Farm to Table On the Farm Coast

A fresh guide to eating (and drinking) in the East Bay

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The East Bay isn’t called the “Farm Coast” for no reason – fields and pastures dotting the landscape feed into a uniquely local food system, while our coasts are a source of fresh-caught seafood. For many restaurants along the East Bay, “farm to table” is more than just a fad; it’s an intuitive use of seasonal harvests and a sustainable means of crafting creative menus around regional goods. It’s also a movement grounded in a tradition of agriculture and bringing eaters closer to where their food is sourced. We hear from a restaurant, farm, brewery, and vineyard rooted in the region’s farm-to-table scene, plus what’s cooking, growing, and brewing this season.

 

Rooted in Agriculture

In 1983, Skip Paul and Liz Peckham started Wishing Stone Farm in Little Compton with a desire to feed the community fresh, healthy produce. Decades later, their son Silas Peckham-Paul carries on their love for agriculture, helping to manage all 50 acres, more than 15 greenhouse structures, a packing barn, commercial kitchen, and retail market space. 

For Peckham-Paul and his family, farm to table is personal – “To us, it’s just what we experience every day here, cooking meals straight out of the cooler, out of the field and greenhouses… we wish and hope to give as many people as possible that same experience.” Through selling produce from their farm stand on Shaw Road, along with farmers markets throughout the state, Peckham-Paul and his family offer others the chance to connect with the source of their food.

To better plan and budget for upcoming seasons, some farms offer a community-supported agriculture (CSA) program in which individuals pay for a share of their yield in advance. Wishing Stone Farm offers a debit-style CSA, in which customers can load a “debit card” for use at any of their markets throughout the summer.

With a goal of serving the community as widely as possible, Wishing Stone Farm donates produce throughout the year to places like Hope’s Harvest, a gleaning organization that recovers and distributes unharvested produce to food insecure populations, and Providence homeless shelter Amos House

They also sell to many wholesale partners, such as universities and food hubs, and, of course, restaurants. “It is so rewarding and fun to see what a talented chef can do with our stuff,” says Peckham-Paul. Prior to the pandemic, farm dinners were an important way for restaurants to connect directly with farms, cooking and dining together on location. For Wishing Stone’s own farm kitchen, they turn any surplus crop into an item that can be sold or preserved, such as pesto, pickles, or even bread, pies, and pizza. 

 The Peckham-Paul family has held a commitment to sustainable regenerative agriculture since the farm’s origin. Most recently, they have chosen to participate in the world climate change challenge by making it a priority to use growing methods that sequester carbon. “We use several new tools to make sure we are always putting back what we take from the soil and keeping our carbon footprint low,” Peckham-Paul says. 

A Chef’s Touch

Ingredients only make one stop when it comes to restaurants like Boat House Waterfront Dining in Tiverton: the kitchen. For executive chef Marissa Lo, farm-to-table involves using ingredients from nearby farms, fisheries, and ranches, so she can showcase the purity of flavor throughout the menu and in specials. “Using locally sourced items allows my team and guests the opportunity to enjoy the freshest, purist, and cleanest expression of our industry,” she says. 

Boat House, which sits on the bank of the Sakonnet River, is committed to celebrating the bounty of New England – fresh seafood, local produce, and stunning bayside views. In an effort to immerse guests in a traditional New England experience, Lo highlights the yields of East Bay waters, including Breakwater Oysters, Karen Elizabeth scallops, Newport lobster, and squid from Point Judith.

In tune to the available harvest, Lo also incorporates peak-season ingredients – produce like pea greens, asparagus, rhubarb, snap peas, and wax beans – from nearby farms, or straight from their onsite garden. “Our specials are driven by what is bountiful around us,” says Lo. Meat comes from Blackbird Farm in Smithfield and New England Grass Fed (where livestock are bred on Cloverbud Ranch, a coastal pasture in Portsmouth), and mushrooms are supplied by West Kingston’s RI Mushroom Co. As with other restaurants in Newport Restaurant Group, Boat House also benefits from weekly Farm Fresh Rhode Island updates and deliveries. 

Growing up in Rhode Island, Lo’s childhood experiences were centered around New England fare, so it’s no surprise this influence shows up in her menu. But for Lo, capturing the farm-to-table ethos is about more than just enhancing her menu. It’s about preserving the age-old tradition of agriculture, and supporting those farms and fisheries that have crafted New England cuisine for generations. “As a chef I have the responsibility to support local farms that continue the tradition of growing and raising products that built the foodservice landscape in this region,” she says.

Lo looks forward to taking advantage of summer harvests, offering a few seasonal specials including the Asparagus Toast, with deviled egg mousse, pea tendrils, local radishes, and grana padano, and a golden beet and watercress salad.

Brews With a View

Known for their fun beer names, thoughtfully designed cans, and unique collaborations, you can find Ragged Island Brewing Co.’s extensive range of brews in bars, restaurants, and liquor stores throughout Rhode Island and southeastern Massachusetts. With names like “Aquidneck IPA,” “RI RI Rye,” and “Green Bridge,” Ragged Island teases their Rhody love before you even take your first sip. 

Their original brewery and taproom, located in Portsmouth Business Park, was founded in 2017. Since last spring, however, they’ve been transitioning their operations to their new home – a 37-acre farm brewery on Narragansett Bay – that will serve as a working farm and  year-round indoor/outdoor community gathering space. At press time, the Ragged Island team anticipates an official opening in May, as they turn their attention to repurposing the landscape from its former use, a nursery business that was in operation for 60 years. 

For co-owner Matt Gray, farm-to-table involves incorporating elements of the farm into their beverages. In addition to hops, which will be grown on a new trellis system, they plan to cultivate pumpkins, berries, orchard fruits, and other crops with flavors that lend themselves to rustic brews. They’ll also harvest honey from their bees for use in a honey ale. 

Beyond farming, the Ragged Island team hopes to build a landscape that brings interactive agricultural experiences and educational opportunities to their visitors. “We want our customers to be able to escape to our little oasis and enjoy a beer in a beautiful setting,” says Gray. From chickens and goats to walking trails and greenhouses, the brewery will be a destination for customers to interact with a working farm, while enjoying small-batch beers.

Gray also maintains strong partnerships with local food vendors, giving customers access to catered and food truck fare. Last summer, their line-up included McGrath Clambakes and Catering, Lumpia Bros, Newport Chowder Co., and others, with more to come this summer. “The best is still yet to come for our 37-acre gem,” says Gray.

 

Bringing it All Together

Newport Vineyards and Taproot Brewing have a little bit of everything – it’s a vineyard, brewery, and restaurant, all on 100 acres of preserved farmland. And a farm-to-table commitment is woven into each aspect. “We are an agricultural business at our core with 100 acres of preserved farmland and 66 acres of planted grapevines,” says marketing account manager Kendra Carlisle, “so it’s important to us to continue to honor our own farm and local farms throughout all operations, including culinary and brewery.”

With 66 acres of planted grapevines, their winery offers a “grape-to-glass” experience, with grapes moving straight from their estate-grown vineyard to their cellar to their customers’ glasses. At Taproot Brewing, executive chef Andy Teixeira and team incorporate items grown on their farm, including pumpkins in their Wicked Squashed Pumpkin Ale, Scotch bonnet chiles in the Hot Pepper Milk Stout, and golden beets in their Barrel Aged Triple Reserve Beer. For other brews, they source ingredients from neighboring farms, such as the strawberries in Pulp Friction. 

Along with goods from their onsite culinary garden, their vineyard and brewery restaurants incorporate produce and meat from farm partners across Rhode Island, including Wishing Stone Farm. Even their salt is from Newport Seasalt Co. “Not only does everything taste better when local and fresh, but we are remaining sustainable by cutting down on emissions from transportation, decreasing food waste, and boosting the local economy by supporting small independent farmers,” Carlisle explains. 

The Taproot menu is seasonally focused and ever changing to accommodate and highlight the items that come in from weekly farm deliveries. Right now, they are excited for late-spring’s bounty to arrive with items like peas, spring onions, asparagus, and spinach. To ensure they are prepared for every season, the culinary team is always planning ahead and preserving in advance.

 In addition to local sourcing and growing, Newport Vineyards’ Cultivate Committee works on sustainability efforts and ways to give back to the community. Their composting program, which diverted 34 tons of food waste and grain to composting last year, stemmed from this initiative, as well as fundraiser events, such as a holiday toy drive benefiting the Martin Luther King Jr. Community Center.

Situated within picturesque walking trails owned by Aquidneck Land Trust, Newport Vineyards is an ideal spot to both take in and chow down on the Farm Coast’s bounty. 

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