Tough growing at Franklin Farm

Tough growing at Franklin Farm

Pam Thurlow inspects a tomato at Franklin Farm last Thursday. Tomatoes were one of the few crops to do well in 2017, according to the Thurlows. (Breeze photo by Ethan Shorey)
Weather a factor in this year’s low output

CUMBERLAND – Volunteers at Franklin Farm say this year’s growing season produced less than half of the fruits and vegetables grown at the farm a year ago, highlighting the need for others across the state to join their efforts to help others.

An estimated 22,852 pounds of produce came from the garden this year, compared with 48,748 pounds in 2016. The farm has produced nearly 300,000 pounds of produce in total since its founding in 2007.

Chip Thurlow, harvest weight and distribution coordinator at the farm, and his wife, Pam Thurlow, volunteer and president of the Historic Metcalf-Franklin Farm Preservation Association, said this year’s plant-growing troubles were not exclusive to Franklin Farm, as a cold and wet spring combined with other factors to limit volume at other farms as well. Seeds rotted as rain kept falling and temperatures fluctuated dramatically.

“Plants don’t like inconsistent weather,” said Pam.

Vegetables such as peppers and eggplant held their own, as did tomatoes, said the couple, but others, like squash, cucumbers, zucchini and summer squash fared poorly. Vegetable-eating beetles proved a problem this year, as did powdery mildew, a fungal disease.

As volunteers went through the garden to pick vegetables, they weren’t finding much food on the plants. In 2016, squash plants were loaded with blossoms, said the Thurlows.

“We just didn’t see as many this year,” said Chip.

The Thurlows said they’re grateful for what they can send to area nonprofit organizations, but disappointed they couldn’t do more.

“You just never know what Mother Nature will bring,” said Pam.

For the first time this year, Franklin Farm grew some pumpkins, which will be sold at the upcoming Harvest Festival & Tractor Show on Sept. 30, an event farm volunteers say they’re excited to put on.

Franklin Farm is a summer garden, said the Thurlows, meaning it gets closed down in September when volunteers typically go back into regular schedules.

Produce grown at the farm goes to the Franklin Farm Stand, which supports the functions of the nonprofit farm, the Rhode Island Community Food Bank, Northern Rhode Island Community Services, Northern Rhode Island Food Pantry, the Pawtucket Salvation Army Food Pantry, Pawtucket Soup Kitchen, Tin Man Food Pantry and the Providence Rescue League. All received less from the Franklin Farm Community Garden on Abbott Run Valley Road this year.

Money raised through Franklin Farm’s stand and other efforts goes back into the development and preservation of the farm. This week, volunteers and town officials are expected to officially kick off the restoration of the historic farmhouse on the property.

Franklin Farm has established itself as one of Cumberland’s greatest assets, said Chip Thurlow. He and his wife said the farm serves a different purpose than the Cumberland Monastery or Diamond Hill Park, but all contribute a lot to local community life.