Volunteers earn their green thumbs at community farm
Volunteers were busy planting beets at the Jamestown Community Farm on a bucolic summer evening earlier this month. The beets will become part of the harvest of some 16,000 pounds of vegetables that the farm raises each year and then donates to soup kitchens and shelters throughout Rhode Island.
Joe Clifford is volunteering at the farm for the first time this summer. He was there with his two granddaughters who were visiting from South Carolina. Clifford reflected on his reasons for volunteering.
“I took an opportunity to help people out,” Clifford said. “It’s a great idea, enabling Jamestowners to help out less fortunate people in food kitchens and places like that. It’s an act of giving back.”
Clifford said that volunteering does a lot of beneficial things. It serves to unite the community in a common cause and it makes the community feel good about itself.
“We’re doing our little part,” he said. “No one can change the whole world but everyone can do their fair share, and it makes the world a better place. It’s the right thing to do – help those in need.”
Carol Cote was busy in the herb garden working alongside Linda Sutton, wife of farm manager Bob Sutton. They were adding lavender plants to a garden that already includes rosemary, parsley, lemongrass, cilantro and chives. Cote has volunteered at the farm for seven years.
“One of our neighbors recruited us,” Cote said. “He used to see us taking walks in the neighborhood and thought that if we liked to be out doing physical activities we might enjoy some farming. Helping people who don’t have fresh food is a very worthwhile thing to do.”
Another of the precious commodities that the farm produces is honey. A team led by head beekeeper Darcy Magrattan recently harvested 90 jars of the golden nectar from 12 hives. The honey went on sale when the farm stand opened last weekend.
Deb Foppert has been a volunteer at the farm since its inception 12 years ago, and she more recently became a board member for the nonprofit organization that runs the farm. Foppert, who teaches at St. George’s School in Newport, was part of the recent honey gathering process.
She said that working with bees was a definite choice on her part, so much so that she took a course on beekeeping at the University of Rhode Island this spring. Foppert stressed the importance of the farm to the people of Rhode Island. “Providing fresh, organic vegetables and eggs for those in need around the state is invaluable, as well as teaching those in the community about sustainable agriculture.”
The Jamestown Community Farm leases four acres of land from Peter and Jean Ceppi for $1 a year. In addition to the beets, the crops currently growing on the farm include green beans, kale, potatoes, cabbage, eggplant, tomatoes, pumpkins, squash, peppers, zucchini, cucumbers and lettuce. There is also a sunflower patch, and the farm’s 107 chickens produce five to six dozen eggs per day.
Christian Kirby is a high school student who has been volunteering at the farm for four years. “It’s a great opportunity to give back to the community,” he said. “The farm helps out local food banks and helps those in need who really need the vegetables.”
This summer marks the first season that the farm has been able to make full use of the barn that was constructed last year. Approximately $28,000 was raised to build the barn, and the labor was donated by local contractors. The barn now serves to house farm equipment, process eggs and honey. The barn also serves as the location for the farm stand, which is open on Saturdays from 9 a.m. to noon.
Ali Glassie is volunteering for the first time this summer, although it’s something that she has been planning to do for quite awhile. “The best intentions finally met up with actually having the time to do it,” she said. “We have a garden at home, and it’s very important to my family that we know where our food comes from.”
Another new development at the farm this year was the installation of a solar array and a 3,000-gallon water cistern that were paid for by grants. The solar array collects energy, which is fed to the National Grid meter, resulting in credits to the farm for electricity that the array collects. The array powers the pump that keeps water circulating in the cistern, which is filled by rain that falls on the roof of the barn.
The farm does not irrigate, so the collected water is used primarily for general maintenance like the egg processing. Occasionally water will be used to dampen a parched field in close proximity to the barn, or in the farm’s greenhouse where many of the crops begin.
Bob Sutton spoke of his vision of a farm that can serve as a demonstration that vegetables can be grown without irrigation, and without pesticides or herbicides. He takes pride in the fact that the farm has no negative impact on the town as a result of minerals extracted from the soil, or particles released into the air. The animal controls used on the farm, including the deer fence that surrounds it, are essentially passive in nature.
“It’s been a good year,” Sutton said. “This is our first full year with the new barn and that’s worked really well. We’ve already had our first honey harvest. Our chickens are doing well, the vegetables are doing well, so it’s been a good year.”
Sutton continued: “The most important thing is that we’ve had good volunteers. Everything you see here is done by volunteers. People spend their spare time weeding, and planting, and harvesting. We can always use more volunteers, but it’s been a great year.”
Volunteers are encouraged to come to the farm on Tuesday and Thursday evenings from 6 to 7 p.m., and on Saturdays from 9 a.m. to noon. The community farm is located at Eldred Avenue and East Shore Road.