Pine View Farm in Scituate Defends Itself
Will a Local Farm Survive as the Neighbors Close In?
If you haven’t already met him at a local farmers’ market, meet Frank Martinelli, owner of Pine View Farm in North Scituate. He’s a bearded, rough-hewn-looking guy with incongruously kind eyes. Frank has owned the farm since 1997, when he bought it from someone who raised “everything but monkeys,” according to Frank. The farm is now a 12-acre operation, although it was 24 acres when he bought it.
Pine View Farm’s neighborhood was once filled with farms. Now it’s broken up into suburbanish plots formed from property that most of the neighboring farmers had to sell off to survive.
Many Rhode Island farmers and their neighbors have found that proximity to a livestock operation can create issues. And sure enough, since 2012 Pine View Farm (also called PV Farm) has had to defend itself in court from a lawsuit filed by the Town of Scituate representing residents who object to Frank’s livestock operation.
“‘Is he a rogue farmer?’ they wondered,” says Frank.
At this writing, litigation between Frank and his neighbors is unresolved. His attorney, Tim Dodd, told me “Although the litigation between Mr. Martinelli and his neighbors is ongoing, we believe that when the matter comes up for trial it will be clearly shown that Mr. Martinelli’s use of the farm is grandfathered in all aspects and that his farming operation is fully protected under the Rhode Island Right to Farm Act.”
According to Ken Ayars, chief of the Division of Agriculture at the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management, “Just recently … the town [Scituate] requested a summary judgment. Martinelli’s attorney and DEM went to court in defense of Martinelli and the judge denied the town’s request. ... The entire matter will now go to trial.”
Meanwhile, PV Farm carries on. On a recent visit I find a tranquil and almost Dr. Dolittle-esque array of animals (but no monkeys). When I arrive, my car is greeted by an animated flock of turkeys, which briefly trap me inside. But they quickly lose interest and return to foraging in the grass nearby. Next, the minute I open the car door, a very large black Labrador puts her head inside and lays it on my leg. We get acquainted for a minute or two, then I get out, a bit cautiously, to look for Frank while the dog goes back to guard the box where her litter of puppies is flopping around.
I find Frank in front of the barn with a worker, trying to get his truck to start: dead battery or bum starter motor. “It’s always something,” he says with a rueful smile. He takes me to see his pigs, lean-looking and lively, then we walk down to the woods to visit the sheep. We can see neighboring houses over the fence in the woods surrounding.
“Smell anything?” Frank asks. I don’t, at least not anything unpleasant. A couple of sheep walk over to us and start looking for handouts, poking Frank in the leg with their noses. One starts nibbling on the pull of my jacket’s zipper.
“When the rest of them go down to the slaughterhouse, I think she’s staying,” Frank says. “I’ve gotten attached to her.”
In addition to beef, pork, lamb, turkey and veal, Frank specializes in boar: male pig. He also raises goats for meat, “which is huge now,” he says. Those turkeys that flash-mobbed my car are going to grace plenty of Rhode Island Thanksgiving tables come November, full of flavor that’s undetectable in your average supermarket bird.
“We’re making food that tastes like the food our grandparents ate,” Frank says, proudly.
A favorite is the boar sausage, which comes in mild and hot renditions, and which many of his restaurant customers use as a pizza topper among other uses. His recipe for Pasta con Salsicce e Cinhale Pignoli Bolognese (or Pasta with Boar Sausage and Pine Nut Bolognese) is hearty and full of punchy flavors, perfect for fall.
Our grandparents, if they were farmers, had to contend with all sorts of challenges, mostly from nature itself. Now the challenges include contending with neighbors, some of whom may not be inclined to want a farm next door. But Frank has plenty of supporters, and not just in Scituate. Recently, a letter from Melina Packer of Providence to The Valley Breeze put the PV Farm case in perspective:
“Each time I visit the farm, taste his fresh produce and poultry, or simply watch how genuinely and warmly he engages with residents, students and local food advocates from across the state, I am moved by his kindness and generosity. Whether accommodating visiting students’ coursework needs or long-time Rhode Islanders’ cravings for delicious, nutritious food, Frank remains helpful, humorous and humble.”
Each week Frank can found manning his booth at various farmers’ markets operated by Farm Fresh Rhode Island, or customers can drive out to Scituate and visit the farm itself. Frank’s meats are on restaurant menus all around the region, including AS220, Local 121, Broadway Bistro, Hemenway’s and The Flatbread Co. in Providence, and The Mooring and Stoneacre Pantry in Newport. PV Farm also supplies the Blue Cross/Blue Shield headquarters dining facility in Providence.
And Frank, who has, so to speak, a lot on his plate already, is launching Martinelli’s Marinara sauce this year. He’s starting with small batches (“We have to put the labels on the jars ourselves,” he says, rolling his eyes a bit) but he plans to follow the basic marinara with one made from roasted tomatoes, “for a little more depth of flavor.”
The case against PV Farm could be seen as a case against farming in Rhode Island. The state is small. Farms therefore have to be small. Small farming is intrinsically inefficient and farmers are under huge economic pressures to turn their land over to developers. Remaining farms are hemmed in, in some cases by unsympathetic neighbors. Yet sustainable food and agriculture look to many like the best path to the future for our state.
Will PV Farm help light that path, or will it be martyred in the slow struggle towards a sustainable future for Rhode Island? Time will tell.