Imagine yourself going for a pleasure drive on a beautiful summer day. The wind is blowing through your hair, and you stop the car for a minute to appreciate the views. Are you imagining the ocean? Smelling the salty air and hearing the playful screams of children in the waves? The shoreline is a picturesque side to southern Rhode Island, but if that is all you see, you are missing out on another side to this part of the state: the farmland. There are farmers working on farms both big and small. Some farms date back to the 1700s, and some are from the recent past. There are farms with grass-fed cattle, hydroponically grown tomatoes and organically grown squash. When was the last time you stopped to appreciate your local farmers and sample their wares?
Martha and George Neale operate one of the most picturesque farms in southern Rhode Island. Windmist Farm is located in Jamestown, and many people stop to marvel at the beauty of the Belted Galloway cows grazing in the 40 acres of farmland with a view of the Newport Bridge in the background. The “belties,” as the cows are known, are well suited to their environment: their small frames and slow growth rate make them perfect for converting grass into meat. In addition to cattle, the Neales also raise goats, Katahdin sheep, chickens and heritage pigs.
Windmist Farm is located at 71 Weeden Lane, Jamestown. They are open Fridays 3-6pm and Saturdays 10am-4pm. Their products can also be found at the following local farmer’s markets: Coastal Grower’s Market at the Casey Farm in Saunderstown (Saturdays 9am-12pm) and the Jamestown Farmer’s Market at Fort Getty (Mondays 4-7pm).
New England Grass Fed
Patrick Beck is a farmer without a farm. His company, New England Grass Fed, buys yearlings from proven grass fed herds and places them on prime coastal grazing land where they graze to their hearts’ content. He likens it to sending his cows off tosummer camp and pays the farms a daily rate. The cows thrive on the variety of coastal grasses and enjoy the long grazing season. The grass fed beef is incredibly flavorful and Patrick says it is almost “too strong for some customers used to sweet corn-fed beef.” In addition to his wandering cattle, Patrick also raises grass fed rabbits. For Patrick, it’s about raising the animals with respect and contributing to Rhode Island’s “robust food economy.”
New England Grass Fed products can be ordered from their website. They can also be found at the Wickford Farmer’s Market (Thursdays 3-7pm) and the South Kingstown Farmer’s Market (Saturdays 8:30am-12pm).
John and Cindy’s Harvest Acre Farm
John and Cindy's Harvest Acre Farm is more off the beaten path on Kingston Road in West Kingston. I rarely head that way unless I’m taking the back roads to the beach, but it’s a treasure of a farm, and you should take the time to find it. John and Cindy Duncan love working together on their farm. Despite some family struggles, (a 30-year-old son with cerebral palsy and the premature death of their 15-year-old daughter) they have turned the farm into a destination. Cindy works hard to make it a farm worthy of exploring. From the beautiful perennials in the greenhouses to the farm fresh veggies and the homemade (by Cindy each morning) breads, cookies and pies, there is plenty to enjoy.
John and Cindy’s Harvest Acre Farm is located at 425 Kingston Rd., West Kingston. The farm stand is open seven days a week from 10am-6pm.
Wojnar Family Farm
Mike Wojnar and his two sons, Joshua and Adam, operate the Wojnar Family Farm in Saunderstown. They are leasing ten acres of the historic Hazard Farm, which has been in existence since the 1700s. The Wojnars updated their farm with two (soon to be three thanks to a grant from the Department of Agriculture) hydroponic greenhouses, which enables them to grow vegetables yearround. They harvest 800 heads of lettuce (five varieties) every month as well as four kinds of tomatoes, cucumbers, green beans and snow peas. In addition to their greenhouse vegetables, the Wojnars also use their land to harvest seasonal vegetables and herbs and do it 100% organically.
Wojnar Family Farm is located at 2065 Boston Neck Rd., Saunderstown. Their farm stand is open Monday-Saturday from 9am-5pm. They also sell at the Richmond Farmer’s Market (Saturdays 9am-12:30pm).
Buying & Eating Lcoal
The farmers I talked to had one thing in common – passion. They have an unbridled enthusiasm for what they do. It would be impossible not to get excited when you hear the farmers talking about their farms. On Windmist Farm, Martha Neale tells everyone she’s “living the dream,” and Cindy Duncan beamed when talking about planting 1,500 mums at her Harvest Acres. Mike Wojnar of Wojnar Family Farm couldn’t stop smiling when he let me sample one of his hydroponic tomatoes and Patrick Beck couldn’t have been more excited as he crouched in a field of grasses showing me why coastal grass was so good for his New England Grass Fed cows.
For many southern Rhode Island farmers, farming is way to work with family. Mike Wojnar confessed his favorite farming chore is picking lettuce because he gets to spend quality time with his two sons. Cindy Duncan said the best part of her job is working side by side with her husband. Despite the hard work in running a farm, the Neales have found working together to berewarding.
Farming is a career for those both robust in stature and strong in will. It is a seven-day-a-week job, and the days are long and ceaseless. Talking to the farmers, they seemed to have a boundless capacity for work. The Duncans go months without taking days off. (In fact, their next day off is Thanksgiving.)During planting and harvest season, the work is from sunrise to sunset. Even in the “off-season,” farmers keep busy planning for the following year, selling their products and fixing and maintaining the machinery.
We all know that farming is tough, back breaking work, but did you know the biggest challenge most farmers face has to do with you? The farmers I talked with all agreed their biggest challenge was convincing people it was worth the time to try their food. Once they get customers to try their products, chances are good they will have a repeat customer on their hands. When you think about it, how could their bounty not taste better than grocery store food? Consider lettuce picked today versus lettuce picked a week ago, sealed in a plastic bag and shipped thousands of miles. Even buying organic produce won’t get you the tastiest and freshest product. An organic tomato from California can take up to a week to reach Rhode Island, so imagine how long it takes produce from Mexico, Costa Rica and beyond to reach the consumer. Local produce is harvested at the peak of perfection and often available to you the same day it’s picked.
American consumers are so conditioned to shop at the big box supermarkets, they don’t realize farm fresh produce and meats could be right around the corner from their homes or offices.“Everyone is in such a hurry,” Cindy Duncan explained to me, “and they are used to stopping and getting everything in one trip.” New England Grass Fed is one local company that makes it easy to get your hands on their products. You can order directly from their website and have it delivered to your home.
The connection between local farms and consumers has improved dramatically in the last five years thanks to the farm to table movement in local restaurants, and the proliferation of farmers’ markets. Restaurants like the Celestial Café in Exeter, Greenwich Bay Oyster Bar in East Greenwich and 84 Tavern on Canal in Westerly commit to providing their patrons local meats, seafood and produce. As masterful as the chefs are, the fresh, seasonal local ingredients take these restaurants to the next level.
Once you’ve sampled a New England Grass Fed hamburger, a tomato grown at the Wojnar farm, an eggplant from John and Cindy’s Harvest Acre or a ribeye from Windmist Farm, you will taste the difference fresh food makes. It is estimated that Rhode Island produces only 1% of the food it consumes. We have to do better, and it starts with you. Instead of flying by the farm stand on your way home from the beach, stop in and grab some fresh vegetables. You’ll be glad you did.