Bristol Has a New Local Farmer
Local locavore advocate grows green, and greens, as Indie Growers.
Lee Ann Freitas is on a mission.
The Bristol resident wants to lower her own carbon footprint, and the footprints of those around her, and she wants to teach people about the importance of nourishing their own bodies with sustainable, locally grown foods.
Freitas is an advocate for the locavore movement, as well as being a new local farmer. She started her own company this past summer, Indie Growers, DBA, on five acres of land located at Stony Hedge Farm, on Hope Street in Bristol.
For those unfamiliar with the term, locavore is a relatively new word, coined in 2005 to describe the practice of growing sustainably, and purchasing and eating locally grown food. Although many locavores define ‘local’ as within a 100 mile radius, Freitas said the environmental benefits are considerably greater when one purchases food grown within a 25 mile radius.
With a bachelor’s degree in horticulture from the University of Rhode Island, three years of graduate work studying soil science and the interaction between microbiology and invasive plants, this articulate, thoughtful, and resourceful farmer is both knowledgeable and passionate about the importance of sustainable agriculture practices.
“Growing good food is pretty important,” Freitas said. “I grow plants from the bottom up, so they’re actually what we’re meant to eat, nutritionally and taste-wise.”
What Freitas is referring to, is ensuring that you start with good soil.
“Soil is probably the most important part about it,” she said, adding that she does amend the soil at her farm, with plenty of horse and chicken manure.
“I don’t use chemicals or pesticides,” Freitas said.
Although Freitas is finally beginning her long-time dream of being a local farmer, she spent some time developing her business skills after she completed her studies.
She worked for the RI Parent Information Network for six years, creating new programs to assist children with special needs, before working as a program manager for Mosaico. Most recently, she gave her time to develop a business plan for a farming program at Bristol’s Mount Hope Farm, which the Farm didn’t end up utilizing.
“I decided I liked the business plan I created, so I ended up using it for myself,” laughed Freitas.
When deciding where to start her farm, Freitas gave considerable time and attention to looking for land in Bristol, wanting to minimize driving distances, and hoping to give back to her community in the form of providing good, locally grown food.
One of the biggest thrills for Freitas since starting her farm in August, has been watching her eight year old son, Levi, become involved in cultivating and harvesting his own food.
“He’s probably the only kid in the lunch room with stuff in his lunch box that he has seeded, grown, cared for, and harvested,” Freitas said. “It’s a joy for me to watch him planting and caring for the food he eats.”
Freitas recently installed a greenhouse at her farm, so that she can continue to grow food throughout the winter. Currently, she grows a huge assortment of greens outdoors, using agrifabric to cover her crops every night.
She supplies several local restaurants with lettuce, mustard, pea shoots, beet greens, escarole, radicchio, and an assortment of herbs, and recently welcomed dozens of chickens to the farm.
In February, Freitas said she plans to launch another component of her farm, that of Community Supported Agriculture, whereby individuals can pay a certain dollar amount up-front, and receive fresh, organic, local produce over the course of the season.
Freitas also plans to offer workshops in the new year, and delights in the prospect of teaching new gardeners about the benefits of sustainable growing.
Over spring and summer, she said she will likely be offering the opportunity for visitors to “drop in and dine” with foods she has grown, prepared by talented local chefs.
“It’s a thrill to me that I’m getting to do something I love,” enthused Freitas.
Freitas recently launched Indie Growers’ Facebook page, and said she will have her website up and running within the next few weeks, giving people the option of ordering her greens online, for pickup at the farm, or for delivery.
“I’d like for people to think about what eating locally really means to them,” said Freitas. “And about what’s important to them from an environmental perspective. Is it their carbon footprint? Saving polar bears? Global warming? You solve all of these issues by eating locally."
“I really feel that every town should have a local farmer,” Freitas said. “And I want to be this town’s farmer.”