Last year, the Rhode Island Community Food Bank distributed approximately 2.5 million pounds of fresh produce to people in need of food assistance in Rhode Island. One of the ways we source these critical, nutritious foods is through our partnerships with community farms that grow fresh produce for hungry Rhode Islanders, while preserving valuable land. Today, we are sharing the story of one of those farms.
Franklin Farm in Cumberland is a volunteer-run community garden, supplying up to 25,000 pounds of fresh, local produce to the Food Bank each year. For over 220 years, the land that is now Franklin Farm has been used to grow food. The farm’s board supports the operations of the farm and its programs and have worked to preserve the land and buildings on this property for nearly 20 years. The Historic Metcalf-Franklin Farm Preservation Association’s mission is to maintain the entire property as a farm for generations to come through protection, preservation, and conservation.
“Franklin is 100% volunteer-run and since the town purchased the farm in 2006, we’ve harvested 440,000 pounds of produce,” shared Julie Garren, secretary of the farm’s board. “Our relationship with the Food Bank is one we really value. It has been so satisfying to see fresh vegetables go to where they’re most needed. We take it for granted, and to know there are people who don’t have access to these foods keeps us going.”
Pam Thurlow, president of the farm’s board said, “We’re the starting point and the Food Bank is the distribution point. Without them, we couldn’t be us. We can focus on growing, knowing that the Food Bank is focused on the ‘last mile’ of getting the food into the hands of people who really need it.”
In addition to the growing and gleaning that takes place at Franklin, the farm also offers educational programming for kids and adults, including camps, story time, classes and more. Franklin has various types of volunteer opportunities and welcomes volunteers of all ages, and for any duration.
To learn more about Franklin Farm, visit www.franklinfarmri.org/
(2020 Story Update)When Paul Santucci was featured as one of the Rhode Islanders of the Year in Rhode Island Monthly, the Slaters of Chepachet (in photo) reached out to him to offer their land so God’s Little Acre can expand. They were willing to give him about half an acre, and they’ll do longer season crops like beets and butternut squash. He hopes to be able to get at least another 5,000 pounds out of the plot.
Growing fresh vegetables is part of Paul Santucci’s DNA. His father owned a produce company, and thirteen years ago, the financial planner and his wife considered buying a farm but reluctantly decided against it. Then he found out his parish, St. Philip in Greenville, was building a greenhouse and saw a documentary through the Rhode Island Community Food Bank about community gardens. “I just listened to the voice of God in my life, and that’s what I felt He was saying to me. This is the farm that I think I was supposed to have.”
With help from Adler’s Construction, they started a community garden on a quarter acre of land at St. Philip and called it God’s Little Acre. It began to supply organic produce to the Rhode Island Community Food Bank. Now Santucci, right hand man Bob Sarli and volunteers help grow and harvest about 4,000 pounds of tomatoes, cucumbers, beans, squash, peppers and other vegetables each year. They also get help from Jaswell’s Farm, which Santucci says supplies about a tractor-trailer’s worth of produce a year. From July through October, Santucci delivers the vegetables to the St. Philip Pantry, Mary House and Mathewson Street Church in Providence.
People really appreciate the fresh food. “There’s a huge misconception that people are taking advantage of the system,” he says. “I’m a very conservative guy but at the end of the day, there’s a ton of mental illness and there’s a ton of people that have very low wages. They may be working two jobs and they just cannot afford it.” There’s pride in Santucci’s voice when he notes that 20 percent of the food the Rhode Island Community Food Bank distributes is fresh fruit and vegetables that it buys or that’s supplied by one of its six community farms.
One Acre of Land Has a Tremendous Impact! Each year, McCoy Community Farm in Warren produces thousands of pounds of fresh vegetables that are distributed to Rhode Islanders in need of food assistance.
The farm is run entirely by a group of dedicated volunteers on land donated by its owners, doctors Charlie McCoy and Lory Snady-McCoy.
As a respected doctor, Charlie knows a lot about what it takes to keep people healthy: “Fresh, nutritious produce is so critical to a good diet. And we wanted to do what we could to help more people have access to foods they could enjoy.”
The idea first sprang to life when Charlie struck a deal with Chris Clegg of Four Town Farm in Seekonk, Massachusetts. Chris needed additional land and Charlie gave it to him under one condition – dedicate one acre to harvesting fresh produce for the Rhode Island Community Food Bank and its member agencies.
It was a win-win, except for one problem: who was going to do all of the work? Charlie is a full time doctor and Chris has his own busy farm to run. That’s where Diane Stacy comes in. Already a volunteer with the Food Bank, she jumped at the opportunity to manage the farm.
Now, with four years under their belt, the farm runs like a well-oiled machine. In the early Spring, the group discusses what to plant for the season, considering what will be best received by clients.
Peppers and tomatoes are popular. Kale is tough because it doesn’t keep long. Broccoli doesn’t grow well in their soil. But butternut squash, eggplant and zucchini are great.
As Chris explains, “We plant things that will continue to grow all season long. Multiple harvest crops work best so the farm can rely on the produce.”
Volunteers weed the land and harvest the crops. Diane coordinates all of that but says, “Chris does all the hard work. The volunteers do the fun stuff.”
Diane recruits volunteers from all walks of life: retirees, busy professionals, and kids.
Charlie is quick to point out and Chris agrees, “It is Diane and her husband Doug who make it all happen.”
Charlie is proud of what they have been able to create together, “I feel fantastic. We’re helping people who can use the food. I love to come out here. It’s so beautiful. The volunteers I meet are great.”
And they can all feel great satisfaction knowing that their community farm makes a difference in the lives of so many Rhode Islanders in need.
Click here for more information about community farms.