Barton Farm, the former dairy on Centerville Road that the city acquired as open space, continues to feed people; only now it’s produce, not milk, that has been leaving the property.
Under a $1-a-year lease agreement, Westbay Community Action has operated the Westbay Farm since 2005. The farm is about two acres. And it’s booming and blooming.
Most of the produce goes to the Westbay Marketplace in Buttonwoods, but some is sold at a farmers market in the Kent Hospital cafeteria, open every Thursday from 11:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. The farm also recently started sending salad mix to the meals program at the Pilgrim Senior Center.
For a while, the farm operated a stand at the Buttonwoods Community Center, but sales were sporadic and it was a lot of effort for a minimal return. It won’t be there this summer.
The real purpose of the farm is to provide fresh produce for the marketplace and Steve Stycos has done that with unrelenting passion and with the volunteer help of a dedicated few.
Stycos, a Cranston city councilman, responded to an ad for the farmer’s job and has returned year after year.
“I have really good help and it wouldn’t work without them,” he said taking a break from his fieldwork.
Team members include Kathy Schofill, who waters the plants on weekends and keeps an eye on the farm when Stycos is not there; Al Martin, who keeps the mechanical equipment running; Moe Davis, who washes and packs the vegetables, amongst other things; and Ampha Therrien, who oversees a heated greenhouse in City Park in the early spring where many vegetables get their start. Joining the core of volunteers this year is Ryan Onorato, who is frequently accompanied by his two children. At one time or another, they all help with harvesting.
Beekeeper Ed Lafferty cultivates honey on the property.
“He keeps the bees here and we get the benefit of pollination and he gets the hives and sells honey,” said Stycos.
Last year the farm produced 11,000 pounds of vegetables, with butternut squash being the major produce. It tipped the scales at half a ton. The farm grows all the basics, including tomatoes, eggplant, beets, radishes, carrots, zucchini, squash, cucumbers, onions, scallions, potatoes, kale and turnips.
“We just planted blueberries in the fall and hope to have more in a few years,” said Stycos.
He said his favorite thing about farming is “the amazing thing of putting a seed in the ground and watching it grow into food.”
This year got off to a better start than last when a late frost stunted the growth of flats of peppers that were waiting to get planted.
Westbay Marketplace is open year-round on weekdays from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. to serve the needs of qualifying families from Warwick, West Warwick and East Greenwich.
According to marketplace manager Joshua Corrente, the marketplace feeds about 1,100 families each month. They also accommodate those with gluten allergies through the Special Diets Food Program. They are currently working on expanding the program to better accommodate diabetics as well.