special photo feature by Lucas Foglia - www.lucasfoglia.com
The national trend towards locally grown, organic, seasonal foods has been gaining momentum thanks to recent food scares and recalls. Vegetables containing E-coli and peanuts spreading salmonella have helped raise awareness about food production, called into question factory-farming practices, and led consumers to want to know where their food is coming from.
When considered in light of sustainability and carbon footprints, the need for grapes from Chile or Greek yogurt is increasingly questioned. Those questions are leading many to locally produced food, which requires less fuel to get to your table, meaning it has a less negative impact on the environment. It is also fresher, can be harvested ripe, and, as a result, most often tastes much better.
Bruce Tillinghast, owner and chef of New Rivers, a Providence restaurant serving refined bistro food made from fresh, organic ingredients, was an early local promoter of locally grown food.
“I grew up in Lincoln, Rhode Island, and I have seen a lot of farm land disappear over the years. I realized that the farm land will best be preserved by keeping the farms in business,” he says, a realization that led him to build strong relationships with local growers and to serve local and seasonal food at New Rivers.
“One of the first items we put on the menu when we opened the restaurant 19 years ago was the ‘Providence Salad,’” says Tillinghast, describing a mixed-greens salad created by City Farm in Providence specifically for local restaurants.
City Farm is part of the Southside Community Land Trust (SCLT), which has operated an expanding network of inner-city community gardens in South Providence since 1981.
SCLT has helped transform a neighborhood by providing access to land and know-how about gardening. An area once blighted with trash, vacant lots, and abandoned buildings has been converted to host community gardens in 12 lots across the neighborhood. The plots provide gardeners from West Africa, Central and Latin America, and Southeast Asia, among other locales, land “that represents an economic resource and the opportunity to provide healthy, fresh food for their families,” according to Rich Pedersen, farm manager at City Farm.
Local Restaurants, Local Food
The desire for locally grown ingredients has increased since the debut of the ‘Providence Salad.’ More and more restaurants are offering dishes incorporating locally available produce; their customers’ interest in, and commitment to, supporting small, local growers is expanding.
“The chefs who use locally grown vegetables and fruit often function as advertisers for the local providers,” says Matt Jennings, chef/owner of La Laiterie Bistro, an East Side restaurant offering an ingredient-driven menu that changes based on the season and availability of local produce.
Many of the vegetables offered at La Laiterie are grown by Red Planet, an urban farm on Providence’s West side. Owned and operated by Matt Tracy and Katherine Mardosa, the pair six years ago cleared trash and old tires from a city lot, replacing them with good, healthy soil, and erected a temporary greenhouse to grow produce year round.
Tracy, acknowledging the growing demand for food produced locally and an increased interest in gardening, hopes that “more people will get into urban farming at a larger scale to pursue it as a commercial venue.”
To that end, SCLT is assisting some community gardeners in selling their produce at the Broad Street Farmer’s Market in South Providence through Little Cities Growers, a co-op joining Red Planet, City Farm, and a couple of small farms outside the city.
Organized by Farm Fresh Rhode Island, a non-profit committed to “growing a local food system that values the environment, health, and quality of life of Rhode Island farmers and eaters,” Providence’s farmer’s markets have enjoyed growing popularity since their inception in 2004.
When talking about this movement, Sheri Griffin, markets coordinator for Farm Fresh, says, “my perspective has changed since I have helped to built a community garden in Fox Point. Now, when I drive around the city and I see an empty or abandoned lot I envision another vegetable garden.”
Griffin’s vision points to an exciting future: expanding the city’s green space one lot at a time, providing ample opportunities to grow more ‘Providence Salad.’