Driving down to Schartner Farms in Exeter, RI this morning, I was about 10 minutes from the farm when the sky opened up and it started to pour- and I mean pour. Buckets of rain falling down from the sky. Heck of a day for a farm tour!

Long Pie Pumpkins growing on Schartner Farms

When I got to the farm, however, no one’s spirits seemed dampened by the rain.  Rich Schartner, owner and farmer, cheerfully noted that the plants could all use a little water.  We hopped in his 4-wheel drive pickup truck and headed off to check out the farm, especially the Long Pie Pumpkins, one of the heirloom varieties Schartner Farm is growing for the RAFT Grow-Out project. The Long Pie Pumpkins (the seeds of which first came to Nantucket on a whaling ship in 1832) look incredibly healthy and are setting flowers now, which will soon set fruits and grow into long pumpkins destined for delicious desserts on restaurant menus around Rhode Island.

Rich works a lot with area chefs both directly and through the Farm Fresh Rhode Island Market Mobile distribution system. In fact, as we were driving around, chef Derek Wagner called from Nick’s on Broadway ( RAFT Grow-Out restaurant in Providence) to discuss the week’s menu.  Farm-to-chef connections in action! The two are also teaming up for Farm Fresh Rhode Island’s Local Food Fest 2010.

Rich grows his pumpkins using a “No Till” technique in order to preserve the soil structure and reduce the amount of tractor passes (and fuel) necessary to grow the pumpkins.  Rich explained to me how he practices his own style of conservation-oriented farming, in which he borrows some techniques associated with organics– building healthy soils, not spraying anything when it’s not necessary– but also keeps some methods from conventional farming in his toolbox in order to deal with emergencies such as last year’s tomato blight.

When we got back to the farm stand it had just about stopped raining.  Rich gave me some farm goodies, including a jar of strawberry rhubarb jam made according to his grandmother’s recipe, and I grabbed a sandwich for the road, complete with farm fresh lettuce and the first of the tomatoes from the field.

Want to go visit for yourself?  Schartner Farms is currently open for pick your own blueberries! Check them out at www.schartnerfarms.com.