For his part, Fulmer sees the growth of the local food movement as a reaction to the way that food has been produced in this country — overly processed and away from authentic flavors — during the last few decades. Considering this, it might seem a bit counter-intuitive that he spends a lot of time in front of a computer, but technology has played an important role in helping to put it all together.

Hurdles facing small growers are posed by how the US Department of Food and Agriculture still classifies many of their efforts as "specialty crops."

Yet it's encouraging that this evolution in Rhode Island has continued during a time of economic contraction. "If we can be strong now," Fulmer says, pointing to the prospects coming with increased awareness, "good things are going to continue to be possible."

The next step in local food
The flowering of locally produced foods in Rhode Island represents the latest step in a movement linked with the heightened interest in cooking sparked by Julia Child, and the highlight placed on traditional New England ingredients by such star chefs as Jasper White and Lydia Shire (who both worked long ago in the kitchen at the Providence Biltmore).

These days, a big part of the local fight is in expanding the infrastructure that will enable small producers to expand their efforts.

In one such case, a slaughterhouse was rebuilt on the site of a previous one in Johnston, enabling local livestock growers to conduct a vital part of their business without traveling a greater distance.

In another example, Fulmer holds up Perry Rosso's Matunuck Oyster Farm as an example of the new possibilities. As it stands, most of Rosso's oysters are going to New York, Fulmer says, although he might be able to begin growing an enormous number of bay scallops, furthering the cause of sustainable local seafood.

Similarly, a pilot delivery system that takes locally grown produce to area restaurants, thus far involving Chez Pascal, La Laiterie, New Rivers, Persimmon, Aspire, Brown and RISD, and the Waterman Grille, is slated to go statewide this summer.

And an "open kitchen" will enable people like the makers of Besto Pesto, who now make use of an industrial kitchen in Dartmouth, Massachusetts, adding to their expense, to do the same thing closer to their base in Pawtucket.

At Aquidneck Farms in Portsmouth, which maintains a breeding herd of 40 cows, the move into farming has particular meaning for Jim Booth, one of the managers of the operation.

Although his grandparents were dairy farmers, and other family members have remained backyard farmers, Booth, 55, worked for most of his life in construction, watching with regret as new development steadily diminished the amount of agriculture and open space. Being able to help preserve it now, he says, "It's huge, it's huge."

Ian Donnis, who likes his food fresh, can be reached at idonnis@wrni.org

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