Since 2004, Farm Fresh Rhode Island has been working tirelessly on growing and strengthening our local food system. Over the years, we have evolved to better serve the community — from our simple start as a Brown University student project to a nationally recognized nonprofit with a dedicated team of over 50 full- and part-time/seasonal employees. See some highlights of our work through the years.
In December, after 16 years at Farm Fresh RI, Co-Executive Director Sheri Griffin steps down. In Sheri’s time at Farm Fresh RI, the organization has grown from a student-led project in shared office space in a basement at Brown University to an organization with a staff of 50 and a newly built 60,000 square-foot food hub in the Valley neighborhood of Providence. Sheri has helped to grow Farm Fresh from a small group with good intentions and limited resources into a nationally recognized leader in the good food movement. The Farm Fresh Board is pleased to announce that Jesse Rye will become the organization’s Executive Director starting in 2023. Jesse’s vision and decisive leadership ensure that our mission, financial objectives, and focus on diversity, equity, and inclusion will drive Farm Fresh RI toward continued success.
A new technology platform for Market Mobile is the culmination of years of working with RI-based developers Jake and Co. to update the decades-old system. This much needed upgrade makes ordering and check-out easier for shoppers and gives farmers and food producers streamlined tools to connect with a variety of customers. In order to financially support the infrastructure and staffing needed to keep Market Mobile running, at this time we also announce an increase in our brokerage fee on Market Mobile by 2% and a $5 fee to each home delivery order. This enables us to continue providing farmers with critical infrastructure to sell their products and home delivery customers with a way to have all their favorite local items delivered to their door.
An independent but fiscally sponsored program of Farm Fresh RI since 2018, Hope’s Harvest becomes an official program of Farm Fresh RI. By joining Farm Fresh RI’s infrastructure, Hope’s Harvest builds our capacity to deliver local gleaned produce to an additional 20 hunger relief agencies via Market Mobile. The Hope’s Harvest team also administers the Senior Farmer Market Nutrition program and the Local Food Purchasing Assistance program in partnership with the RI Department of Environmental Management.
The Department of Environmental Management (DEM) Division of Agriculture upgrades its Senior Farmers Market Nutrition Program (SFMNP) bulk purchase pilot program to provide an estimated 12,800 boxes of fresh RI food to eligible seniors. We are proud to partner with DEM and the Rhode Island Office of Healthy Aging (OHA) to ensure more seniors have access to fresh, local food. After the successful pilot of 2021, we look forward to working with more small growers across the state to pack boxes full of a variety of local produce. We thoughtfully source items from a variety of local growers and deliver boxes packed with fresh produce directly to senior centers — feeding people in need right where they are, while keeping the journey food takes through the supply chain short.
We are proud to be home to small food and farm businesses, who begin moving in and opening up shop throughout the year. Together we represent many aspects of the local food system, from sourcing and gleaning to production, distribution, and sales. Businesses at Farm Fresh RI now include: Anchor Toffee, New Harvest Coffee + Spirits, Providence Brewing Company, Red Tomato, Rhed’s Hot Sauce, Robin Hollow Flowers, Tallulah’s Taqueria, and Wright’s Creamery.
We are proud to be honored by Grow Smart Rhode Island as an Outstanding Smart Growth Project for our new headquarters, farmers market space, and hub for local food in Providence. By incorporating numerous smart growth principles, Farm Fresh RI has breathed new life into a 3+ acre former Brownfields site that was once an industrial and manufacturing stronghold in Providence. By repurposing the site, their efforts have transformed a decaying urban eyesore into a catalyst for the revitalization of the Woonasquatucket River corridor. Affordable access to fresh and nutritious, locally grown produce is enhanced by Farm Fresh programs that double the buying power of SNAP recipients at farmers markets. This project strengthens our region’s food system and helps to ensure the health and long-term sustainability of area farms. Contributing consultants and professionals: DBVW Architects, Case Construction, Barbara Sokoloff and Associates, The Aspen Group, EDS, Inc.
The public is invited to watch renowned stone carver Nicholas Benson of Newport create a unique art installation for our new headquarters. With this installation, we celebrate a culmination of years repurposing the site where our hub for local food and farms now sits, while retrieving physical pieces of Rhode Island’s history and incorporating them into a contemporary sculpture for the community to experience.
With the development of the Farm to Food Pantry grant, 28 different local organizations and food pantries partner to purchase locally grown food for those most vulnerable in our community through Market Mobile. The funds for this program — a substantial total of $175,000 — are generously funded by four outstanding Rhode Island institutions: The Rhode Island Community Food Bank, The Providence Healthy Communities Office, The Rhode Island Foundation, and The Amica Companies Foundation. These funds allow each of the 28 participating organizations and food pantries to purchase weekly supplies from local farmers and food makers through Market Mobile. Our team then delivers those orders to the food bank and food pantries, supplying nutritious, fresh and local options for people in need.
Since its start in 2007, our wintertime farmers market has been pivotal for farmer and food producer sales and community food access in the colder New England months. With the closure of many other winter markets for the 2020-2021 season due to the COVID-19 pandemic, our team works hard to make possible the vision for opening our new building and famers market, having to adjust dozens of times in order to ensure the safest possible market for the season. When our doors open November 7, our team (only allowing a limited number of people inside at one time) watches as shoppers enter and safely walk through our brand new hallways. We can’t help but feel a sense of pride at the sight we had only been able to imagine for so long. The community we work so hard to keep together is there in our space, adhering to the strange new rules we have to enforce, and connecting to the vendors many have come to love over the years. With the help of our shoppers, farmers, food makers, staff and volunteers, we are excited to be able to realize our long-time goal of providing a weekly year-round marketplace for locally grown food — the Farm Fresh Providence Farmers Market.
We can’t wait to welcome farmers and customers to our brand-new building in Providence, where we continue to serve the local food community with greater capacity and much improved facilities.
We complete development of our purpose-designed 60,000 sq. ft. facility on the corner of Kinsley Ave and Sims Ave in the Valley neighborhood of Providence. Half of the space is designed to house our programs and operations, including a year-round farmers market. Remaining space is leased to food and farm-related small businesses. The site includes a half-acre of publicly accessible green space featuring beautiful sustainable, native plantings. Amidst the unknowns of the burgeoning global COVID-19 pandemic, we are able to complete construction and accelerate the move to our new home — especially motivated to move quickly to be able to provide more crucial food access during a time of great public health and supply chain uncertainty.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, more Rhode Islanders than ever are in need of emergency and supplemental food. At the same time, Rhode Island farmers and food sector businesses are facing widespread market and supply chain disruption. U.S. Senators Jack Reed and Sheldon Whitehouse and U.S. Representatives Jim Langevin and David Cicilline include federal funds for the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program (CFAP) in the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act (Public Law No. 116-136). CFAP provides $3 billion to purchase and distribute agricultural products to those in need nationwide. This RI Congressional delegation announces that Farm Fresh Rhode Island has been approved by USDA for the Farmers to Families Food Box program. As a result of CFAP, Market Mobile works with local farms to create over 75,000 “Farmers to Families Food Boxes” containing fresh, local vegetables, fruit, milk, yogurt, and cheeses in 2020. These nutritious, local products are packed and delivered weekly to Rhode Islanders in need.
In a year unlike any other, we open up our Market Mobile local food delivery service to include residential customers. The necessary pivot of extending this service, typically for wholesale buyers, to Rhode Island residents is the best way we can get local eaters connected with the fresh food our local farmers and producers have grown and made. Just seven months later, we surpass 10,000 orders and over $2 million dollars in sales for local farmers and food producers!
As contractors begin to clear the industrial site that we acquired for our new headquarters, they find that the land was filled with pieces of marble, ranging from massive blocks to small chunks. Research reveals that the marble found on our site dates back to the late 1890s, when the Norcross Brothers Company purchased the site and set up one of the largest mills in the U.S. on our very spot — to receive and cut the Georgia marble used to build the RI State House. (See the November 1898 Providence Journal of Commerce article.) Determined to rescue and repurpose these pieces of Rhode Island history, we ask our contractors to set aside the large marble blocks and recruit volunteers to collect the smaller pieces. The two finest large blocks are reserved for a future art installation. Other large marble pieces serve as landscaping elements, some engraved in honor of individuals and entities.
After many years of planning and designing the building, performing due diligence, acquiring and remediating the formerly blighted site, and raising in excess of $15 million, we break ground on our new headquarters on Sims Avenue in Providence. We track the impressive progress of this development project with these detailed construction updates: November 2019, December 2019, February 2020, and July 2020.
Marking a new chapter in our work out of state, the NIFA grant also empowers us to support the nutrition incentives programs offered by Connecticut, Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont through the creation of the New England Nutrition Incentive Collaborative (NENIC). The grant awarded to Farm Fresh RI, administered by the USDA’s NIFA Food Insecurity Nutrition Incentive (FINI) program and authorized by the 2014 Farm Bill, is the largest of 24 grants totaling $21M awarded nationwide by the USDA this same week.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) award a $4,628,765 grant to expand our Bonus Bucks program. This funding enables us to provide an impressive 100% match for SNAP users at select RI farmers markets, CSAs, and farm stands — doubling the purchasing power of low-income Rhode Islanders to buy more nutritious foods and re-investing those federal dollars into the RI economy by directly supporting local growers and food businesses.
Our newly realized vision for the Harvest Kitchen Café (now no longer a corner store) expands on our current line of youth-made jarred products to offer an extensive menu of freshly made dishes that appeal to an even wider variety of customers while supporting even more farmers and small food producers in our region.
With comprehensive due diligence efforts completed and financing in place, we take ownership of a 3.2 acre parcel of land (the former Eastern Wire site) in the Valley neighborhood of Providence, once a hub for Rhode Island manufacturing and industry. It will be the future location of our newest and biggest venture, our new headquarters.
Our Harvest Kitchen Cafe & Corner Store opens — offering the community fresh local produce and groceries, youth-made products, and prepared foods for eat-in or take out. The training program expands to include both morning and afternoon sessions. We begin planning with the RI Department of Health to offer nutritious locally sourced prepared foods to other corner stores in Pawtucket and Central Falls.
After much deliberation, we decide to stop our Veggie Box subscription service as it was formerly structured. Instead, we begin offering the opportunity to purchase local food as a Buying Club through Market Mobile.
Working closely with the city of Pawtucket and Pawtucket Central Falls Development, we move our Harvest Kitchen training program and production kitchen into the first floor of the newly renovated Gately building at 2 Bayley Street in downtown Pawtucket.
We take on statewide distribution of nutrition incentives for recipients of federal SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) benefits at Rhode Island farmers markets. Our Community Access team begins ongoing participation in many of the Health Equity Zone programs newly formed by the RI Department of Health.
Our board of directors approves adoption of the Food Solutions New England Food Vision as a guiding vision for our organization. The regional plan has a bold vision of building capacity for New England to grow 50 percent of its own food by 2060. As of 2016, as much as 90% of the food we consume still comes from outside our region. We reconfirm our commitment to reaching this “50 by 60” goal through our education and market-building programs, and begin early planning to expand the infrastructure of Rhode Island’s local food system with our Providence Headquarters development project.
Long having outgrown our office space upstairs at Hope Artiste Village, we move into an expanded and newly renovated space on the first floor of the building, close to our Packhouse. Around this time we also begin working with real estate and community developer Lucie Searle on planning and developing a future home of our own.
We are proud to achieve Good Handling Practices (GHP) certification, a third-party food safety audit through the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA).
After guiding our organization through tremendous growth, and establishing Farm Fresh RI as a respected local food hub in the community, Noah Fulmer moves on to new horizons. Sheri Griffin and Jesse Rye become Co-Executive Directors, dividing core responsibility for Community Access and Food System Enterprise programs between them to meet the accelerating needs of our growing organization.
Thanks to collaborating with ColdMasters and support from the Prospect Hill Foundation, CEI, and Wholesome Wave, we complete a cooler expansion in our Packhouse — doubling our holding capacity for local produce and dairy before it is delivered to Market Mobile wholesale customers and Veggie Box subscribers.
Market Mobile finishes its fifth year with $1.9 million in sales on behalf of local farmers and producers, bringing the total sales since 2009 to $5.5 million.
The Harvest Kitchen program moves into a small kitchen space on Pawtucket Ave, a few blocks from our offices.
Market Mobile finishes its fourth year with $1.56 million of fresh, local food delivered on behalf of over 50 producers to over 120 customers. A new record for weekly sales is hit in October when $48,000 of local produce is delivered in one week.
We begin offering nutrition education and local food awareness programs in Rhode Island schools, encouraging school dining services to focus more on local, seasonal foods and providing students with hands-on learning opportunities to increase awareness and enjoyment of nutritious food choices.
Jesse Rye is hired as our Managing Director, to help guide the organization as it continues growing and evolving.
With our Market Mobile wholesale distribution service continuing to grow rapidly, the infrastructure is already in place to offer a curated box of locally grown produce to consumers as well. And so our Veggie Box subscription service is born! To facilitate more efficient Veggie Box packing, we install manual conveyor belts in our Packhouse.
We move our offices to the Hope Artiste Village (upstairs) and begin our first Market Mobile deliveries — facilitating transformative buying relationships between local farmers and wholesale buyers. The pilot program is made possible thanks to collaboration with the RI Department of Health, RI DEM Division of Agriculture, and Narragansett Creamery. And for that first season, we aggregate orders during the wintertime farmers market! Market Mobile finds a temporary home at the Canaan & Co warehouse before landing in a more permanent space in the Hope Artiste Village, near our offices, where it now has its own dedicated cold, freezer, and dry storage. As startup grants that funded the first months of Market Mobile end, the sales percentage retained to cover program costs increases from 10 to 15 percent to closer match true operational costs.
We launch the Harvest Kitchen project. The first session of our culinary job training program for youth involved with the RI Department of Children, Youth, and Families is held in a commercial kitchen in Providence. The second session is in a church on Broad St, and the third is in the Mathewson St. Methodist Church — where the program stays until moving to Pawtucket in 2013.
Following the lead of comparable organizations around the country, and with the support of national organization Wholesome Wave, Farm Fresh RI institutes a nutrition incentive program called Bonus Bucks. Bonus Bucks gives Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) shoppers an extra $2 to spend on fresh fruits and vegetables for every $5 they spend with their EBT card at participating farmers markets. In the first year of Bonus Bucks implementation, SNAP sales increase over 600% across Rhode Island markets!
Customer and farmer demand is so great after the Wintertime Farmers Market debut at AS220 in 2007, that we move the market to the Hope Artiste Village building in Pawtucket on the recommendation of friends and market partners New Harvest Coffee Roasters and Seven Stars Bakery, which had already set up shop in the building. The number of vendors jumps from 7 to 51.
Our Heathy Foods, Healthy Families nutrition education program is born, for its initial season offered at just one Providence farmers market. With the pilot season a success, the program is provided in future seasons at multiple Farm Fresh RI farmers markets annually. The program offers hands-on multicultural workshops about food and nutrition to low-income families receiving federal SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) benefits.
When Food Stamps changed from a paper coupon to an Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) card in the late 1990s, many Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) recipients were left unable to use their benefits at farmers markets. Farmers didn’t have the infrastructure to accept EBT cards, so customers had to shop elsewhere. To address this, Farm Fresh RI creates the Fresh Bucks token system. With two types of tokens designed by a RISD student and produced in the US, and one centralized card terminal at the Market Manager’s table, vendors become able to accept currency from SNAP/EBT shoppers and credit card customers alike!
We host our first-ever Wintertime Farmers Market, thanks to the generous donation of space by AS220 (the farmers market takes place inside the gallery!). Around this time, Louella Hill returns to Rhode Island and works with Providence Specialty Products on developing an artisanal cheese project. Together they launch Narragansett Creamery, one of the vendors at the first wintertime market along with other early Farm Fresh RI supporters: Hill Orchards, Simmons Farm, Matunuck Oyster Farm, Earth Essence Herbals, Wishing Stone Farm, Jack’s Snacks, and Whispering Elms Farm.
A friend and mentor, Sheri Griffin, begins helping Louella Hill with grant writing and consolidating her works into a full-fledged organization. Together with Noah Fulmer, they incorporate Farm Fresh RI as a 501c3 nonprofit, based out of the Urban Environmental Lab at Brown University. Louella’s original advisory committee becomes Farm Fresh RI’s first Board of Directors, and Jessica Gordon joins the team. Having realized her vision, Louella turns her sights to new opportunities (like studying cheesemaking!). Upon her leaving Rhode Island, Noah Fulmer moves into the role of Executive Director, with Sheri Griffin coordinating farmers markets in downtown Providence, Hope Street, Brown University, Armory Park, Woonsocket, and Central Falls.
Louella teams up with fellow Brown University student and Sustainable Food Initiative member Noah Fulmer to create an online database of local farms, farmers markets, restaurants, grocers, and other businesses sourcing and serving locally grown foods. The Local Food Guide enables consumers (aka “eaters”) to easily locate local foods. They also begin hosting annual Local Food Forum B2B meetings at Brown.
As an undergraduate at Brown University working on her thesis project, Louella Hill begins asking questions about our local food system. She’d noticed a disconnect between local farmers and eaters in our region, and wants to address it. With help from her advisory committee — including key community stakeholders like Virginia Dunleavy, Ken Ayars, Skip Paul, and Nicole Vitello — Louella establishes the Sustainable Food Initiative. The initiative makes an impressive impact, sending students out to help local farmers and increasing locally sourced foods served by Brown Dining Services. Thanks to funding from the Rhode Island Foundation and the Environmental Protection Agency, Louella is able to continue her work after graduating from Brown — kicking off what is to become the popular “Monday Market” local foods market in downtown Providence’s Kennedy Plaza.