Below is the text of the speech Ann Marie gave to Governor Chafee, RI DEM Director Janet Coit, USDA Undersecretary for Marketing & Regulatory Programs Edward Avalon and other guests at Agriculture Day at the Rhode Island State House on May 12, 2011.
Good afternoon Governor Chafee and distinguished guests. My husband Kevin and I, and our children Samantha, Brandon and Troy, raise 100% Angus cattle at Blackbird Farm in Smithfield, and I’d like to tell you about how we saved our farm by farming it. Three years ago we had 20 head of cattle on 40 acres of land. Today we have 80 head on 106 acres. We grew that much and are still growing through smart farming and local sales to prominent chefs who support the Rhode Island farm community and care about serving local, healthy, quality food to customers who are now demanding it.
I grew up in a farming family. When Kevin and I got married 26 years ago we bought some feeder animals for ourselves. As we had children we gave them projects showing animals at fairs like Eastern States Exposition. Because of the animals we bred, the projects were limited, 15-18 months of lifecycle. So we decided to buy better, productive cattle that would last several breeding generations for our children to develop. That was the beginning of investing in 100% Black Angus cattle, which we purchased for high genetics and quality from all over the United States.
We purchased and bred these cattle, and one day, about three years ago, Kevin said to me, “We’ve got to sell the cows. They are costing us too much money.” A few days later we received a Farm Bureau bulletin in the mail and there was a Farm Fresh RI listing reading, 250 chefs are looking for local beef, pork and chicken, send us an email. I sent one email describing our process and the quality we’ve achieved breeding 100% pedigreed Angus cattle and immediately received four responses from restaurants wanting our beef. We quickly became a part of the launch of Farm Fresh Market Mobile and it’s been nothing but growth since.
Now we needed more cows to meet demand and more land to feed the cows. All without changing the high standards we had established that had made our beef such a hit in the first place. When we planned on purchasing the 60 acres across the street, NRCS and the Division of Agriculture was very helpful in reviewing plans for the land and in properly clearing two abandoned properties there.
Even in these hard economic times the farm is able to sustain itself and cover its own costs. We’ve expanded to add a farm stand during the summer months on Blackbird 3, which was going to be turned into a parking lot until we were able to purchase it. We sell beef and other local goods to people in our community. And now we’re developing a poultry program, raising 200 broiler chickens and 150 laying hens for meat and eggs.
The moral of the story is we didn’t have to stop raising cattle. Now we have the opposite problem, which isn’t a problem at all. It’s more than I expected. We only see more growth as we go forward. Our beef is in restaurants such as Castle Hill Inn, Chez Pascal, Gracie’s, The Liberty Elm Diner, Nick’s on Broadway, Persimmon Provisions and Tini.
I’m totally grateful that Rhode Island has a strong local food culture. It keeps my family on our farm. Our oldest son now manages our herd and has a strong future on the farm. Our youngest son is interested in going to culinary school and is always taste testing our beef for quality. Our daughter has gained a tremendous knowledge of working with animals and has gone on to work as a veterinarian technician and equine massage therapist. Kevin and I thank everyone for their support and for your time today.