Arcadian Fields Organic Farm in Hope Valley, RI organic certified
Hope Valley, RI
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For Businesses and Institutional customers:
Arcadian Fields is taking a sabbatical for the 2016 season. Our fields have been sown with yellow blossom sweet clover, a soil improving cover crop. While it grows we farmers are getting a chance to do something fun and different for a bit.
We will be back at the Hope Street Farmers Market with our certified organic greens & herbs, and tomatoes & carrots for the 2017 season.
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Hope Valley, RI - The Jolly Roger flutters jauntily over Arcadian Fields, defended from mosquitoes and other pests by a flock of barn swallows bobbing and darting over the yard. With a big weekly farmers’ market and restaurant deliveries, Diana Kushner relishes solitude the rest of the week so she can get actual farming done. She began farming here in 1999, following 10 years of working on a variety of other farms to gain a well-rounded experience. From the outset she was drawn to organic growing practices, from her lifelong concern with the environment and the influence that agricultural production has on ecology.
The farm wakes up rather late in the spring, compared to its neighbors. In March, Diana gets around to starting up the greenhouse, putting off the need to heat it as far into warming days as she can to cut back on fuel use. Yet she finds, despite the delay, that her crops harvest at much the same time as her neighbors’ do, because they grow more quickly in the later weather and are less at risk to late frosts.
She’s experimented with various crops through the years, and seems to have found a variety that suit her, the farm, and her customers. Her farmers market customers seem to be most rabid as her glorious array of heirloom tomatoes ripen; one late July Saturday at the Hope Street market I witnessed toe-tapping East Side matrons and savvy Italian-American retirees alike circling her table like vultures, waiting for the opening bell to ring with vocal impatience. Though Diana does buy seeds for many crops each year, she is an avid seed saver when it comes to her tomato collection. In fact she is also a member of Seed Savers Exchange, a network of heirloom enthusiasts who swap their discoveries. Along with popular favorites like golden cherry tomatoes, she grows dozens of more exotic varietals – Brandywines as full and fragile as water balloons, velvety little “peach” tomatoes – each with their won flavors, textures, and aromas to sample.
The fields also produce a glorious assortment of eggplants, one of her absolute favorite vegetables to grow. “They are just beautiful!” she explained to me. “Their fruits are beautiful, their flowers, the whole plant…” All this despite the fact that she actually doesn’t like to eat them. Avid customers are happy to take the product of the beautiful plants off her hands, a perfect symbiosis. Another good part of her table is covered in a profusion of leafy greens: salad mixes with a backbone, lush bouquets of collards and kale, tender nosegays of fresh-cut herbs.
But beside the selection and quality of her crops, the farm labor at Arcadian Fields is not what you might expect either. While Diana handles most of the major planting and upkeep work herself, most of her harvesting is done by volunteers. Some are people who used to belong to her CSA, which she stopped offering a couple years back. They missed their weekly visits to the farm, and asked if they could keep coming. They are joined by her friends from town and people from Providence who come down for the fresh air and manual work that is an antidote to work in offices, hospitals, and schools. As I joined in a tomato harvest myself, it also became clear that a part of the attraction must be one another, as conversation flitted from the days events to news of a former harvester who had moved away last season. The low-commitment nature of these erstwhile farmhands is a relief for Diana after years of residential interns she needed in order to grow the huge range of crops she needed to keep a CSA running all season. Shifting just to markets and restaurants has allowed her to focus on the crops she can excel at, and work cycle she can manage with a little help from her friends.
As with so many Rhode Island farmers, the trick for Diana is figuring out a niche where you can survive in the face of multinational food companies, cheap and unethical farm labor, and food prices that are lower than the real cost of producing it. Having good produce is one step, and convincing people that the food is worth paying for is the next step. She has had great experiences working with chefs at Chez Pascal, La Laiterie, and the Agora at the Westin, who are among the most seriously committed to really buying local foods in a meaningful scale, not just as window dressing. But with chefs as well as individual consumers, she has to convince many that her tomatoes are worth more than those ripened in a shipping container.
Fall nudges the last of the tomatoes into a smaller space on the table, making room for some other favorite crops from Arcadian Fields – meltingly sweet leeks, baroque brussels sprouts on the stalk, and curvy butternut squash offering warming choices for the newly brisk weather. As the last ones are harvested, Diana plants cover crops to feed and protect the soil for winter, and tucks some harvest away in the cellar for her own winter eating.
Diana will be taking the 2007 growing season off as a sort of sabbatical. Healthy soil needs an occasional change of pace, and so do healthy people. Her customers can look forward to a renewed and refreshed Diana and her crops again in 2008.