Food & Farming

Smithfield Nonprofit Hopes to Remain Rooted in the Mary Mowry House

The Mary Mowry House, home to the nonprofit Revive the Roots, in Smithfield, R.I. (Colleen Cronin/eco RI News)

SMITHFIELD, R.I. — Driving the 25 minutes northwest of Providence to Revive the Roots’ home base can feel like traveling back in time. The nonprofit, founded with a mission of ecological regeneration and education, rents acres of farmland on which to grow food sustainably and operates out of a farmhouse originally built about 250 years ago.

Sheep greet visitors when they pull into Revive the Roots’ lot, and a wood stove welcomes those who venture into the organization’s office in the refurbished Mary Mowry House. There are some modern amenities — cars in the driveway, computers set up in the small rooms of the old house — but they stand next to 100-plus-year-old exposed brick and hand-hewed beams.

For the past decade, Revive the Roots has worked to bring 16 acres of Mowry Commons back to its natural state: farming the land, clearing the nearby trails, and renovating the Mary Mowry House — all while teaching and creating a community.

But as the organization enters its 11th year, it faces its biggest hurdle yet — trying to buy the historic farmhouse hub it operates from, a move that its members and supporters say will help ensure Revive the Roots’ future.

The seed for Revive the Roots really begins with Mary Mowry, the previous owner of the farmhouse, and her love of nature, according to Hannah Martin, who is in charge of community-building for the organization. 

Mowry was a schoolteacher and a lifelong lover of the outdoors. She lived in the big yellow house on a 5-acre property and owned the adjacent 16-acre property, both of which she donated to the Smithfield Land Trust after her death in 2008, Martin said.

Before the property was cleaned up, piles of tires, mattresses and old furniture were left along nearby trails. (Revive the Roots)

At first, Revive the Roots leased only the 16-acre open field. Though a gardener’s paradise now, 11 years ago the land was empty and the trails around the property were covered with old mattresses and tires. As its name implies, Revive the Roots originally worked to revitalize the land, increasing the ecological diversity of the property, which now hosts different kinds of plants and trees.

“It smells so good here,” said Bradford Adelard, who does management and grounds development for Revive the Roots.

When he drives onto the property during the spring and summer and the smell of tar and exhaust starts to fade, he said, he picks up the scent of “massive amounts of different flowering and fruiting things.”

In 2013, Revive the Roots expanded, working with Preserve Rhode Island and the land trust to enter into an agreement with the town to renovate the deteriorating Mary Mowry House in exchange for using the space alongside other curators. Revive the Roots has invested more than $40,000 — plus almost $140,000 in sweat equity — repairing the home, according to Martin.

In 2021 the land trust agreed to sell the property to Revive the Roots for $415,000.

Martin said getting the money together has been nerve-wracking at times.

So far, Revive the Roots has raised more than $115,000 from pledges, donations and its own funds. The organization has until June to raise the rest of the money.

Martin has been applying feverishly for grants from the Rhode Island Foundation, the Champlin Foundation, the R.I. State Open Space Fund, and other local preservation and historical grants for about $350,000 in total funds. The organization will learn whether the applications have been approved over the next few months. The group is also looking into loan options and is still hosting fundraisers.

sheep standing behind a fence
Sheep greet visitors at Mary Mowry Commons. (Colleen Cronin/ecoRI News)

“I joke on even days I feel like we can definitely do it,” Martin said, “and then on odd days, I’m doom and gloom — I just worry about, you know, what if we don’t get any of the grants?”

If Revive the Roots doesn’t buy the home, it could leave the door open to a private buyer or a developer.

Town Council member Angelica Bovis, who has worked as the liaison between the town and Revive the Roots, said she hopes the organization will be able to buy and stay in the Mary Mowry House instead of relocating its operations elsewhere.

“They add a lot of value to the town with the work they do,” Bovis said. “I would hate for all that work to have gone to waste.”

Beyond their sustainable farming and conservation work, Revive the Roots also hosts community events, from seed swaps to forest hikes to something called a “shiitake log inoculation,” which involves an afternoon learning all about mushrooms and taking home a shiitake-filled log.

The members of Revive the Roots want to continue to grow and expand their program offerings. If the sale of the house and the 5 acres goes through, they hope to rebuild a dilapidated building on the property to have a place to host winter programming.

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