re supporting Rhode Island’s dairy farmers and helping to preserve local farms, pastures and wide open spaces…”

That’s not California happy cow “bling”…that’s the truth.

Outstanding in the field

Driving by Beaver Head Farm, you may notice a big white dog in the pastures with the sheep and the chickens. Grange member Pat McNiff farms a portion of Beaver Head Farm, and is the owner of “Shep.”

Shep, a 2-year-old Anatolian Shepard is a livestock guardian dog. He lives with the sheep and sometimes the chickens, and he is their protector from land and sky predators (hawks, coyotes, fox, etc.) He is kind and fearless and he understands his job.

Additionally, he now has the added responsibility of training two new guardian pups, so when you drive by, you may actually see three of them in the field.

The Conanicut Grange meets at 7 p.m. on the second Wednesday of each month at Grange Hall, 6 West St. in Jamestown.

What’s available in


McQuade’s Market: Rhody Fresh Milk

Hodgkiss Farm, North Main Road: Horse hay, home-knit wool caps, 423-3260.

Watson Farm, North Main Road: Grass-fed Red Devon beef, lamb, Conanicut Island & Rhody Warm wool blankets. Hours: Thursday 3 to 6 p.m.

Windmist Farm, 71 Weeden Ln.: Grass-fed beef products, fresh eggs. Hours: Friday, 3 to 5 p.m.; Saturday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Winter Farmer’s Markets, www.farmfresh.org.

North Kingstown, Saturday morning, 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., 650 Ten Rod Rd.

Pawtucket, Saturday morning, 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., Hope Artiste Village, 1005 Main St.

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