April 25, 2022 |Josselyn Velásquez-Florián | Food and Farms

Growing a Sustainable and Fair Local Food System in Rhode Island

Southside Community Land Trust (SCLT) was founded in 1981 by Southeast Asian refugees and other impoverished residents of South Providence to meet their families’ basic nutritional needs by growing their own culturally familiar, healthy food. With one small donation, SCLT’s founders bought a vacant parcel in a forgotten part of the city. Neighbors worked together to clear the land, install healthy soil and turn it into the area’s first community garden. By creating common ground for food production, these neighbors not only improved one another’s health and economic self-reliance, they also stabilized a neighborhood that had been characterized by blight and arson.

Since then, SCLT has helped transform roughly 12 acres of urban parcels into 21 lush community gardens and urban farms that now feed 3,000 people in South Providence, Olneyville and the West End, as well as in Pawtucket and Central Falls. Our staff co-founded three farmers markets (Broad Street, Hope Street and the Sankofa World Market), as well as three farmer collaboratives that help growers supply a rising demand from Rhode Islanders for local, chemical-free produce. For 20 years SCLT has managed the 50-acre Urban Edge Farm in Cranston under a long-term lease with the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management, and, in 2021, we purchased the 20-acre Good Earth Farm in Hope. These two farm properties support the growing efforts of two dozen farmers—many who sell produce in low-income neighborhoods in Providence, Cranston and Pawtucket/Central Falls. SCLT also operates four urban farms in Providence where nine farmers grow food for sale at neighboring farmers markets.

Vendors at Hope Street Farmers Market. Photo courtesy SCLT.

Today, SCLT continues to work with our partners around the state to help connect people seeking farmland with landowners who want to lease or sell their farmland, to keep it in production and from being developed. Considering that Rhode Island farmland averages $13,800 per acre—almost triple the cost of other states according to the United States Department of Agriculture—our work makes farming possible for those not born into families with existing farms.

Our recent acquisition of Good Earth Farm is a significant achievement toward our goals. The Good Earth Farm was founded in Providence County by John and Joyce Holscher, who established it as one of the first certified organic garden centers in the state in 1995. In early 2019, SCLT entered into an agreement with the Holschers that allowed us to lease four acres and two high tunnels to SCLT farmers at very affordable rates. SCLT worked cooperatively with the Holschers to operate the farm stand throughout 2019, with John and Joyce manning the stand and SCLT growers from The Good Earth and other SCLT-managed farms providing the produce to sell.

Left: Good Earth Farm. Right: Good Earth Farm grower Itangishaka Genevieve watering seedlings in preparation for the growing season. Photos courtesy SCLT.


The lease provisions stayed in place the following year while SCLT actively raised funds for the purchase. In 2021, SCLT secured a loan from The Conservation Fund and successfully closed on the purchase of 20.3 acres, thus paving the way for new farmers to join the tenant program.

“It is always the farmers and gardeners who do the most important work, and they do it day in and day out. That said, SCLT’s purchase of The Good Earth would not have been possible without the faith that the Holschers placed in our organization and our mission.”

- - Margaret DeVos, SCLT Executive Director

Phillip and Vue Yang joined by Joyce Holscher at the Good Earth Farm stand. Photo courtesy SCLT.

There are currently eight farmers growing on-site at Good Earth, including Hmong, Burundian and Rwandan growers. They sell their produce at farmers markets and to wholesale outlets, as well as through SCLT’s Produce Aggregation Program. This direct wholesale model helps farmers mitigate the risks of relying solely on selling at farmers markets, where bad weather can keep customers away and they would lose a week’s worth of income. From June to September, farmers brought their produce to the SCLT office, where it was assessed for quality, weighed and bagged for wholesale customers who placed their orders through SCLT. Being able to rely on this direct income from week to week meant farmers could put more time into planning and growing their farm businesses. While the COVID-19 pandemic caused significant challenges, and various safety protocols were necessary to ensure safety, farmers who sold their harvests through our Produce Aggregation Program saw their sales increased again in 2021 by 20%.

Phillip Yang (left) and Vue Yang (right).

We like to farm at Good Earth Farm because it's organic. We take pride in our produce and we make sure to keep it organic and fresh for customers. We truly believe that growing organic produce is the healthy way for the future.

- - Phillip and Vue Yang

With the completion of our new headquarters in Providence expected in June 2022, which includes a much-needed Farm-to-Market Center, we will have much more capacity to aggregate and distribute fresh produce to communities where it is needed most. Owning Good Earth Farm will help SCLT continue to offer support for local farmers, expand access to farmland and improve our ability to distribute healthy food, particularly in local Black and Brown communities. As an organization, we are proud to be part of a movement that continues to grow because of the many mission-aligned partners, such as The Conservation Fund, that make our work possible.

Find Out More

The loan to SCLT made by our Conservation Loans program was one of 400 that we’ve issued to conservation-minded groups since the program started in 1993. Read about the impact of those loans in the blog post An Exciting Milestone: We’ve Issued 400 Conservation Loans authored by Reggie Hall and Andrea Ferri.

Written by

Josselyn Velásquez-Florián

Josselyn Velásquez-Florián is the Development Coordinator for Southside Community Land Trust (SCLT). She joined SCLT in April 2021 and provides support to the SCLT Advancement Team through data management, events, and donor relations. She is a self-described pandemic gardener who in entering her third growing year. She and her family live happily in Providence, Rhode Island with their two rescue dogs and chicken.