The Providence Daily Journal recently reported that, according to census data from the US Department of Agriculture, the number of farms in Rhode Island has increased 42% between 2002 and 2007, the second highest growth rate of all states. This trend is unique as it follows on the heals of a 100 year decline in agriculture in the state.
One reason for this growth may be the growing interest in eating locally grown food. Evidence of this is in the growth of restaurants who highlight their locally sourced food. One, Local 121, prides itself on sourcing nearly 100% of its food from local sources. More evidence is suggested by the increase in farmer’s markets in recent years. On any given day during the summer, one can find an open farmer’s market in Providence. Now, one can even buy local produce year round, at the Wintertime Farmer’s Market held at the Hope Artiste Village in Pawtucket. Due to the popularity of this market, it has expanded hours.
Additionally, recent years have seen the development of non-profit organizations with the goal to facilitate connections between local farmers and consumers. Farm Fresh Rhode Island developed an innovative program called Market Mobile, which connects local farmers to businesses, including restaurants and schools, in search of locally grown produce. The program has been a success to date. Participating farmers realized $225,000 in sales during the program pilot in 2009, and sales rose to $685,000 in 2010. Recently, sales passed the $1 million dollar mark. Farm Fresh RI also maintains comprehensive databases with information related to local farms, farmer’s markets, and restaurants that serve local food.
The growth in urban agriculture is further evidence of the popularity of local food. The City of Providence recently announced the opening of a new 50 plot community garden at Roger Williams Park. And the Southside Community Land Trust, a non-profit organization dedicated to urban agriculture, has grown from one garden on a vacant lot to 13 community gardens within the city. The organization, which is celebrating its 30th anniversay this year, currently provides garden space for 220 families.
Clearly, local food is a growing market and is likely driving the proliferation of Rhode Island farms. Whether you wish to support this growing industry or just sample tasty local food, now is the time to act. A slew of summer farmer’s markets will be opening soon, and community garden plots are being allocated for the growing season. To learn more about farmer’s markets, restaurants that serve local food, or local farms, visit Farm Fresh Rhode Island’s website. To learn more about community gardening opporunities, visit the Southside Community Land Trust website or the City of Providence’s Community Gardens page. Happy eating!