Clements: The American Farm Bureau Federation’s grassroots organization is looking for urban farmers to support agriculture and help reduce the rural-urban divide. To that end, the federation last week hosted the second annual meeting of its Urban County Farm Bureau Coalition. Coalition steering committee member Heidi Quinn is also the Rhode Island Farm Bureau executive director. She says her state may be urban and small, but agriculture is still a big part of its economy.
Quinn: Rhode Island consists of just over 1,000 square miles of land, with nearly 60 percent forest and nine percent in farmland. Our average farm size is 56 acres. The green industry, consisting of nursery, sod and horticulture, represents 60 percent of our ag economy. Much of the rest are smaller, diversified vegetable and livestock farms. Most sell direct to consumer or at retail and often to local restaurants. We also have 70 aquaculture farms in Rhode Island. Most of these raise oysters.
Clements: Because Rhode Island is vastly urban, Quinn says traditional farming can be a challenge.
Quinn: With the highest ag land value in the country, and the USDA sets it at just under $14,000 per acre, it is often tempting for farmers to sell for development, and new farmers find it too costly to purchase land. So, many are turning to urban agriculture where they maximize production on available land, or they start greenhouse operations.
Clements: As part of the coalition summit last week, Quinn says the path forward should include traditional agriculture and urban agriculture.
Quinn: One of the most important things discussed was our need to broaden Farm Bureau’s message to include these urban and emerging agriculturalists because policy affects us all. We need to work toward our common goal of an abundant and safe food supply and educated consumers. We also realize that there’s a need to connect to urban elected officials to help them understand agriculture’s role in their communities.
Clements: Micheal Clements, Washington.