2017-11-30 / News

Generations of growers keep growing

Volunteers of all ages help community farm thrive for 17 years

While it’s mostly work at the community farm, teens and adults also take time to bond over lemonade on sweltering summer days. While it’s mostly work at the community farm, teens and adults also take time to bond over lemonade on sweltering summer days. It was March when Bob Sutton began planting seedlings in the greenhouse.

As they began to sprout from the soil, Sutton came across newspaper articles on Sophia Primiano, Sterling Dintersmith, Nathan Housberg and the Sullivan brothers, Chris and Ted, all during a single growing season.

They all are college students now. Sutton, however, remembers them before they were playing lacrosse at Denver or cramming for exams at Brown. He recalls them planting seeds, pulling weeds and picking beans.

As he talks about Dintersmith being “a really bright girl” and the “hard-working” Sullivan boys, a car pulls into the farm’s parking lot on Eldred Avenue. It’s Roland Poisson, of Hamilton Avenue, stopping to buy a dozen eggs. As his wife fetches the eggs, Poisson introduces himself.

— Bob Sutton, community farm manager — Bob Sutton, community farm manager “I’m the old man of the group,” he said. Poisson, Sutton said, has been volunteering for as long as he can remember.

This seamless transition, from teenager to octogenarian, is no mistake. This is the vision Sutton had when he founded the Jamestown Community Farm in 2001: Elementary students, teenagers, 40-somethings and senior citizens working side-by-side.

“That’s what makes this so great,” said Sutton, who manages the farm. “There is no hierarchy. Everybody just does what has to be done. If the beans need to be picked, then everyone is picking the stupid beans. It’s always been like that.”

Last week, Sutton ate a tomato for lunch he had picked from the greenhouse. There are no more left, marking the end of another successful growing season in which volunteers harvested 21,789 pounds of fresh vegetables. They also collected 21 pints of blackberries, 136 jars of honey, 5,808 eggs and 400 heads of garlic. Roughly three-quarters of that produce was donated to meal sites. Sutton said he still is amazed that volunteers continue to arrive, week after week, year after year.

“I’m always worried that one day they will figure it out,” he said. “They will figure out that it’s just hard work. That’s all it is. But every week, there they are, weeding the fields on their hands and knees. It’s incredible.”

Denise Gamon, who considers herself a relative newcomer to the farm, said the younger crowd brings energy. She mentioned a group of teenage girls that she calls the “queens of the garlic.”

“I just love everybody up there,” said Gamon, who volunteers on nearly every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday during the summer. “The kids are awesome because we’re all doing the same thing. There is no competition. And it’s important work for a good cause.”

Although the overarching theme has remained the same for 17 seasons, there were a few differences in 2017. First, Sutton decided to limit donations to the McCauley House in Providence and the Dr. MLK Jr. Community Center in Newport. The farm makes about four trips each week.

“Rather than spread it thin, we take it where they can really use it,” he said. “The McCauley House is in a tough neighborhood. Every morning there is a line for breakfast, and every afternoon they line up for lunch. We do our best to help. That’s important for our volunteers. That’s why we do this.”

This also is the first year in which Sutton had 6 acres under cultivation. In previous seasons, there have been 4 acres in production, but Sutton cleared 2 more acres in 2016 for cover crops. While the cultivation area is 50 percent larger, Sutton only needs 4 acres to grow his vegetables. The other 2 acres will be used for soil rehabilitation on a rotating basis.

According to Sutton, the farm will be broken into three sections. During the winter, all three fields will be planted with cover crops that don’t die in the frost, such as winter rye, alfalfa and clover. They aren’t harvested and eaten, but are mowed and plowed and turned into the soil in the spring. As the crops decompose, they release nutrients.

While two sections will be seeded, weeded and harvested during the growing months, more cover crops will be planted in the third field. That routine will rotate between the fields. Every three years, each section will have had a yearlong rehabilitation period.

Sutton, however, is the first to admit this system is still in its trial period.

“We really want to perfect this cover cropping,” he said. “None of us are professional farmers. We just try to teach ourselves while listening to what the pros have to say. We try to do things better all the time. We try to improve. We aren’t just a pile of weeds up here.”

The last thing volunteers did before the season ended was plant 600 feet of garlic, which grows through the winter. The sun was setting a bit earlier than usual, but just like in June, children and adults stuffed the cloves alongside one another, sharing stories about their latest school project or retirement plans.

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