Agriculture on Aquidneck Island lecture & my first guest post!

I am very excited because I have been asked to write my first guest post over at Bill’s blog Sustainable Sakonnet. You might remember that I found his blog quite by accident and was taken aback at the similarities of our sites. Please go over and check out his blog- I was excited to read his recent success with homemade laundry detergent that I think I am going to try.

He asked me to write a summary of a lecture we went to last week. Here it is:

I had the pleasure of attending the lecture, Agriculture on Aquidneck Island, last week at Penfield School. It was moderated by Ted Clement of the Aquidneck Land Trust and had four local farmers on the panel. Peter Borden of the Swiss Village Farm & SVF Foundation, John Nunes from Newport Vineyards, Louis Escobar from Escobar’s Farm & Rhody Fresh Milk and Barbara vanBeuren from Aquidneck Farms. Luckily for us (we have four cherubs) they had some of the school’s upperclassmen in another room to watch the children. The event was very well attended, even though it was lightly snowing that evening. In fact, they even had to put out more chairs for all the attendees.

Each gave a short presentation enhanced by video and slides on their ventures. Peter Borden spoke about the work they are doing to save rare and endangered breeds of livestock via germplasm (embryos, semen and genetic material). The Swiss Village sits on 35 acres in Newport, RI, formerly the Edgehill Rehab Center. John Nunes discussed the history of his family’s land and the development into a large successful vineyard. His beautiful video showed the various parcels around the island they farm and a tease of how they operate- he encouraged everyone to attend the vineyard for the full tour. Louis Escobar gave a passionate history of inheriting the farm along with the million dollar tax bill. This is when he became connected with (as are Newport Vineyards and Aquidneck Farm) the Aquidneck Land Trust to save the farm. He also talked about how he had to diversify when the price of milk dropped about a decade ago, beginning his corn maze. Barbara van Beuren discussed her grass fed beef, a herd size of about 120 head. They have also begun to raise pastured poultry, in chicken tractors. This is very familiar to me from Joel Salatin’s methods, although she did not specifically state this. In the summer the herd is rotationally grazed and the winter the herd is fed their own dried hay or grass silage.

Around the room were tables set up with various vendors. Present were the panel’s farms in addition to Sweet Berry Farms, RI Livestock Association, and the Aquidneck Growers Market. All had representatives from their organizations, and various literature to take home. I was pleased to meet Kim from the livestock association with whom I have many email & phone conversations. My kids were most impressed with the Rhody Fresh milk table as he gave them each a chocolate milk and a key chain. I am sorry to say they we don’t carry this milk at their school, he explained that some companies were reluctant to serve their milk as it was more expensive.

Here are some other upcoming events we learned about. This Thursday, Jan 21st, at URI is “An Economic Development Framework for Sustainable Agriculture” lecture from 10-12. It is sponsored by the van Beuren Foundation, Rhode Island Foundation, and University of Rhode Island. The speaker is Michael Hamm, CS Mott Professor of Sustainable Agriculture, Michigan State University.

Aquidneck Land Trust is hosting their 20th annual meeting Thursday Feb 4th 6pm at the Atlantic Beach Club. Public welcome, complementary buffet and cash bar.

The SVF Foundation’s Annual Visitors Day Saturday June 12th from 9:30-3:00. There is free parking at Fort Adams State Park with a trolley shuttle and free admission to SVF. I really hope to be able to attend this event as the farm is usually closed to visitors for biosecurity reasons.