Sodco, one of the largest sod producers in New England, and Hope’s Harvest, Farm Fresh RI’s hunger relief program, may seem to be an unlikely duo. The former grows acres upon acres of different varieties of sod, while the latter mobilizes volunteers to harvest surplus fruits and vegetables from local farms. But over the course of the 2022 season, Hope’s Harvest gleaned over 19,000 pounds of sweet corn from Sodco and distributed it to hunger relief agencies across the state. Photo at top: Hope’s Harvest volunteers pick corn at Sodco in early September.
At the crux of the partnership between Sodco and Hope’s Harvest lies farm manager John Eidson. John has been surrounded by agriculture his whole life — from being raised on a Rhode Island farm, to starting his first company (RI Hay, Inc.), to studying Plant and Soil Sciences at URI, to finally joining the team at Sodco in 2010. We interviewed John to learn more about Sodco and what motivates them to partner with Hope’s Harvest.
From John, we learned that Rhode Island was one of the areas where the sod industry began on the east coast, and that Sodco was one of the early trailblazers of the sod industry here in RI. Rhode Island’s well drained soils, ocean-moderated climate, and proximity to a large customer base in Boston, Cape Cod, and the larger New England area all make RI an ideal environment for growing sod.
But Sodco is more than just a grass-growing operation. As stated on their website, “Sodco embraces crop rotations, soil health, the latest in technology and innovation.” John told us that soil health is paramount to Sodco’s practices. And the microorganisms that allow sod to flourish help food-bearing crops grow too. For instance, last year John grew hairy vetch (a nitrogen-fixing legume) and rye in the three acre plot where, this year, he planted corn for Hope’s Harvest. This cover-cropping was carried out knowing that it would benefit the soil microorganisms in these three acres, which in turn nourish the corn that our gleaners harvest to feed our neighbors in need.
Further, Sodco interplants microclover sod (a blend of tall fescue, bluegrass, reyegrass, and clover) with crops like tomatoes, basil, peppers, and squash — an experiment that has been running for about 10 years now. Not only does microclover supply nitrogen to the soil, it’s also drought tolerant and reduces erosion, and its presence means that its neighboring veggies don’t need to be fertilized or sprayed with herbicides or pesticides. In these plots, John has reduced tillage by 95 percent, making the soil a permanent carbon sink. In addition to gleaning corn from Sodco, Hope’s Harvest was honored to harvest vegetables from these plots this summer as well.
Another exciting venture is Sodco’s production of organically grown wildflower turf, a type of sod that has seeds of about 20 different species of annuals and perennials embedded within it. This year they started production at a small scale, and next year they are hoping for this project to have a larger footprint on their farm. Sodco’s wildflower turf can be harvested to order and delivered right to your door. And within a few short weeks, homeowners, businesses, or institutions will have a pollinator garden.
Hope’s Harvest is in admiration of and deep gratitude for all the work that Sodco does, whether it’s experimenting with sustainable sod practices or taking the time out of their day to plant veggies for hunger relief.