Growing to feed the needy

Volunteers help harvest 20,000 pounds of produce at Westbay Farm


Steve Stycos’s green thumb is all the greener thanks to an army of dedicated volunteers.
Stycos and his fellow farm hands work at Westbay Farm, located on 1351 Centerville Road in Warwick. Stycos, a former member of the Cranston City Council, has been working there 12 years, and some of his dedicated volunteers have stuck around for upwards of 11 years.

His team of volunteers include Kathy Schofill, J. Howard, Moe Davis, Betsy Barber, Kayleigh Lagasse, Derek Bowmen, Judy Foy, Carol Kozun, Deb Santi, Ampha Therien, Ryan Onorato, Carol Nolan, Debbie Hedison, Jane Smith and Mary Curtin.

One of Westbay Farm’s longest serving volunteers, Kathy Schofill said, “It’s been a great experience.”
Schofill also mentioned that she lives extremely close to the farm and that years ago she used to walk to Barton Dairy Farm to water and take care of the farm on the weekends before it was bought by the city as open space in 2000.

In 2005, the city worked out an agreement with Westbay Community Action to use a portion of the property to grow produce for the Westbay Marketplace to serve needy families.

Westbay is a two-acre farm that grows up to 20,000 pounds of organic produce each year, said Paul Salera, president and CEO of Westbay Community Action.

“We have made a lot of changes to this farm,” Stycos said. “When it was first opened there was not even a irrigation system.”

Stycos also mentioned that the farm has acquired farming equipment, including a tractor, a hoop house, a middle buster and fencing. The farm has expanded to three times its original size.

A portion of the 20,000 pounds of produce is sold at a food stand that is open every Thursday during the season from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. The remainder of the produce goes to the Westbay Marketplace, the third-largest food pantry of its kind in Rhode Island, as well as the Interfaith pantry and other smaller pantries.

The food pantry collects a couple hundred pounds of produce from the farm twice a week.
Proceeds from the food stand, about $300 to $500 a week, go to Westbay Community Action, which opened in 1966. The agency serves 10,000 Kent County families with food, education, safety and utilities. Their mission is “to empower and mobilize people through our programs, partnerships and advocacy to gain greater self-sufficiency.”

Basic crops such as potatoes, eggplant, peppers, cucumbers, lettuce, green beans and onions are grown at Westbay. The farm also grows blueberries and asparagus, which have been two of their best crops, Stycos said.

Westbay uses all organic methods to grow the crops; there is no use of pesticides, and no herbicides, Stycos said.
Stycos mentioned that one of the more interesting aspects about the farm is the way they use covers to keep insects from crops. The covers keep bugs away while allowing for water and sunlight to enter. These covers are kept on the crops until they bloom. Once they bloom, the covers are removed so the pollinators can do their job.

Westbay has two hoop houses. Stycos compared a hoop house to a greenhouse; the difference is that hoop houses do not have a heating system. Therefore, they are more of a sustainable way of farming since they do not use electricity.

Westbay also has a root cellar, which used to be attached to the home that was on the property before the town of Warwick bought the land. The root cellar is now used as a cooling room. The cellar is about two feet above the ground and the remaining portion of the building is underground. Stycos mentioned that the room stays around 60-65 degrees. There is no electricity in this room, but it stays cool through sustainable action. A pipe runs from outside of the root cellar to the bottom on the root cellar, which allows for cool air to enter. Then there is a small pipe on top of the cellar that allows the hot air to escape through the chimney.

Salera said Westbay farm has a 30-year lease from the city and plans to be open next season and for at least the whole lease term. Salera also added that Westbay became EBT vender approved, so people can use SNAP, or Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, benefits to buy their produce. Salera also said that in 2005 they first started to partner with the University of Rhode Island’s Master Gardener program, which allows URI students to volunteer with the Westbay farm to educate students in environmentally sounded gardening. After 15 years off with this program, they are finally partnering with URI again.

“While Steve is tremendous at his job, Westbay Farm would not be where is it without the help of its volunteers,” Salera said.