This Sunday is Earth Day, but with rising costs of food and fuel, rising sea levels and the local controversy of wind turbines, we are reminded daily of our fragile environment and the need to take steps to protect our overall well-being.
Sustainable Aquidneck, a newly incorporated nonprofit, says the best protection against those concerns is to work towards sustainability.
“[Our] aim is to advance sustainability on the island,” said board member Kyle Hence. “That means food, energy, waste, all facets of what it means to be sustainable.” Hence is one of seven board members that make up the young organization.
The group's first goal to work towards food sustainability is already underway. They plan to provide community gardens as early as this summer.
They negotiated a five-year lease with the Aquidneck Land Trust for an eight acre parcel of land at the end of Green End Avenue and Elizabeth Lane. The land will be available to the public for $50 for a 4 by 30 foot bed.
Hence said growers must adhere to organic growing techniques, so no chemicals can be used. Since this is their first year with the gardens, he said they are looking for more experienced gardeners as they will not have resources for teaching or support. They are working to form partnerships to provide residents education on farming practices in future years.
According to the Rhode Island Food Council, at an average cost of $13,600 per acre, Rhode Island farm land is the most expensive in the country. Since the 1940s, Rhode Island has lost more than 80 percent of its farms, when there were 300,000 acres in production.
Hence said by negotiating longer term contracts and sub-leasing beds, they are able to provide farms at an affordable price. Their goal is to make it possible for new and young farmers to get on the land.
Although Rhode Island’s farmers may pay more than other states, the Census of Agriculture showed that between 2002 and 2007 small farms grew by 42 percent in Rhode Island, ten times more than the national average.
The Food Council reports that Rhode Island leads the country in the number of farms that sell products directly to consumers, with 27 percent of RI farms direct marketing $6.3 million worth of food each year.
Hence said the project will not only increase access to local and healthy food for residents, but it will also stimulate the local economy. He said currently only one percent of food purchased in Rhode Island is grown in Rhode Island. They would like to see that grow to three percent within five years.
To learn more about the project and other topics related to sustainability on the island, the Norman Bird Sanctuary is hosting a workshop on Saturday, April 21, from 1 to 3 p.m. as part of its Earth Day activities.