Rhode Island Foundation Boosts Farm-to-table Industry

PROVIDENCE, RI — Rhode Island’s 1,200 farms still generate a healthy $65 million in sales, but an innovative new movement is hard at work turning Rhode Island into a national leader by adapting an old model – small, organic farms – to modern times.

To promote the farm-to-table industry, the Rhode Island Foundation is promoting the leaders of the movement in a PSA that local TV stations and cable providers are running.

Pat’s Pastured in North Kingstown is one of the “stars.” The 100-acre spread combines a grass-fed, pasture-raised livestock operation with a farm store.

“We believe in kind of creating a farm environment where animals get to express their full potential and grow in a healthy and humane way,” says owner Patrick McNiff.

“Our business in Rhode Island is really unique in that agriculture had been on the decline for many years. Now it’s kind of growing more and more as more people are interested in the local food movement,” he says. “So we’re seeing more and more farmers come back and be involved in Rhode Island agriculture and the Rhode Island economy.”

McNiff sees a lot of economic potential in the changing face of farming, pointing to groups like Farm Fresh Rhode Island, which promotes local farms as a means to providing fresher, healthier food while strengthening community-based businesses.

“Rhode Island is the perfect place for Farm Fresh because we’re a small state. It’s a really amazing opportunity for farms that are maybe 15 minutes out of the city to have a marketplace for their product,” says Noah Fulmer, who handles special projects for the Pawtucket-based nonprofit.

“The farmer’s markets we run here are not just in one type of neighborhood.

We have them all across the state and we have programs in terms of education that try to bring people in,” he says. “What we’re trying to do is, when we’re at the farmers market, put farmers in direct contact with the consumer and make that connection stronger.”

McNiff of Pat’s Pastured points to another growth area. “We have some of the best restaurants in the world, in the country here. We sell to them and they’re really interested in buying local and supporting their local farmers and fishermen. I think it’s a great opportunity to kind of link up with the farm-to-table movement through different restaurants that are based here in Rhode Island,” he says.

McNiff is not alone in his belief that the growing farm-to-table trend has a lot of promise. Melissa Denmark, pastry chef at Gracie’s Restaurant and Ellie’s Bakery in Providence, says using locally-grown foods enables chefs to bring diners back again and again by offers menus that change with the harvest.

“Here at Gracie’s we work really hard to use the seasons as inspiration for our menus. Farm-to-table for me means that we wait all year for some of these seasons. And we take everything we can out of them,” she explains.

One of Melissa’s colleagues at Gracie’s is another believer in the farm-to-table movement. “My experience with Farm Fresh has been great over the years. They’ve really expanded immensely over the past few years. It’s been great to see them grow. It’s what makes sense to me as a chef, to utilize local and sustainable products from the great state of Rhode Island,” says Executive Chef Matthew Varga.

Farm Fresh Rhode Island’s Fulmer feels there is plenty of room for growth.

“There’s enough business and demand to keep them thriving and in many cases to fill niches in terms of access to fresh, healthy food that weren’t being filled before. So, that’s a wonderful success,” he says.

The Rhode Island Foundation is the largest and most comprehensive funder of nonprofit organizations in Rhode Island.  In 2013, the Foundation made grants of more than $31 million to organizations addressing the most pressing issues and needs of the state’s of diverse communities. Through leadership, fundraising and grantmaking activities, often in partnership with individuals and organizations, the Foundation is helping Rhode Island reach its true potential. A complete list of 2013 strategy grants is posted at www.rifoundation.org.

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