Sustainability Blooms in Smithfield at Revive the Roots

Land stewards grow a permaculture hub, one tree at a time

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In 2011, a group of Smithfield High School students curious about sustainable farming practices outgrew their backyard experiments. So they entered an ambitious lease agreement with the Smithfield Land Trust to steward two side-by-side properties, totaling 23 acres. Revive the Roots was born, a non-profit focused on sustainability and social impact. Their first job was to clear out the pine forest at the top of the Woonasquatucket River. “It was an unofficial dumping ground,” says Hannah Martin, Revive the Roots’ community builder. “There were over 200 tires, couches, mattresses, all sorts of debris.”

Over the past decade, Revive the Roots stewards – all volunteers – turned an overgrown parcel into a thriving food hub. Fruit and nut trees bloom across the property, which is dotted with farm land, community gardens, a greenhouse, chickens, and sheep. Hiking trails wind through the wooded areas and there are spaces for education and arts programming. There’s even an edible forest.

Revive the Roots’ organization is multi-faceted. On the one hand, they are food producers, working the land sustainably, and selling the produce through their farm stand and, beginning this year, a CSA. Adjacent to that are their social enterprise programs, leasing out parcels of land to mission-aligned growers for their own agriculture businesses. Those farmers tend to Revive the Roots’ crops in lieu of rent. Plus, Revive the Roots works with Hope’s Harvest to get fresh produce in the hands of the food insecure. Last year, they donated 1,500 pounds of food to hunger relief.

“There is a need to make food accessible,” says Martin. “As we found out in the last few years, big systems are hard to change. But I think a lot of things are possible.”

She refers to the 50 by 60 challenge, an initiative set by Food Solutions New England for 50 percent of New England’s food system to be local by 2060. “A lot of us saw in 2020 what it means to have a disrupted delivery system,” she says. “It’s crucial our food sources be resilient to disruption.

“We have a good climate for growing food,” she continues. “If you look at how much food we grew last year on one-eighth of an acre, it’s very doable.” But, Martin notes, the biggest challenge facing local food production is losing farmland to development.

That point hits close to home. Last year, Revive the Roots learned the town was not extending their curatorship program on five acres of land that includes the Mary Mowry House, a refurbished farmhouse that four stewards live in year-round. In November, Revive the Roots launched a capital campaign to purchase the property. This will secure the future of the organization because without the acreage, they are unsure their mission can continue. “It’s difficult to manage the land without stewards on site,” she says.

Their produce manager is one of these residents. It’s important, Martin notes, for a farmer to be on site since tending to the land can be a 24/7 job. “If the temperature drops, for example, it could kill the seedlings we just planted.” Having someone on site to protect the crops from something like a surprise freeze is part of farming. Without the house, “we’d have to scale back [food production] next season,” she says.

Plus, they’d lose access to a quarter of their hiking trails and they wouldn’t be able to keep their sheep, which are used for wool for their partnership with Artists’ Exchange.

“One of the aspects of permaculture that is important to us is that the word culture is in there. We can work to make environmental change, we can work to grow more food, we can work to develop and preserve habitat alongside our food systems. But if we’re not connecting as humans together on this land, then the effort we put in becomes work,” she says. “Finding artful ways to farm together really makes the effort of land care more of a shared and joyful experience.”

At Revive the Roots, it all intersects: the sustainable food systems; the walking trails that snake through them, providing recreation for the community; and the creative culture and art making built up around it. “We have something that is really valuable,” she says. “There is a huge opportunity for someone to be a hero in Smithfield and save this spot.”

To donate and learn more visit RevivetheRoots.org

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