by Pamela Thompson, Volunteer Writer
Nestled off a country road, down a tree-lined driveway in West Kingston sits Brandon Family Farm. It is a 15-acre parcel carved from the larger 80-acre Fox Ridge Farm and is home to a year-round farming operation run by its proprietor, Alby Brandon. After graduating from URI, the farm had been Alby’s pride and joy since 2014 with both full- and part-time employees, depending on the season.
At the beginning of June for 2-3 weeks, the farm welcomes the public for pick-your-own strawberries. Two different methods of propagation are utilized on their 2-acre patch, both matted rows and plastic culture types of planting. The plastic culture method is much more labor intensive. Irrigation pipes are positioned within a running mound of soil before the black plastic is laid on top. Holes are then poked through the plastic and the strawberry plant inserted. This allows for water saving techniques in the event of a frost happening after the flowers have set on the plants.
The list of certified organic produce grown at Brandon Farm reads like a who’s who in a farm catalog. While the usual varieties are all present, there are also some not so often seen offerings such as sunchokes and fava beans. Alby is also known to have at least two or three experimental plantings going on at any given time.
Not a week goes by over the course of a year that production stops. This is due in part to the high tunnels that are utilized no matter what the season. The major crop in these tunnels is tomatoes but you will also find spinach, chard, radishes, and scallions growing alongside to name a few. Though the tunnels are single-sided plastic, the ground temperature does not get below 40 degrees even in winter, allowing for this sustainability. Insectary plants such as alyssum are also interspersed among the rows to attract beneficial insects to the tunnels such as parasitic wasps, hover flies and ground beetles.
A favorite rotating cover crop is a vetch rye combination. The seeds are sown each fall, allowed to grow over the winter with the resulting 6-foot crop tilled back into the soil each spring. The resulting 2–3 inches of “new” soil is rich in nitrogen and exhibits disease resistant properties, supercharging growth for the next chosen crop planted.
The best farm news this year is the acquisition of 10 acres of land off Liberty Lane in West Kingston. In partnership with RI DEM and a competitive program called Farmland Access Program, Brandon Farm was able to purchase this parcel and. expand their business. In addition to their current acreage, one element of this expansion plan will be to open a farm store with parking.
Brandon Farm sells its produce via several local businesses. The farm reaches a wide variety of wholesale buyers (like restaurants, grocers, and schools) as well as home delivery and pickup customers through Farm Fresh RI’s Market Mobile local food distribution service. Their products can be found at grocery stores like Whole Foods and Belmont Market. And most importantly they sell farm shares via a 126-member (and growing) CSA. CSA stands for Community Supported Agriculture, a sales model that allows farms to sell shares of what they intend to grow directly to the consumer, well before the harvest. Brandon Family Farm also offers pick-up and delivery service for its members, available each week. All the information is on their website: brandonfamilyfarm.com.
It was a pleasure meeting with Alby and some of his crew for this story. The adage of “love what you do, and you’ll never work another day in your life” was obvious when I jokingly said to Alby, standing in the middle of the strawberry patch, that this is his office. He just nodded and laughed.