A partly cloudy day in late summer is the perfect time to approach Grace Note Farm in Pascoag. The weather is mild and this year’s greenery has taken on an invitingly mature look, with patinated leaves and robust undergrowth, and the lazy nostalgic air that farms possess just before the harvest; that pleasant pause before the business of reaping begins. You’ll find it on all small farms but especially at one like Grace Note, which, for all intents and purposes, has rest and peace as its main intent and purpose and it grows that crop all summer long.
“This farm has been used to grow all kinds of things since it’s been here,” said Virginia Sindelar, the owner of Grace Note. “It’s been used to grow cranberries, it’s been a chicken farm, but it has always been a farm and it always will be a farm.”
Grace Note is being opened to the public on Sept. 15 as part of Rhode Island’s Land Trust Days celebration that has been on since Aug. 10 and runs until Sept. 30, with the Grace Note open house locally sponsored by the Burrillville Land Trust.
The purpose of the celebration is to make people aware that there are alternatives to turning over whatever green space is still open in Rhode Island to developers. The Rhode Island Land Trust Council is sponsoring this year’s celebration. The statewide coalition of land trusts was established in 1999, to assist various local communities to achieve common goals.
According to their website, every land trust is different and reflects the character and priorities of their community, but generally speaking, land trusts seek to preserve open spaces, natural areas, scenic character, watersheds, drinking water sources, farmland, forests, historic sites and shorelines: “Collectively, land trusts are protecting the special places in our communities so that our heritage remains as our legacy for future generations,” the website says. The Council's mission “is to foster a sustainable land conservation movement in Rhode Island by supporting the missions and operations of land trusts and providing a forum for their effective cooperation.”
There are 45 land trusts in Rhode Island operating in all but four municipalities. In Cranston, the West Bay Land Trust has worked to preserve the Curran Reservoir and built the Cranston Historic Farm Route. The Warwick Land Trust exists in the city but the community itself, including the City Council and the Mayor’s Office, has been actively working to preserve open space and the concerns of the land trust usually get a sympathetic hearing and active support.
But it is in the more rural areas of the state where land trusts do their best work. In the case of Grace Note Farm, the land trust ensures that, no matter who inherits or buys the property in the future, the property must be maintained as a working farm and cannot be subdivided for real estate development.
“It took me a while to get my head around it,” said Sindelar, “but once I understood what it meant for the future of this place, I decided to do it.”
Right now, Grace Note Farm is home for a number of Sindelar’s animals, including a pony, a donkey, horses, a dog, ducks, cats and a rabbit; enough to keep Old MacDonald e-i-e-i-oing all day long. That’s enough livestock to add up to a lot of work, but it is work that Sindelar loves to do.
“I get up early in the morning, feed the animals and, depending on where I’m working, I go do what I have to do and come home, and if I’m lucky enough, I have time to take a horse for a ride,” said Sindelar, who gave up life on the road and sitting in symphony orchestras after she saw Grace Note Farm.
“I first saw the place in 1987 and I immediately loved the place,” said Sindelar. “There was just something about it that spoke to me … It had been dormant for many years and it took me years to get it to what you see now. It was a lot of work, but I have made this my own little place of peace and rest.”
As a professional musician, Sindelar spent a good deal of time traveling and practicing. Now that she has found this place, she plays only for pleasure, or gives an occasional lesson to local people.
“I have given up practicing the flute,” she said. “I only play when I feel like it.”
As taxing as farm chores can be, Sindelar insists her life is a pleasant retirement from a professional life that had taxed her spirits more than she could bear. A place like Grace Note Farm seems a natural for some sort of musical summer camp or retreat for young instrumentalists where they could relax and recharge their spiritual batteries, like a small scale Tanglewood. Absolutely not, said Sindelar, who is a veteran of the original Tanglewood and knows that geography alone is not what provides peace and relief from stress.
“It is impossible for young musicians to relax,” she said. “If they came to a place like this, they would be practicing all the time, and getting stressed about the next audition, or the next recital, or the next concert tour. That’s not what this place is for.”
As for the land trust, Sindelar is comforted by the knowledge that her beloved farm will have a future beyond her stewardship. She sees the land trust as an answer to many a farm family’s future. There are few financial incentives for kids who grew up on farms to stay there. Establishing a land trust is a way of protecting a farm home so that those kids have a place to come back to and that other kids can experience for the first time. When sophisticated creatures of urban culture like Sindelar feel right at home on a farm, it is pretty obvious that there is something there that’s worth saving.
“You know, I’m into my seventies now and I will continue to do this as long as I can get out of bed, but you have to think about the future,” said Sindelar. “An older woman called me recently to ask me about the land trust. She’s getting on in years and she worries about what will happen with her place.”
Sindelar agreed to have the open house to show people that it is possible to live day to day without worrying about your beautiful home being wiped away after you can’t be there to protect it. Then you can get back to the things that matter, like taking a horse out for a ride or just observing the life around you knowing that it will be there in the future.
“As long as I’m doing this, I can never think of myself as really retired,” she said, and then excused herself to take Eeyore the donkey and Peanut the pony for a walk.