Food & Farming

Smallest State has Lots to Offer When it Comes to Holiday Cooking, Gifting

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A selection of baked goods from Buns Bakery in East Providence. (Colleen Cronin/ecoRI News)

Like holiday visitors, festive foods usually travel hundreds or thousands of miles from all over the country (and sometimes the world) before arriving at the dinner table.

Minnesota is a top-turkey state. Most potatoes are grown in Idaho, while North Carolina boasts the No. 1 spot for sweet potato producers. Wisconsin and Massachusetts are bogged down with cranberries. And if you are shooting for an artisanal, pre-dinner charcuterie board, you might be sourcing your cheese from Southern Europe: the United States imported more than $239.7 million in French dairy products last year.

But Rhode Islanders don’t have to look so far for holiday staples. The smallest state’s farms cultivate ingredients that can cover many festive meals, from a Christmas Eve lasagna to Hanukkah latkes — and sourcing locally can reduce the overall carbon footprint of a holiday meal while also boosting the local economy.

“It’s not like Stop and Shop,” Erin Diaz, owner of Brushy Brook Farm in Hope Valley, said about being in the local food producing business. There isn’t a seemingly endless supply of bacon somewhere in the back and hours aren’t like the grocery store — but sometimes that’s a good thing, she added.

Brushy Brook primarily raises show animals, but also sells meat from pigs, chickens and cows, and eggs. Because the farm isn’t a big-box store, Brushy Brook can try to accommodate its customers’ particular needs.

“We had folks on Thanksgiving morning that came in and grabbed a dozen eggs and a pound of bacon,” Diaz said.

If they ask, Diaz’s customers can find out exactly what the food they are buying has been fed and how it was raised. For example, one of her pigs, named Lorretta Lynn, just had a litter, and loves cantaloupe, so she gets half a melon every other day.

“We’d like to think that they’re treated a little extra special,” said Diaz, explaining that Brushy Brook is something she does with her fiancé and daughter because she loves it, not because she wants to make a large profit like an industrial farm.

“I’m concerned about making sure that folks are getting a higher quality product,” she said. “I’m concerned about making sure that folks are getting meats that are, you know, that are clean.”

She’s already fielding requests for upcoming holiday meals. Roasts and ribeye steaks seem like they will be especially popular this season. Although it can be hard to keep her farm store open all the time during the busy holiday season, she said she encourages people to call ahead if they want to reserve something or ask about availability.

Anchor Toffee in Newport sells sweet treats for holiday desserts. (Colleen Cronin/ecoRI News)

As a local food producer, Anchor Toffee’s candy-maker Peter Kelly said he understands the importance of receiving support from the community and tries his best to give back.

He uses as much butter and milk from Wright’s Dairy Farm (North Smithfield) in his products as he can and when he runs cooking lessons, he always tries to source all the ingredients locally.

The Rhode Island food community is helpful and collaborative, he said, noting it’s “only going to get better” as the sector grows.

One of Anchor Toffee’s holiday offerings this year, an eggnog truffle, is actually a collaboration with Wright’s.

He hopes there will be more partnerships in the future and hinted at the potential for toffee-flavored ice cream that Wright’s is testing out.

Here are some other Rhode Island locals offering ingredients and treats for holiday meals this year:

Turkey, or something else

Locally sourced turkeys can be hard to find, especially around the holidays, but plenty of farms also offer other types of proteins, including:

A sleigh full of sides

Carpenter’s Farm Stand in Wakefield offers in-season produce as well as salsa, jams, and dressings that are made in-house with local ingredients.

Harvest Kitchen in Pawtucket makes pickled and sauce products — and they are made from B-grade and surplus produce, so they also help reduce food waste.

Rhed’s sauces can be found in stories across Rhode Island. (Colleen Cronin/ecoRI News)

From mashed to baked to fried to latke-d, potatoes should be considered their own category at supper and Maplewood Farms in Portsmouth has them in bundles.

Zephyr Farms in Cranston offers different types of freshly grown produce, including alliums (vegetables in the onion and garlic family), greens, and root vegetables. They also sell cage-free eggs.

In Festival Farms’ “Yankee Pantry,” holiday chefs and shoppers can find curated Rhode Island food gift baskets with local favorites such as Del’s Lemonade packets, RI Clamcake & Fritter mix, Eclipse Coffee Syrup, and White Cap stone-ground flint corn Jonnycake meal. The Hopkinton-based farm also offers jellies, jams, and relishes.

With more than a dozen vendors, Aquidneck Growers Market, held every Saturday this month (except Christmas Eve) between 9 a.m. and noon in Newport, can help fill in the gaps for holiday dinners, with produce, dairy, baked goods, and other local products.

Roots Farm in Tiverton grows organic produce from sweet potatoes to greens to garlic. The deadline to put in a weekly veggie order is Wednesday at 8 p.m.

You don’t have to go all the way to France to make a fancy cheese board: Narragansett Creamery in Providence makes cheese using local milk and sells at several farmers markets and dozens of stores.

Seasonings greetings

The Ocean State Pepper Co. sells its dried, locally grown peppers in several different mixes that can grace everything from onion dip appetizers to your veggie sides to your bird.

Sanctuary Herbs in Providence also offers a variety of dried herbs from sage to basil to thyme. (It also sell teas for pre- and post-holiday colds and fatigue.)

Chris Faella makes homemade jams and hot pepper jelly from the produce at Faella Farm in South Kingstown.

Rheds creates flavorful sauces and salsas to add a little kick to any holiday meal. Workers there recommended adding their Club Jalapeño sauce to deviled eggs or coleslaw. “Any kind of sweet potato dish” can be made better with the Citra sauce drizzled on top, they added.

Sugar plum types

Wright’s Dairy Farm & Bakery sells milk (for all those mashed potatoes) and ice cream, and makes baked goods and pastries. It is offering several Christmas specials this year, including red velvet torte, tiramisu, buche de noel, and other platters of Christmas treats that can be ordered ahead.

Newport Vineyard grows grapes and makes its wine on acres of farmland on Aquidneck Island. The Middletown vineyard sells several different types of wine and is offering some holiday specials.

Buns Bakery in Providence bakes babka of several different flavors to share. Jordan Wesoloskie, who works at Buns, said that even though a whole loaf could possibly be shared with the whole family, “you might need to get more than one.”

Not looking to cook?

If you don’t want to labor over a meal this year, but you would like something local and chef-crafted — and you want to do some good at the same time — Hope & Main offers a weekly meal for $20 through its Nourish Our Neighbors program. Not only can you get an affordable meal, but you also give one to someone in need when you purchase a plate.

Have a favorite holiday dish or local producer that you don’t see on the list? Email colleen@ecori.org to add them the list.

Colleen Cronin is a Report for America corps member who writes about environmental issues in rural Rhode Island for ecoRI News.

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