CRANSTON, RI -- In an effort to sustainably grow the state’s next generation of farmers and producers and enhance Rhode Island’s agricultural and food economy, U.S. Senator Jack Reed today joined Southside Community Land Trust (SCLT) and local growers to tour Urban Edge Farm and announce a new $600,000 initiative that SCLT is spearheading to help new and beginning farmers.

Located on the Cranston-Johnston border on land leased from the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management (DEM), SCLT’s 50-acre Urban Edge Farm serves as hub for small-scale, environmentally sustainable, commercial agriculture.  Currently, 13 farmers operate at Urban Edge, and new farmers are invited to learn the art of raising and marketing their crops in a hands-on training environment.

Now, thanks to federal funding that Senator Reed helped secure through the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), SCLT has won a competitive Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program grant that will help beginning farmers access critical resources, tools, and training to ensure the next generation of Rhode Island farmers can thrive and succeed.

SCLT’s comprehensive program - Feed Rhode Island: Growing Sustainable Farms - seeks to increase the number and success of limited resource and socially disadvantaged beginning farmers in the state by providing training and technical assistance; managing multiple incubator sites; offering on-farm apprentice training; and facilitating a land access working group.

The program will help launch new growers onto their own farms and allow urban farmers to scale up onto larger plots of land.  It also aims to increase production and strengthen co-operative marketing while improving sales and boosting Rhode Island’s economy.  And support for an expanded apprentice program will increase the number of people who are prepared to begin their own farm businesses.

“This federal grant will help plant the seeds for future success.  It will provide beginning farmers with access critical resources, tools, and training to ensure the next generation of Rhode Island farmers can thrive.  Farming is hard work and staring up a new farm from scratch can be really difficult.  We’ve got to invest in Rhode Island’s agricultural sector and food economy to keep it growing.  This grant directly supports beginning farmers with mentoring and hands-on-training.  It ensures they have access to the necessary farming, business-planning, and financial management skills to be successful.  These federal funds will help Southside Community Land Trust and their partners connect new farmers with mentors, training, and other needed assistance,” said Senator Reed, a member of the Appropriations Committee. “We’ve got to invest in Rhode Island’s agricultural sector and food economy to keep it growing.  Sustainable agriculture is key to our food supply, environment, and a healthy economy.  I hope beginning farmers will take advantage of this learning opportunity to grow their farms here in Rhode Island.”

According to Margaret DeVos, SCLT Executive Director, “In the past three years, we have used this USDA grant to help 27 people begin farming and we have provided training, business services and technical assistance to help strengthen farming and business practices of another 79 beginning farmers.”

Partners for the grant include DEM, Land for Good, RI Land Trust Council, Jennifer Costanza PhD, RI Food Policy Council, Northern Rhode Island Conservation District, Young Farmers Network, and University of Rhode Island.

SCLT was founded in 1981 as a neighborhood community gardening group and it continues to grow, expand, and serve the needs of a wider circle of people and communities through a host of programs that include community gardens and farms, educational and training initiatives, and providing low-cost agricultural resources and support. 

Today, SCLT operates 21 community gardens, many of which are built on formerly vacant lots in low-income neighborhoods, and partners with schools, housing, and community organizations to manage another 37.  The land trust also owns or manages land used by 25 farmers to supply fresh fruits and vegetables to farmers markets, food businesses, restaurants and CSAs, and it operates three production farms in Providence and Pawtucket that practice and demonstrate bio-intensive, small-scale agricultural production.

According to DEM, there are more than 1,000 farms across Rhode Island and the local food industry supports 60,000 jobs.

Senator Reed also noted that Rhode Island recently received a $275,000 Specialty Crop Block Grant.  This USDA grant helps DEM, the University of Rhode Island, and other non-profits and  researchers grow the state’s ‘specialty crop’ sector.  Specialty crops include: fruits, vegetables, and horticulture and nursery crops.