Rhode Island’s three conservation districts are expanding efforts to help farmers develop and implement farm conservation plans. A $179,520 NACD technical assistance grant allowed the districts to hire two full time staff members, one at Northern Rhode Island Conservation District (NRICD), and the other at Southern Rhode Island Conservation District (SRICD).
NRICD conservation and farm planner Marina Capraro and SRICD agriculture technician Jacob Peterson work closely with farmers statewide to develop and implement farm conservation plans. The plans not only help farmers meet their natural resource conservation goals, they are also required of farm-designated properties that receive a reduced tax rate under Rhode Island’s Farm, Forest and Open Space Act.
“The Farm, Forest and Open Space Act requirement has given us access to a database of landowners with agricultural operations who have never worked with NRCS,” Capraro said. “It has proven to be a great form of outreach to landowners and has allowed me to sign on a lot of first-time customers.”
The districts have completed 18 farm plans to date and are working to complete many more statewide over the coming months with the funds.
“This funding through NACD has helped the districts meet a statewide need to provide technical services to farmers and build staff capacity via on-the-job training,” SRICD District Manager Gina Fuller said. “In addition to providing much-needed technical assistance to farmers, the funds have provided the opportunity for district staff to train alongside NRCS conservation planners and district conservationists across the state as they worked toward certification as NRCS Conservation Planner status.”
Fuller went on to explain that the grant funds were also used by all three districts to coordinate with state officials, local stakeholders and the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) Rhode Island Ecological Services to develop a minimum requirement of resource concerns and a basic template for farm conservation plans consistent with NRCS practices and state requirements.
“These comprehensive plans assess the land for soil health, soil erosion, water quality degradation and plant productivity,” Fuller said. “District staff work closely with farmers to identify their goals and objectives for their property and farming operations, and they make recommendations to mitigate identified resource concerns via daily best management practices and NRCS practices.”
NACD Technical Assistance funds allowed for district staff to provide technical assistance and manage NRCS contracts from application to implementation as a partner conservation planner.
The Narragansett Indian Tribe owns a farm property located in SRICD territory (Washington County). In 2016, the tribe began contracting with NRCS for a variety of projects at Crandall Minacommuck Farm in Westerly, R.I., and contracted with the districts for the development of a farm conservation plan via the NACD funds. Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) funding was approved for brush management to address invasive species and bring the land back to its native state on over seven acres by the end of 2020.
The tribe showcased their conservation work by hosting a farm tour as part of the 2018 Intertribal Food Sovereignty Summit last summer. Practices highlighted included: conservation cover, tree/shrub establishment, mulching, four high tunnel systems, brush management, water well, pumping plant, irrigation reservoir, irrigation pipeline and stormwater runoff control. About 15 percent of projects are complete.
This close working relationship has allowed Fuller to recruit tribal members to serve on SRICD’s board of directors in recent years.
“Development of the farm conservation plan with the Narragansett tribe has provided the districts and NRCS the opportunity to offer training to field staff around the planning and implementation of a wide variety of conservation practices,” Fuller said. “This work has helped SRICD build a strong relationship with the tribe and provided district staff the chance to understand how Native American agriculture practices are similar and aim to achieve the same goals as many of the current NRCS conservation practices we use on a daily basis.”