It started with a cup of tea. That might sound like the beginning of a fairy tale, but the adventure that follows is like something out of a story book, set in the entire state of Rhode Island.
My mother and I journeyed to Mapleville Farm for their autumn high tea celebration and found ourselves feasting on a farm-to-table seven-course meal. Plans of hiking in northern Rhode Island were already fading courtesy of a food coma from fresh-baked scones, soup, butternut squash bread, and two rounds of dessert, but what really recharted our course was when Mike Ryan, one of the four siblings who own and run Mapleville Farm, gave us an intriguing side quest: The Rhode Island Farm Scavenger Hunt.
Each year in May, the Rhode Island Farm Bureau creates a map of participating farms across the state, with pictures from each along the border. Your journey begins by visiting one and matching the picture clue with the farm. If you get it right, you get a sticker. To be eligible for a prize, you have to visit at least 20 farms across the state, and to be entered into the grand prize drawing, visit all 27. The hunt ends on the last day of the year.
With one farm – Mapleville – completed, the hunt was on. We chose to work our way south. Starting close to Chepachet, we descended into Greenville’s Apple Valley – aptly named for its abundance of orchards, like Leach Farm, Steere Orchard, and Appleland.
We quickly learned that the map is a conversation starter. Other hunters compare maps with knowing smiles and stories of their own. On my trek so far, I heard stories of two other scavengers: a little girl and her mother who had nearly completed their map in one weekend, and a 70-year-old man on his motorcycle, driving across the state for adventure and comradery. At Steere Orchard, we met a young Rhode Island couple on the hunt who shared a tip for matching the photos to the farms: use context clues. Sometimes the photos are out of season; for instance, you won’t find sunflowers in bloom in the late fall or winter.
Farm owners and workers are always delighted to be found and love to talk about their trade. At Leach Farm, owner Robert Leach was quick with a local history story and generous with laughter, encouraging all who visit his orchard to have fun.
From Smithfield and Scituate to west toward Connecticut, South County to the East Bay, and every place in between, this map takes even born-and-bred Rhody explorers to destinations they may have never traipsed. Some farms are close together, making it easier to plan a day trip hitting them all. Hiking state parks goes hand in hand with orchard jaunts in the northern part of the state, or make an afternoon of shopping both farm harvests and cute shops on Aquidneck Island or southern RI.
There are some names on the list that were familiar to me – Greenvale Vineyards in Portsmouth, Newport Vineyards and Winery, The Farmer’s Daughter in South Kingstown, and Wrights Dairy Farm in North Smithfield are a few mainstays – but the best part was discovering local gems. Folks lining up at Windmist Farm in Jamestown will tell you it has the best apple cider donuts in the state, The Dahlia Patch creates colorful pumpkin-and-dahlia centerpieces in West Greenwich, and Spencer Morris from Sowams Cider Works in Warren presses batches of hard apple cider from his orchard and reuses the glass bottles and labels if you return them.
With over 1,000 commercial farms in Rhode Island, the map changes from year to year, so there’s always new feats to explore when vying for the prizes. But at the end of the day, what better prize is there than getting outside, meeting new people, and making new memories with the ones we love?
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