Locavore Destination: Westerly, RI (and thereabouts)
My family has been making annual pilgrimages to the various beaches in Southern Rhode Island for about 15 summers now. What started as weeklong house rentals morphed into monthlong rentals, and over the years we’ve tried on houses in the various towns and villages in and around around Westerly. Several years ago, we took the plunge and staked out our own little slice of New England heaven in Charlestown, a town of about 8,000-ish directly adjacent to Westerly.
Westerly (and thereabouts) is a 3 hour drive from New York City without traffic (150 miles); its off exit 92 from I-95. Driving into the beach towns around Westerly from the main stretch of road that connects them all– Old Post Road (Rt 1)– locavore is about the last word that would ever come to mind. As you head North, you pass a Wal-Mart, a mega-sized Stop N’ Stop, and at least a half dozen different drive-thru donut chains. At first glance, you’d be inclined to write off this area as just another cookie-cutter, strip-malled example of the geography of Nowhere.
But as I keep coming back to this community summer after summer, I unearth ever more of its local foodie treasures that lie down winding rural roads just off the highway. It’s gotten to the point where I think I could survive here for the summer almost entirely on locally grown and produced, sustainable food. If you’re a NYC foodie looking for a summer scene with more soul than the Hamptons and more shoreline than Hudson or the Catskills, allow me to introduce you to my delicious double life in Washington County, RI:
- One stop shopping: Farmer’s Markets are bountiful from the first weekend of summer through the end of August, and a perfect way to get to know many of the area’s family farmers and cottage food industries. The markets are brimming with locally-caught seafood; pasture-raised beef and pork (including grass-fed hot dogs produced by the Coulter family at Stoney Hill Cattle Farm!); chicken and rabbit; pastured or cage free eggs; honeys and maple syrups; breads and baked goods; fresh fruit, vegetables and corn, corn, corn. You are likely to encounter some live Alpacas from Hannah’s Farm Alpacas at these markets as well. Here’s where to find them:
- THURSDAYS: Westerly Farmer’s Market operates from 10am-2pm from late June through mid October. Look for them in downtown Westerly, at the end of Commerce Street (behind 85 Main St.) In addition to the usual farmer’s market basics, seek out goat’s milk caramel (!!) and fresh goat cheese from the family owned Oak Leaf Dairy in nearby Connecticut.
- FRIDAYS: Charlestown Land Trust Farmer’s Market operates on Fridays 9:30am-1:00pm in front of the Church of the Holy Spirit in Charlestown from the end of June through the end of August. With over 20 vendors, live music and family entertainment, this is my favorite market of all. They’ve got locally produced honeys, cheeses, breads and jams on offer alongside locally produced, sustainably-raised eggs and beef. Locally-caught oysters and other seafood are also on offer.
- SATURDAYS: Richmond Farmer’s Market operates 9am-12pm from mid-May through mid-October and features over a dozen local farmers and artisanal food producers. In addition to the usual meat, seafood, eggs, summer veggies, berries and bakery items, look for over a dozen different heirloom peach varieties and a dozen apple varieties, in season, from Narrow Lane Orchards in Kingstown.
- Fruit: Pick your own!
- Berries: From mid-June through early/mid July, pick your own organic strawberries at Earth Care Farm— a lovely little farm tucked away amid the more rural area of Charlestown (follow them on Facebook for updates on what crops become available throughout the summer.) Rhubarb season overlaps with strawberry season, so you can snag some while you’re there as well. In mid-July, pick your own blueberry season starts at Manfredi Farms in the middle of Westerly– ironically, right down the street from the Wal-Mart.
- Apples, Nectarines, Peaches, Pumpkins: Pick your own from August to October at Narrow Lane Orchard in Kingstown, open 10am-5pm daily. You’d better believe I’ll be sampling all 14 (!!) different heirloom varieties of their peaches come August this year!
- Veggies: Beyond the farmer’s markets, here are some great options for local, sustainably-grown veggies:
- Get your pesticide-free veggies and native corn from Carpenter’s Farm on Matunuck Beach Road in Wakefield, daily from 8am-6pm. They also have locally-raised beef on offer.
- Goose Pond Farm offers a year-round farmstand with organically-raised fruit (melons, berries, apples and peaches), veggies, corn, pastured eggs and products made from their local ingredients (jams, honeys, jerkies).
- Locally-raised meat: There are so many options to source local, sustainably raised meat in and around Westerly that even ethical vegetarians may consider crossing back to the omnivore side. Locally-raised, antibiotic-free meat and poultry are always on offer at one of the local farmer’s markets. However, if you want to go straight to the farm, here are some good options:
- Free range angus beef and pork are on offer at Earth Care farm; order in advance to reserve a half (as in, half of the animal), packaged to your own specs.
- Almost 20 other farms offering locally raised meat are listed in this document (click here for link), compiled by the Rhode Island Raised Livestock Association; scroll to the pages containing “Southern Rhode Island” farms to see which farms offer what meats and their contact information. The farms closest to Westerly include Carpenter’s Farm (beef); The Mission Farm (lamb, pork, chicken, pastured eggs); Ever-Breeze Farm (right across the street from Manfredi Farms, offering beef and rabbit)
- Cage free eggs: If you forgot to pick up eggs at one of the weekend farmer’s markets, meet (and feed) the chickens who produce the pasture-raised eggs on offer at Manfredi Farms. Feed them veggie scraps or grains from home (BYO!) or pick up some dried corn from the coin-operated machines right outside the fence. While you’re there, you can pet and feed the ducks, goats and donkeys with veggies, peanuts or corn. Bring a camera!
- Fish, clams & lobsters: If you missed the Ninigret Oyster Farm at Charlestown Farmer’s Market on Friday, there are plenty of options in and around Westerly for fresh, locally-caught seafood. Right on Rt 1 in Charlestown, you’ll see Market by the Sea (401-322-0232), a local institution. In the Weekapaug village of Westerly, Tom’s Clam Stand is along the roadside of Shore Road (Rt 1A) . Of course, you can always stalk the tow-headed, tanned kids hanging out by the local beaches, breachways and ponds to teach you the ropes of crabbing and clamming. And one weekend each August, Charlestown hosts its annual Seafood Festival in Ninigret Park, where you can sample local delicacies such as Quahogs, Steamers, Lobsters, Crab and all manner of seafood chowders.
- Native corn: when corn season hits, you can pick up just-picked ears of native corn on roadside farmstands everywhere. Manfredi Farms, the self-appointed “corn place,” is a good starting point, though you can’t drive more than a mile or two without a roadside sign pointing you toward to nearest farmstand offering fresh-picked, native corn. On Rt 1 in Charlestown, Henry’s Fruit Center (5319 Old Post Road) is a convenient place to pick some up (its right nextdoor to Market by the Sea).
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