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Preserving a working farm in Barrington as a farm school

A group of community volunteers seeks to raise $250,000 to preserve a nearly four-acre farm, using it as a way to teach young people about the values of sustainable agriculture

Photo by Richard Asinof

Tim Faulkner, right, and Candace Clavin, volunteers with the Barrington Farm School, at the site of the working farm they hope to buy and preserve.

By Richard Asinof
Posted 12/4/17
A local community group has organized to purchase one of the last remaining farms in Barrington, to preserve it as a working farm and as a farming school.
As the number of farms in Rhode Island dwindle in the face of pressures of real estate development, is there a database tracking the decline of farmland as a direct correlation of real estate development? Is there an oral history project to document the life of farming in Rhode Island? How does farm preservation fit into the current efforts to develop a statewide food strategy?
Two years ago, ConvergenceRI and ecoRI News launched a collaborative awareness effort, Bee Vigilant, as a way to have residents proudly display the fact that they did not use harmful pesticides, herbicides and fertilizers on their property, in order to preserve and protect pollinators such as bees – and the humans who live there. Beyond individual homes, the larger issue is how towns and local schools are managing their properties and cutting back or eliminating the use of such toxins.
In preserving the Vendituoli farm and making it the new home of the Barrington Farm School, one of that is free of harmful pesticides, herbicides and chemical fertilizers, one future challenge the community farmers face is helping to change the practices on the nearby lands – helping the schools and the town government to transition to a Bee Vigilant policy.

BARRINGTON – Working on a farm is a challenging way of life; it requires being attuned to the fickleness of nature, with lots of manual labor, a need to pay attention to details, often filled with economic uncertainty, but it can be rewarding, said Tim Faulkner, who is a reporter with ecoRI News in his day job.

In his role as a community volunteer, Faulkner is working to save one of the last working farms in Barrington, to preserve it as a farm, to prevent it from being swallowed up as another pricey suburban real estate development, an equally challenging task as working the land – but perhaps even more rewarding.

Faulkner met recently with ConvergenceRI for lunch at one of the institutions in town, the Newport Creamery, to talk about the volunteer endeavor, before taking a walking tour of the farm property.

As Faulkner explained it, his work to save the farm has reinforced his understanding of the importance of quilting the fabric of community together.

“You become more mindful of the people in your community, who they are, what they are doing, and your relationship with them,” he told ConvergenceRI. “Regardless of where you live, it’s about making it the best place that you can.”

The values of farming and land preservation
Faulkner is one of a team of volunteer parents who have labored to create the Barrington Farm School, a volunteer group that is working in coordination with the Barrington Conservation Land Trust to purchase the nearly four-acre farm from the estate of William “Billy” Vendituoli, who died in August of 2016.

The group made a bid of about $250,000 to purchase the farm, which was accepted by probate court, and now they are in the midst of a campaign to raise the money by the middle of February. About $150,000 of the $250,000 needed has been raised, according to Faulkner.

The Vendituoli property had originally been his grandparents’ farm, which they started in 1897 when they came over from Italy, Faulkner said.

The farm is nestled in between the police and fire stations on Federal Road, across Middle Highway from the former St. Andrews farm property, now managed by the Barrington Conservation Land Trust.

The mission of the Barrington Farm School, Faulkner continued, is to provide an opportunity for young people in the town to learn about farming and the farm’s role in protecting the local ecosystem and environment.

The overall goal, Faulkner said, is to help young people develop an appreciation for what the natural environment is, especially in the age of climate change, and the dynamics that go with that, learning first hand the value of farming, to create a healthier, more sustainable community.

The farm is part of a larger wetland and wildlife area, running from Hundred Acre Cove to the Upper Narragansett Bay, with a small stream running through it, Faulkner said. It includes a wooded area as well as a farm stand, and there is a local beekeeper that has her hives on the property.

While there have been conversations with local school officials about the potential for collaborative educational efforts, the focus right now is on fundraising, not programming, Faulkner said.

Stewardship
During a walking tour of the farm with Faulkner and Candace Clavin, who is a co-founder of the Barrington Farm School and who ran a large farm for more than a decade outside of Syracuse, N.Y., the two marveled at the soil, which unlike much of New England farmland, contained few if any rocks.

Clavin noted that a row of marigolds and another row of herbs had helped to keep the local deer at bay from helping themselves and feasting on the crops.

Clavin and the other volunteer farmers have been collecting and storing the seeds from crops grown on the farm.

Until the acquisition is completed, the Barrington Farm School is not planning to do anything with the property, including moving an existing coldframe from the former home of Vendituoli, which was recently sold, or establishing a compost.

When asked how the potential purchase might be celebrated, Faulkner said it was too early to think about that, the focus needed to be on completing the fundraising, adding: “Hugging the people. Hugging the land.”

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