Valley Breeze

The Valley Breeze Woonsocket North Smithfield 07-23-2020

The Valley Breeze Newspapers serving the Northern Rhode Island towns of Cumberland, Lincoln, Woonsocket, Smithfield, North Smithfield, Pawtucket, North Providence, Scituate, Foster, and Glocester

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NORTH SMITHFIELD BLACKSTONE WOONSOCKET EDITION | VALLEY BREEZE | JULY 23-29, 2020 NORTH SMITHFIELD 13 a family-centered farm upbringing that Scott describes as "the best expe- rience of his life." "It was a working farm. We had horses, raised our own hay for the horses. We had chickens, had pigs," he said. Though he initially planned to raise dairy cows, Manny Marshall was forced to abandon dairy farm- ing in the 1950s when his herd was condemned for tuberculosis by the state veterinarian, an ironic turn of events given that his grandson, Scott, now holds that post with the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management. Instead, Manny turned to raising racehorses, a hobby he had dabbled in over the years. Scott recalled growing up surrounded by Standardbreds, the breed best known for its use in harness racing. "I don't ever remember a day in my life not being around horses," he said. Those years, he said, were happy ones, when the family would hold an annual baseball game in the fields after they'd cut the hay for the sea- son. After graduating from North Smithfield High School, he went on to attend veterinary school and married Caroline, his high school sweetheart who'd grown up a few streets over. The couple settled on Pound Hill Road, where they began raising their own horses and settled into a rural way of life. Though Scott has fond memories of growing up on Greenville Road, even back then the neighborhood was changing. In the 1980s, his grandfather sold most of the land for a housing development along Village Way. The plan went through multiple versions and owners, and NeighborWorks Blackstone River Valley eventually built a low-income and elderly housing complex on land that once hosted the family racetrack. In 2004, shortly after the death of his grandfather, Scott and Caroline moved into the vacant farmhouse. At the time, they planned on keeping their own animals on the property, and used the remaining 4.7 acres of land for horses and sheep. Caroline said she'd always dreamed of living on a farm but noted the property is now surrounded by a residential neighborhood. "We're like an island in the middle of a total housing development," she said. Over the years, the couple's farm animals have died off, leaving just the two of them and a dog. Focused on caring for their elderly parents, the Marshalls made the difficult decision to sell most of the property, which Scott said is too small to resurrect as a horse farm. The only farming that takes place on the property now is done by Wright's Dairy Farm, which uses about three acres to grow corn for their cows – an arrangement Scott said keeps him from having to main- tain the land. "If things were the way it was, I couldn't foresee ever changing it, but it's not that anymore," he said. "I would have a hard time selling a farm that could be productive." The Marshalls are not alone. From 1959 to 2019, the amount of land used for agriculture in North Smithfield declined from 950 acres to about 500 acres. In 1959, a land use analysis prepared by the North Smithfield Planning Board described agriculture as the second largest developed use in town after housing, accounting for about 5.8 percent of the total land area. In 2019, by con- trast, it made up about 3.2 percent of the total land area. The trend is common across New England, where the relocation of agri- culture to the Midwest was already well underway by the 1950s. The 1959 land use analysis predicted that "as in most of New England, it is expected that the total land area in agricultural use will decrease gradu- ally as large tracts are sold for other uses." "Post-World War II, that's when this country really started building high- ways in earnest across the country," explained North Smithfield Town Planner Tom Kravitz. "And once they had the connections of highways, it was inevitable." Today, farm owners face new pres- sures. According to a 2012 USDA Census of Agriculture, Rhode Island has the most expensive agricultural land in the country, with market value averaging $14,041 per acre. Farmers also face the encroachment of resi- dential neighborhoods on previously rural areas, a reality that often leads to uncomfortable conflicts between neighbors. Scott said he once had the North Smithfield Police Department respond to his property after a neigh- bor saw him spreading lime and thought he was contaminating the land. At the same time, small farms are seeing a resurgence in Rhode Island as the popularity of the local food movement sends many business own- ers back to the land. With a variety of state and federal programs to prop up farming, the state has set an ambi- tious goal of obtaining 50 percent of its food regionally by 2060, but Scott questions whether that will ever come to pass. Many people, he said, like the idea of maintaining the area's rural character, but few of them are famil- iar with the actual costs of running a farm. "I very much appreciate the rural character, but the people that want that, I don't think they do understand the economics of it," he said. "They're not the ones paying the taxes on the property." Faced with new challenges, many farm owners have turned to alter- nate sources of revenue to maintain their family properties. In North Smithfield, the Pacheco property on Old Smithfield Road is among those that have been targeted for renewable energy as a way of generating income from land historically used as a farm. Scott said he and Caroline looked at solar panels as an alternative to house lots, but even solar developers who viewed the property said it was too small to generate any real income. "It's basically unproductive land," he said. The current plan, developing four house lots along the northern side of Village Way, will require a zone change from the Town Council and approval by the Planning Board. The Marshalls plan to stay in their home on Greenville Road, but, if the town gives its assent, the rest of the proper- ty will soon become new houses simi- lar to those in other parts of town. It's a fitting end to a transformation that began long before Scott and Caroline owned the property, but for a family that's grown up on the land, it doesn't come without a touch of sadness. "I feel bad for kids that are going to be growing up without that experi- ence," said Scott. The Valley Breeze is committed to keeping quality news stories like this one free to our readers. You can be a huge part of this local journalism success story by making a one-time or monthly contribution to what we do every week at valleybreeze.com/sup- port. Thank you as always for reading. MANNY MARSHALL is pictured with one of his horses on the 64-acre Greenville Road prop- erty he once used as a horse farm. FARM From Page One

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