The Department of Environmental Management has acquired farmland development rights to the 30-acre Pezza Farm in Johnston, bringing the total number of farmland acres protected in the “farm loop” of western Cranston, Johnston, and Scituate to mofe than 570 acres.
“Today’s acquisition represents many good things," DEM Director Janet Coit said in a release. "It is about looking out for the future of Rhode Island’s farmers and protecting a precious resource – our arable rich soils. It is about the members of the Pezza family and their fortitude and strong desire to keep this prime land as a working farm, against tall odds. And, it is about recognizing the benefits that accrue to all Rhode Islanders when we can purchase local fresh fruits and vegetables and connect with the people and places that provide healthy food.”
Pezza Farm is a fourth generation family-run farm. The property, with its familiar red barn that graces Plainfield Pike, was purchased in 1947 by Michael Pezza’s father, Michael Sr. Today, the entire Pezza family — Michael and Doreen Pezza and their children, Craig and Shelley, along with Shelley’s children, Sydney and J.C. — is involved in the daily operation of the working farm where they produce nursery stock, flowers, vegetables, and silage.
The farm also raises Hereford cows and is a member of the RI Raised Livestock Association, which sells beef to local customers. “The Pezza family is pleased to be able protect their land for future farming,” said Shelley Pezza on behalf of her family members.
Johnston Mayor Joseph Polisena noted the importance of agriculture and the need to protect local farms “I am glad to see that this deal has been finalized and that it will preserve one of Johnston’s working farms," Polisena said. "This will ensure that agricultural use will continue to provide jobs as a small but important part of our economy. Preserving farms from residential subdivision is an important strategy to control expenses for future town services.”
Johnston Town Planner Pam Sherrill added, “Pezza Farm helps support ‘eating locally’ by supplying vegetables to local schools, participating in local farmers’ markets, and operating a great retail operation on Plainfield Pike.”
Johnston voters approved a local $1 million open space bond referendum in November. The bond funds will be used to provide the local match for state open space acquisition grants and other open space projects in town.
Throughout the year, Pezza Farm offers numerous agri-tourism programs such as children’s birthday parties, school field trips, and fall hayrides. Visitors have an opportunity to see and feed the farm’s pens of small farm animals including chickens, pigs, sheep, horses, ducks, and a mule. The Pezza family offers free educational programs to the public on-site at the farm, including Master Gardeners and beekeeping programs, and participates in six farmers’ markets during the year in Cranston, Scituate, Providence, and Pawtucket. Pezza Farm also is an active participant in the Farm to School program which distributes locally-grown fruits and vegetables to Rhode Island school districts.
“We're delighted to be part of the effort to preserve this local family farm in Johnson. Rhode Island farmland plays an important role in providing open space and local foods for our communities,” said Terry Sullivan, state director of The Nature Conservancy in Rhode Island.
State Conservationist R. Phou Vongkhamdy of the USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service said, “NRCS is pleased to be a partner in this great effort to purchase development rights to keep productive farm and ranchland in agricultural uses. Through the Farm and Ranch Lands Protection Program, the USDA – NRCS has provided over $21 million federal funds combined with $24 million from private and public entities for a total of $45 million for state and local partners to preserve 46 parcels on over 2,700 acres of rich farmland in the state of Rhode Island. The Pezza Farm is another shining example of how local and federal entities leverage funds and work together to keep land in agriculture for Johnston and Rhode Island.”
Sixty-eight percent of the soils on the Pezza property are prime or important farm soils. The farm abuts the protected Salisbury Farm on Plainfield Pike and is located just over the Cranston line from the DEM-owned and protected Urban Edge Farm operated by the Southside Community Land Trust, and is in close proximity to a number of other protected farms in the area, including DiMuccio Farm, Confreda Farm, Holscher Farm (Good Earth), Domenicone Farm, and the Knight Farms in Cranston and Scituate. Protection of Ringrose and the others was made possible by a number of partners, including, in the case of Ringrose, the Champlin Foundations.
Pezza Farm is located in an area where land preservation began almost 60 years ago in order to save important natural resources. The nearby 267-acre Curran State Park was acquired by the Kent County Water Authority in the 1950s to provide a public drinking water supply. The undeveloped park was transferred to DEM in 1967 and became the cornerstone of open space preservation in the area.
Farms to which the state acquires development rights are working farms and remain in private ownership. The development rights require that the lands remain in agriculture or in a condition available for agricultural use. This land acquisition project keeps farmland in active production, enables a farmer to purchase land affordably to grow a farm business, and benefits the local community by preserving the rural character of the town. Rhode Island has 1,219 farms, mostly family run, which occupy 61,000 acres.
In 2012, according to DEM’s Division of Planning and Development, 1,275 acres of land were protected by all conservation interests, including 170 acres of important active farmland were protected by the agricultural program through the purchase of development rights.
Funding for the $1.2 million Pezza Farm acquisition includes $271,000 from Rhode Island’s Agricultural Land Preservation Commission’s state farmland bond funds, and $714,000 from the USDA Farm and Ranch Lands Protection Program, and $215,000 from The Nature Conservancy and The Champlin Foundations.