RI DEM News Release: DEM Hosts RI Agriculture Day at State House

by David Dadekian
RI Department of Environmental Management

RI Department of Environmental Management

For Release: April 26, 2012
Contact: Gail Mastrati 222-4700 ext. 2402


DEM Director Releases RI Agriculture and Green Industry Economic Impact Study

PROVIDENCE – The Department of Environmental Management hosted Rhode Island Agriculture Day at the State House today to recognize the importance of the state’s $170 million agriculture industry.

“Agriculture provides numerous benefits to Rhode Island’s economy, quality of life, open space, and access to local foods and horticultural products,” said Governor Lincoln Chafee. “In fact, as the preliminary findings of the Agricultural Economic Impact Study point out, the 2,500 green industry businesses in Rhode Island sustain 12,300 jobs and contribute $1.7 billion annually to our state’s economy.”

This year’s RI Agriculture Day program featured a rollout of the Agriculture and Green Industry Economic Impact Study conducted by URI in partnership with DEM, the RI Nursery and Landscape Association, RI Turf Grass Foundation, RI Agricultural Partnership and EDC.  In addition, the event highlighted many ongoing initiatives to maintain the viability of farming in Rhode Island, including locally-produced milk and beef, farmers’ markets, and buy local and agri-tourism programs. Farming is an integral part of the state’s economy and provides a valuable contribution to Rhode Island’s open space and quality of life. Beyond fresh and local produce, nursery stock, sod and Rhode Island’s own Rhody Fresh milk, agriculture contributes to tourism, open space, landscaping businesses, and a variety of food-related industries.

“Agriculture represents a bright spot in the economy of our beautiful state, thanks to growing consumer interest in products grown locally and the impressive entrepreneurial skills of Rhode Island farmers,” said DEM Director Janet Coit.  “We are please to see it measured and highlighted in the economic impact study first released at today’s RI Agriculture Day program.”

Governor Chafee Signs Local Agriculture and Seafood Act into Law

DEM Director Coit noted that Governor Chafee celebrated Agriculture Day in the most powerful way he could by signing into law today the Local Agriculture and Seafood Act.  The measure increases DEM’s authority to engage in marketing and outreach for local agriculture and seafood products; establishes a state Food Policy Advisory Council; and allows DEM’s Division of Agriculture to administer a grants program for new farmers and organizations that support the growth, development, and marketing of the state’s agricultural and commercial fishing sectors.  Sponsors of the Act were Senators Sosnowski, Walaska, McCaffrey, Felag and Sheehan, and Representatives Ruggiero, Handy, Tanzi, Walsh and Martin.

“I am proud of the work of the Senate in passing progressive legislation that supports our agricultural and seafood industries which reflects our firm commitment that we are 100 percent behind local businesses. Protection of our stake in the regional food supply is something that is extremely important to Rhode Island’s economy and its citizens,” said Senator Susan Sosnowski.

“We tend to think of economic development as growing jobs inside a plant or a building, but Rhode Island’s green industries generate over a billion dollars to the local economy,” says Rep. Deb Ruggiero (Jamestown/ Middletown). “One of the benefits of the Local Agriculture and Seafood Act is the state will establish a program to support small farmers, farmer training, nutrition programs, and ensure a sustainable local food system in our state.”

Rhode Island has 1,219 farms, mostly family run, which occupy 61,000 acres.  The state has a growing number of farmers markets (50) and other retail venues and collaborative efforts. According to the 2007 USDA Census of Agriculture,  Rhode Island was ranked number three in the country for direct marketing sales of fruits and vegetables from farms to consumers, on a per farm basis.  Rhode Island also had $6.3 million worth of agriculture sales sold directly to the public, equal to 9.5 percent of all agriculture market sales, which ranked Rhode Island first in the US for percentage of direct market sales.   The Agriculture and Green Industry Economic Impact Study that was released during the Agricultural Day program is a more recent assessment of the economic impact of local agriculture as well as what are commonly termed “green” industries (golf courses, landscaping, retail garden centers etc.). The study has revealed a very significant and widespread economic impact, which was highlighted by Tom Sproul of URI.

Large Variety of Locally-Grown Foods Available for Sampling

As part of the Rhode Island Agriculture Day festivities, approximately 50 exhibitors hosted displays in the State House Rotunda throughout the day. Exhibitors included farms, local food purveyors, and land trusts, as well as government and non-profit agencies that work with farmers. Coordinated by DEM’s Division of Agriculture, the exhibits highlighted Rhode Island agriculture and the many organizations that collectively participate in its viability.

Several exhibitors offered food samples, such as stuffed quahogs from Dave’s Marketplace, blueberry cupcakes from Wright’s Dairy Farm and Bakery, oysters from Matunuck Oyster Farm, johnnycakes from the Kenyon Corn Meal Company, egg sandwiches from Little Rhody Foods, Rhody Fresh milk from the RI Dairy Farms Cooperative, Arruda Dairy’s fresh flavored milk, cider from Jaswell’s Farm in Smithfield, fudge from Confreda Farms and Greenhouse in Cranston, Cabot Cheese made with milk from RI dairy farms, Rich’s Sweet Heat sauce and fresh assorted pies from Gardner Pie Company were available for sampling.

Along with Director Coit, participants in the program included Tom Sproul, URI Agricultural Economist; Senator Susan Sosnowski; Representative Deborah Ruggiero; and Sarah Partyka and her father John of The Farmer’s Daughter and South County Farms, Inc. of South Kingstown.

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