Rhode Island Report

by Bill Duesing

First broadcast on WSHU/WSUF-FM, March 13, 1998

Last weekend in Rhode Island, we discovered some very hopeful examples of a more sustainable and joyful future.

Suzanne and I were enticed from the farm by the opportunity to give the keynote speech to organic gardeners and farmers at the NOFA conference in Providence and the Sunday morning talk at the Newport Unitarian Church. As a bonus, the trip provided an opportunity to visit the Atlantic Ocean and some old friends.

However disheartening the upscale malls (spreading like a cancer from Clinton, Connecticut to the heart of Providence), the abandoned commercial strips and so many big ugly houses were, the astounding creativity we found among the young people we visited provides genuine hope for the future.

Mike and Polly (and their children) operate and oversee the spectacular 250-year-old Casey Farm on Narragansett Bay, owned by the Society for the Preservation of New England Antiquities. The house and farm buildings all face south to capture the sun's winter warmth. Beautiful stone walls still keep cows in their pasture, just as they did 200 years ago. Polly milks her Jersey cow by hand and makes delicious cheddar cheese. Mike showed me the movable chicken house and yard which are being used to reclaim pastures that were badly overgrazed when they arrived at Casey Farm five years ago.

They've established a successful Community Supported Agriculture project (better known as a CSA). For an annual subscription fee, over 150 families receive a share of the harvest each week for a 22-week season. Each shareholder is responsible for working at least eight hours on the farm. As a result, more folks can experience their food source directly. Although Mike and Polly occasionally use a tractor, they are excited about using their draft horses for cultivating vegetables and mowing hay. Casey Farm also houses the office of the Rhode Island chapter of NOFA, the Northeast Organic Farming Association, and Mike serves as its president.

The conference featured a variety of informative workshops and took place on Saturday. I heard a state senator talk about her family's organic potato and vegetable farm and saw a wonderful slide presentation about Providence's Southside Community Land Trust. Its work with children and adults in one of this city's decaying neighborhoods is truly inspiring. In the urban farm and community gardens there, vegetables and growing methods from Southeast Asia, the Caribbean Islands and Europe create a beautiful and delicious ethnic mosaic.

Right after the conference, we visited an almost abandoned mill building on Providence's West Side: home to Jeremy and his friends, mostly recent graduates of the Rhode Island School of Design. Here we experienced stunning visual excitement, vibrant creativity and a wonderful home-cooked meal! These industrious young people had created a grand communal living area and intimate personal spaces, mostly from debris collected in the decaying industrial wasteland around them. At their studio, located in another huge and nearly empty building, Jeremy and Jamie (who both studied industrial design) showed us prototypes they're developing for elegant furniture made from discarded pallets, flooring and other waste wood. We shared their appreciation for the value of this irreplaceable old-growth lumber that would otherwise be thrown away.

On Sunday morning, we were pleased to find a receptive audience to our message about the importance of feeding ourselves from local ecosystems. In the long run, this is the only way we can actually have any real control over, or knowledge of, what we eat. This approach can also result in radically reduced fossil-energy use and create nurturing communities. So many people at the service had a garden or some other connection to the land. Some had already changed their buying habits or lifestyles away from dependence on the global, industrial food system and toward a local, ecological one.

Our visit to the ocean was made memorable and sad by the presence of a young, 60-foot-long blue whale which died at sea and had been pulled up onto the beach. Seeing such a remarkable and awe-inspiring creature was a once in a lifetime experience.

This trip reminded us that nearly everywhere, people are joyfully creating a more sustainable future out of the abandoned and abused resources all around us - a future which relies more on sunlight, recycling, and community and less on conspicuous consumption.

This is Bill Duesing, Living on the Earth

This page and its contents are copyright © 1998 by WSHU-FM, Fairfield, CT, and by Bill Duesing.