Local man's sticker-shock leads to farm purchase

Local man's sticker-shock leads to farm purchase

Staffers and volunteers, above, work the greenhouses at a new North Scituate farm established to help feed the poor. Working are, above from left, Tim Chodelka, the Rev. Edward Cardente, and John Greene. The farm was purchased and established by philanthropist John Primeau. (Breeze photos by Ethan Shorey)

NORTH PROVIDENCE - Philanthropist John Primeau was in the produce section of an area supermarket two summers ago when it hit him how "absurdly" expensive vegetables had gotten. At $3.50 to $4 for one tomato, he was "shocked."

"I saw the price ring up and I said something's got to be wrong there," said Primeau. No, he was told, that's the price. He walked out without the tomato, not because he couldn't afford to buy it - he could have purchased all of the tomatos in the store - but because he was so disgusted by the price of something that anyone should be able to buy.

The North Providence resident immediately decided he needed to do something about poor people not being able to afford healthy foods, so he did what few computer guys would dare to do and bought a farm.

Primeau, who is active in local Catholic causes with the North American Educational Programming Foundation, purchased 150 acres of land off Route 101 in North Scituate and soon had two greenhouses up and running. The initiative has since grown to five greenhouses, and three of those will soon be expanded.

When he was growing up, said Primeau, it was hard to sell tomatoes for the months from July to September, but these days fewer people are growing any vegetables and there is less incentive to lower the price.

The Rev. Edward Cardente, pastor of St. Anthony Church and the Church of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary in North Providence, as well as St. Edward Church in Providence, volunteers three days a week at Primeau's farm. Cardente told The Breeze that Primeau's vision has proven to be a blessing to the food ministries run by volunteers at his churches. He is happy to help bring fresh vegetables to people who in many cases would otherwise not be able to afford them.

All vegetables, from tomatoes to eggplants, are picked by outsiders and brought to eight food sites, the majority going to the St. Edward Food and Wellness Center and some going to the St. Anthony Kitchen Ministries.

These aren't officially "organic" vegetables in the strict sense of the word, but they come straight from the ground and no pesticides are used on them, said Cardente.

"We're proud of that," he said. "You won't get cancer from our vegetables."

Many times when one gives to a cause, like building a church or clinic, "you're not right there" to do the work and see the building, said Primeau. In this case, he's watching the people come in and seeing the direct benefit of what he and others are doing.

Primeau said it also feels good to see Cardente working up a sweat to feed those who need it. It is people like Cardente, who understands that faith is more than just talk, who are doing the hard work of picking and distributing the vegetables who are the real heroes here, he said.

The nice thing about greenhouses is they stay warm for 10 months out of the year, said Primeau, meaning volunteers will be able to grow vegetables into December.

St. Anthony's staffer John Greene does much of the work of hauling the vegetables to the eight locations each day, and project manager Tim Chodelka oversees the work of volunteers on the farm. Those behind the new greenhouses have gotten plenty of advice on how to best plant and care for vegetables, according to Chodelka and Greene. Hundreds of plants are now producing tomatoes, green peppers, eggplants and kale, among other vegetables.

Greene said that there are now more than 80 volunteers working at charities overseen by Cardente's churches, a number that is expected to grow as more ministries are added in the coming months.

Primeau's farm has already produced thousands of dollars in vegetables during its first few months in operation, said Cardente, saving the church ministries money and putting fresh vegetables on the plates of people who need them.

He said the response from the community has been tremendous, as recipients feel like those who offer them the produce care about their well being, he said.

The Rev. Edward Cardente, pastor of three local Catholic churches, pics tomatoes last Friday at a farm in North Scituate. Cardente volunteers three days a week to stock the shelves of local food pantries with fresh vegetables.