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US (RI): Volunteers help harvest 20,000 pounds of produce at Westbay Farm

Steve Stycos and his fellow farm hands work at Westbay Farm, located on 1351 Centerville Road in Warwick. Stycos, a former member of the Cranston City Council, has been working there 12 years, and some of his dedicated volunteers have stuck around for upwards of 11 years.

One of Westbay Farm’s longest serving volunteers, Kathy Schofill said, “It’s been a great experience.” Schofill also mentioned that she lives extremely close to the farm and that years ago she used to walk to Barton Dairy Farm to water and take care of the farm on the weekends before it was bought by the city as open space in 2000.

In 2005, the city worked out an agreement with Westbay Community Action to use a portion of the property to grow produce for the Westbay Marketplace to serve families in need. Westbay is a two-acre farm that grows up to 20,000 pounds of organic produce each year, said Paul Salera, president and CEO of Westbay Community Action.

“We have made a lot of changes to this farm,” Stycos said. “When it was first opened there was not even an irrigation system.” Stycos also mentioned that the farm has acquired farming equipment, including a tractor, a hoop house, a middle buster and fencing. The farm has expanded to three times its original size.

A portion of the 20,000 pounds of produce is sold at a food stand that is open every Thursday during the season from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. The remainder of the produce goes to the Westbay Marketplace, the third-largest food pantry of its kind in Rhode Island, as well as the Interfaith pantry and other smaller pantries.

Stycos mentioned that one of the more interesting aspects of the farm is the way they use covers to keep insects from crops. The covers keep bugs away while allowing for water and sunlight to enter. These covers are kept on the crops until they bloom. Once they bloom, the covers are removed so the pollinators can do their job.

Westbay has two hoop houses. Stycos compared a hoop house to a greenhouse; the difference is that hoop houses do not have a heating system. Therefore, they are more of a sustainable way of farming since they do not use electricity.

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