By TRACEY O’NEILL
Special to the Standard
Sizzling into summer, the Historic Casey Farm in Saunderstown is turning the tide for Grow Local campaigns. Set seaside, overlooking Narragansett Bay, the 300 acre farm plays host to the weekly Coastal Grower’s Market, a consortium of Rhode Island farms and vendors providing a wide variety of organic produce, plants, flowers, meats, shellfish and local wares for sale. In operation on the farm for eight summers, the market boasts 30 weekly vendors.
Held on Saturday mornings from 9:00 a.m. - 12:00 p.m., the Coastal Grower’s Market is an opportunity for local farmers and small business owners to come together, and share the organic and local farming experience in a family-friendly shopping atmosphere. Accompanied by music and the aroma of fresh prepared wood-fired pizza, the Coastal Grower’s Market is more of an event than a morning shopping excursion.
Fresh coffee, pastries and fresh baked bread are only a few of the delicacies among the morning fare enjoyed by market-goers gathered around picnic tables and seated on a comfortable patch of grass to watch the morning band.
The farmer’s market has grown from 6-8 vendors to its present state. Bevan Linsley, who heads up the farm, manages the vendor spaces for the market.
“The Coastal Grower’s Market at Casey Farm mirrors the growth of farmers markets in Rhode Island. There are more than 50 farmer’s markets throughout the state,” said Linsley. “Our vendors are not required to be organic but we lean in that direction due to demand and promote ‘know your farmer’ practices.”
A South County favorite, with several local growers considered market staples, vendors arrive early to set up and prepare for the onslaught of locals and tourists who return every week. Set in the courtyard of the 18th Century Homestead, the stone walls, historic buildings and rolling fields give credence to the former plantation as the Coastal Market bustles with farmers and vendors hawking their goods.
Mike Hutchinson and his wife, Polly, owners of Robin Hollow Farm in Saunderstown , offer stunning specialty cut flowers and floral arrangements at the Grower’s Market weekly. Former farm managers at Casey Farm, the Hutchinsons were instrumental in bringing the Coastal Grower’s Market to fruition in 2004.
“We started the farmer’s market at the right time,” said Mike Hutchinson from Robin Hollow Farm, just minutes away. The Hutchinsons adhere to environmentally friendly practices by utilizing both sustainable and organic growing techniques. “We’d like to thank all of the community who keep coming out in support of the Coastal Grower’s Market and purchasing local every week.”
Casey Farm is also home to a Community Supported Agriculture Program (CSA), The program, which boasts 150 members, allows individuals and families to share in the farm’s organic experience in a 20-week, buy-in program. The annual fee of $600 or just $30 per week, affords members a weekly bounty of vegetables, flowers and herbs, grown on eight acres of organically maintained farmland. Each individual allotment provides enough food for 1- 4 people.
Rebecca Long, Acting Farm Manager, extolled the success of the program. “We have 150 members who participate presently and the program is full. We have a waiting list for 2013 and are happy to add people to the list.”
The number of participants in the CSA is based on the amount of produce that can be grown and the sustainability of product for additional programs, such as Coastal Grower’s Market participation.
“[We] are a certified organically grown farm and it encourages participation. In January, we notify the present members of CSA that it is time for renewal. Returning members are accepted first and then we look to our waiting list to fill the program.”
For those who aren’t on the CSA list yet, the farm is hosting its annual Tomato Day at the Coastal Grower’s Market on August 25. “It’s a tomato tasting event, with multiple merchants contributing. Customers get to taste all different kinds of tomatoes that are also offered for sale,” explained Long. The tomato festival will also feature chef demonstrations this year.
Located conveniently at 2325 Boston Neck Road, Saunderstown, the farm has ample parking to support visitors to the Coastal Market or those interested in taking a tour of the historic property.
This week the Coastal Grower’s Market is featuring URI Master Gardeners who will be conducting free soil analysis testing. Individuals who are in need of help in the garden can bring up to one cup of soil for analysis.
Tracey O’Neill is a seasoned reporter experienced in North Kingstown. She is an independent contractor for SRI Newspapers.