'Sweet' summer, finally

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By JOHN HOWELL

It’s taken its “sweet” time, but the first ears of Warwick-grown corn are here.

There’s not an abundance of corn yet. Rain that is in the forecast and temperatures in the 90s should be a big help, says Vincent Confreda, whose family has been running Confreda Farms for the past 97 years.

Sweet corn isn’t the only thing to be taking its time. Tomatoes and peppers are late, but the summer, yellow and green squash are ripe for the picking. They were arriving by the truckload Tuesday to be washed, sorted and boxed at the Confreda warehouse, not all that far from the bustle of Post Road and Green Airport on property the family has farmed since the 1920s.

Corn is king at Confreda – the produce it grows the most of and which is in highest demand.

The weather hasn’t been cooperative, however. At this time last year, picking machines were in the fields and 500 burlap bags were being sent to local markets across the state. On Tuesday, the ears were being picked by hand and about 60 bags were available.

Confreda said the wet and cold spring was a “challenge.” Planting wasn’t easy and growth was slow.

“We’re 10 days to two weeks late,” he said.

Confreda has fields in Warwick and Cranston and farms about 375 acres. Water is critical to the operation, as is dependable help. At the Cranston farm on Scituate Road, Confreda has added a third pond in its system that pumps water to a network of in-ground drippers, delivering water and the appropriate amount of fertilizer to each plant. A similar delivery system is used on the Warwick fields.

“Warwick water is expensive,” said Confreda, who uses it only when absolutely necessary. The rest of the time, well water is used for irrigation.

Confreda has a devoted group of Guatemalan immigrants that make up the core to his workforce. He keeps them employed through the winter working greenhouses and preparing for the growing season. They are augmented during the summer, although he admits it’s becoming increasingly difficult to find good laborers. His father, now 90 and a regular around the farm, managed the sensitive matter of planting up until this year.

“It’s not like preparing a meal that you can start all over again if it doesn’t come out,” Confreda said of planting. “You don’t get a second chance until next year.”

Vincent Sr. wasn’t to be seen Tuesday. He was visiting a farm in Massachusetts looking to pick up a few pointers. Much of the new technology applied at Confreda is the work of Confreda’s two sons, Vincent and Jonathan, and nephew, Corey, who have already established themselves as the next generation of Confreda farmers.

Confreda is convinced they could all make far more money in the corporate community and has suggested they do that. He said they are happy making “peanuts.”

“They love it … I guess it’s in their blood,” he said.

Matriarch of the family Hermine Confreda, who is a native of Austria, checks in daily on operations.

“She makes sure everything is right,” Confreda said of his mother.

But then there’s the weather, and farmers have been trying to out guess that for thousands of years.

In time and with care, the corn grows. And now that it’s here, summer has officially started at Confreda Farm.

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Cat

Looking forward to taking a trip to the farm and pick up some fabulous vegetables!

Thursday, July 18