Simmons Farm in Middletown, RI chemical-free
Some of what we grow is available year-round.
Fax (401) 848-9910
E-mail [email protected]
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For Businesses and Institutional customers:
Petting zoo, too!
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Middletown, RI - There are few farms as welcoming to an unannounced journalist as Simmons Organic Farm. When I arrived, there had been a miscommunication and they were not expecting me, but Karla was still happy to talk with me while she packaged a new type of crumbly goat cheese she had just made. When we finished chatting, Karla let me walk around the 120-acre farm unaccompanied to take pictures. First I shot some photos of the dairy and fainting goats in the petting zoo by the parking lot. Then I made my way up the hill; my mental map looked a bit like this: Belted Galloway cows to the left, sheep at the crest of the hill, vegetables to the left just before the sheep, pigs a bit further down the hill after it crests, and chickens up the hill and to the right of the pigs. While marching up the hill, I see a mother duck and her three babies; they are not official members of the farm, but given the landscape, it is understandable why they would want to live here. The farm looks like a nature walk. On either side of the path are thick grasses and plants. There is a notable amount of butterflies fluttering around the farm, and there is a soothing chirping sound coming from the tall grasses. Once I surmounted the hill, my jaw-dropped because there was a stunning ocean view; Simmons Organic Farm is quite the spectacle.
The history of the farm is as interesting as the landscape. In 1632, John Coggeshall of Essex, England arrived in Boston and shortly moved south to settle on Aquidneck Island, RI. He was allotted 400 acres and today Simmons Organic Farm is comprised of 120 of these acres. By the mid 1800s, David Coggeshall owned majority of this land and started one of the largest dairy farms in Rhode Island. His daughter Elizabeth married John L. Simmons. Their children and grandchildren maintained the farm through the early and mid twentieth century. In 1988, the grown up grandchildren Alexander Sr. and James decided to sell the farm's development rights in order to preserve the farm for future generations. Brian and Karla, who currently run the farm, took over in 2000. They grew up together as high school sweethearts and moved back onto the family farm while Brian's grandparents were still working there. Over a three-year span Brian and Karla became more and more involved on the farm. One day, Brian's grandparents gave Brian and Karla ownership of the farm, and they have been running it together ever since.
From the time that they started working on the farm, Brian and Karla knew that they wanted to make the farm certified organic. After three transition years, they became organic certified in 2004. They are very happy with this decision. Karla is aware of the growing consumer preference for local and organic produce and meat. She is glad that her farm is able to offer both of these things. Simmons Organic Farm continues to grow in success. This year they have over 300 members in their CSA; they usually have 40. Brian and Karla have also seen a recent increase in the number of visitors to their petting zoo.
There are many different operations occurring on the farm. Simmons Organic Farm raises Belted Galloway beef cows. They chose this heritage breed because the cows have a thicker mane, which allows them to stay outside year round, with the exception of blizzards. They are 100% grass fed and spend all of their time in spacious pastures. They also raise red Tamworth pigs, which are a heritage breed of pigs known for their hardiness. The pigs were in a large pen that had many trees and shady spots inside of it. The hogs and piglets were happily running around and rolling in the dirt when I saw them. Simmons Organic Farm also has pastured raised poultry and eggs and a mobile poultry house. When I visited, one chicken had bravely escaped then pen, although she was hesitant to stray far from the others. For a brief minute I thought the Simmons had a small poultry flock, and then I realized that this was an optical illusion and that the chickens just had a ton of space. They also have 50 dairy goats and about 20 sheep. They donate the wool to the Rhody Warm Project and sell the meat.
This is also a biodynamic farm. The animals are used to reduce pests on the farm. Since pesticides cannot be used on organic farms, the Simmons get creative with how to keep unwanted visitors off of their plants. In the fall and early winter, the cows are moved to the vegetable plots to eat the extra produce. Chickens follow after the cows and eat the stems, stalks, and insect larvae left by the cows. This method reduces the amount of returning insects for the next year. Karla notes that they have not had many problems with pests as a result of this practice.
A new exciting product Simmons Organic Farm now offers is goat cheese! Karla has been experimenting with making goat cheese for several years. Only in 2011 did she begin selling it at markets and distributing it in the CSA. Once they determined that the goat cheese production was a feasible plan, they received a grant from the USDA Farm Service Agency to build their cheese operation. They built the structure on the farm near the famous petting zoo. They now have a large cheese making and processing vessel that enables her to make 600 containers of cheese per week. Karla has been experimenting with different types of goat cheese. Currently offered at farmers' markets is a delicious chevre, which comes in many different flavors ranging from herbs de Provence to Chipotle. When I visited, Karla was packaging a new type cheese, a goat cheese crumble, flavored with herbs de Provence or garlic. She also hopes to start making feta soon. The goat cheese project has been very successful and I highly recommend buying some for yourself at the farmers' market.
Speaking with Karla and Brian was an absolute pleasure. They seem in touch with the current markets and aware of how unique and progressive their farm is. Karla loves working here because it always feels like she is doing something new and different on the farm. She also likes the idea of providing food for her family as well as 300 other families in the area. Karla explains that at Simmons Organic Farm, they "try to do things the right way. We try to be good stewards to our land and to our animals because they provide us lots." Brian appreciates the farm just as much. When I met him on the hilltop, he told me about how sometimes he forgets about how lucky he is to own such a wonderful farm. But then he'll be working, look up and see the sunset over the pastures looking onto the ocean and feel like the luckiest guy in the world. All are welcome to visit Simmons Organic Farm and petting zoo, and if you cannot make the trip down, they sell at several farmers markets and to restaurants around town so that anyone can have the joy of eating the food they produce.