Rhode Island Nurseries in Middletown, RI GAP certified
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Middletown, RI - On my most recent handful of farm tours, the aftermath of the economy’s tumble has been a hot topic of conversation. I had the pleasure of meeting and talking with Jesse, of Rhode Island Nurseries, about the effects of the economy on agriculture and plant nurseries. He provided me with an insightful timeline of how business used to be, what it has become and how RI Nurseries has changed their business in order to adjust to the new market.
RI Nurseries was founded in 1895 by a nonnative who worked in Newport’s plant nursery business. The business began as a storage greenhouse for plants over the winter. After the Plant Quarantine Act of 1912, business took off and the nursery began to expand. It is now 500 acres. The original farmhouse is still standing. Inside of it, there are paintings and pictures of the original farm and family, which is a pretty neat look back in time. RI Nurseries is now 4th generation owned and Jesse’s family has been working here for three generations. They sell plants nationwide and vegetables locally.
Jesse is one of ten full time employees on the farm. Previously, RI Nurseries sold their plants primarily to larger commercial businesses. Since the market had changed, RI Nurseries needed to find a secondary source of income, so they started growing vegetables to sell to a local restaurant. Considerate and aware of the small farms in the area, RI Nurseries decided to grow a variety of crops that were not already being offered by neighboring farms. Instead of out-producing their neighbors, they decided to find their own niche in the market. As an alternative to growing the most common type of tomatoes, they grow cherry tomatoes in many different colors. Jesse put it best, “We’re trying to grow the pie and we really have no interest in stealing other’s slice.” Another example is about what varieties of potatoes and cauliflower RI Nurseries grows— fingerling, blue and red potatoes and orange, green and purple cauliflower. RI Nurseries dedicates about 65-acres of land to vegetable production and ten acres to pumpkins.
The vegetable business has been a great success! Due to their proximity to the ocean, RI Nurseries has a longer growing season than other farms in Rhode Island. They have a much longer season for cool weather crops in the Fall and Spring. RI Nurseries also has several greenhouses, none of which are heated. In conjunction with the milder climate, RI Nurseries is able to start seedlings earlier in the season than most farms without requiring an extra source of energy.
RI Nurseries is also a forward-thinking farm. Jesse and I had a long conversation about energy and water conservation. Jesse is concerned about our country’s current non-renewable sources of energy. He told me that they are trying to operate RI Nurseries with as few fossil fuels as possible and are looking into alternative energy sources. In addition, Jesse was conscientious about fresh water supplies. At RI Nurseries they just finished building a new retention pond, which helps keep water on the property. They also have a storm water catch system that transfers water back into the pond. Another way they conserve water is via their irrigation system. Most of this system runs underneath plastic on the fields as opposed to using water cannons, which are less water efficient. RI Nurseries uses environmentally conscience practices that aim to preserve the farm over an extended period of time.
RI Nurseries is also unique because it is Good Agricultural Practices certified. This is a food safety certification, in other words, the farm has good hygiene and handling practices. This certification ensures that all of RI Nurseries produce are clean and delicious! They are GAP certified by the State of Rhode Island but are also working to be GAP certified by the USDA, which has even stricter requirements.
It was quite a sight when touring around the farm because the vegetable crops are dispersed amongst the nursery plants— onions next to shrubbery and the like. I think it was particularly visually interesting because there were so many varieties of crops that I had never seen before. You can really see the different crop varieties in the field that Jesse spoke about earlier. Currently RI Nurseries only sells to restaurants, City Feed in Jamaica Plain, and through Market Mobile. However, every so often you can find their products at Sweet Berry Farm’s farm store down the road. Keep an eye out for RI Nurseries’ name on restaurant menus in the state; eating their produce is not an opportunity to be missed!