Escobar Farm in Portsmouth, RI
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8-acre corn maze!
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Portsmouth, RI - I had the pleasure of visiting Escobar’s Highland Farm and talking with Louis Escobar, the current owner. His father founded the farm in the 1920s, and Louis inherited the farm, after his father passed away in 1974. Today the farm is 98 acres in size. The land is used for a variety of reasons beyond just raising dairy cows. Much of it is used for agri-entertainment, which consists of a pumpkin patch, Christmas trees, and a corn maze. Louis explained that the farm was unable to support itself on the dairy-based income alone, so they began offering other services as a second source of revenue. This is common among Rhode Island dairy farmers. The profit margin for fluid milk is minimal because large milk companies are able to undercut prices. In Rhode Island this has become a huge problem, and now there are only sixteen dairy farms in the entire state. Escobar’s Highland Farm is a perfect example of a farm that struggles to survive as a result of large-scale industrial farming. What it has done in order to stay in business is particularly interesting from certain perspectives. Today I will look at this farm’s history, its involvement in the creation of Rhody Fresh milk, and what this farm in particular has done to make itself stand out against its larger competitors.
In order to preserve the local dairy industry, Escobar’s Highland Farm and eight other farms joined together in 2004 to create Rhody Fresh. This is a milk cooperative, where by pooling their product, the small farms are able to serve a larger population, while decreasing the financial burdens of dairy farming by dispersing them amongst the eight farms. All of the dairy farms in Rhode Island were initially invited to partake in Rhody Fresh. The milk is processed and packaged at Guida’s Dairy in New Brittan, CT. Having one label also allows consumers to know that they are supporting local dairy as a whole. In addition, by processing and packaging the nine dairy farms’ milk together, the products’ prices are able to compete with conventional milk prices. Rhody Fresh certainly typifies power in numbers. The co-op has been incredibly successful; within six months of starting Rhody Fresh, they surpassed their three-year financial goal.
Escobar’s Highland Farm’s vitality is also due in part to the Aquidneck Land Trust. In 2005, the trust placed a conservation easement on 75 acres of the farm that protects it from ever being developed or used for anything other than farmland. This easement also preserves the open space that the farm provides to the community. The neighbors surrounding Escobar’s Highland Farm are also incredibly supportive. They appreciate the open space that the farm provides as well as recognize the importance of maintaining local dairy operations.
Louis is also conscientious of the farm’s environmental and social responsibilities. He regularly has the farm’s soil analyzed, in order to make sure that it is nutrient-rich and balanced. The farm has considerable acreage devoted to grassy open spaces. The cows are also fed a balanced diet of “Louis Escobar’s Feed.” This is a combination of whole stocks of corn, silage, grain, and hay. A nutritionist tests the cows regularly and has the feed adjusted accordingly so that the cows are always fed what they need. The cows are only milked twice a day in order to reduce stress on the animals. They are kept in open-air barns and taken for walks in pastures when weather permits. There are also outside pens that the younger cows stay in. These cows are used in the 4-H program. The purpose of this program is youth development. Participants can work on Escobar’s Highland Farm and learn responsibility and independence by taking care of a cow. Through years of compiled knowledge, Escobar’s Highland Farm has managed to create a balanced and beneficial environment for everyone involved in the operation.
When I left Escobar Highland Farm, I was inspired by Louis’s commitment to the farm given the unyielding challenges of dairy farming in Rhode Island. The farm’s commitment to the environment, local agriculture, and social responsibility is admirable. Even with the challenges at hand, Escobar’s Highland Farm has done its best to not jeopardize the quality of its products and has worked tirelessly to preserve the historic and cultural values of local dairy. Rhody Fresh can be purchased at a variety of grocers in Rhode Island such as: Dave’s, Stop & Shop, Whole Foods Market, Brigido’s, CVS/pharmacy, Belmont, Eastside Marketplace, and Shaws as well as many local restaurants.