By Liza Burkin
Last Tuesday, June 30th, a seed on Aquidneck Island was planted. No ordinary green bean or tomato—but rather the seed of an idea for a cohesive, equitable, forward-thinking food community with a comprehensive plan to get more islanders thinking about, eating, buying and growing local food.
Island Commons—a new organization born of many years of scheming and dreaming by numerous island stakeholders—launched with a two-hour program at Newport Vineyards. Over 75 people were in attendance, sampling hors d’oeuvres prepared by local chefs and communicating a shared vision for a better future of food.
Led by Aquidneck Growers Market Manager Bevan Linsley as Project Director and Aquidneck Land Trust Executive Director Chuck Allott as Fiscal Sponsor, the Island Commons partners include Sustainable Aquidneck and St. Mary’s Episcopal Church, with representatives from: Newport Tree Society, Newport Open Space, Newport Public Schools, The Compost Plant, Emmanuel Church, Interfaith Power & Light, Martin Luther King, Jr. Center, Rhode Island Food Policy Council, and Aquidneck Island Planning Commission participating in the planning conversation.
According to their website IslandCommons.org, the mission of Island Commons is “to create a vibrant hub of community activity on Aquidneck Island to foster awareness and understanding of the vital relationships between health, environment, agriculture and a thriving local economy. In anticipation of the needs and challenges of present and future generations, we strive to connect people to the land and water that sustain us.”
Tuesday night’s program centered on the idea of people as capital—after networking, brief introductions from partners, and watching Ron Finley’s rousing, viral “Gangsta Gardener” TED talk, attendants were encouraged to vocalize their ideas and resources. Although the future plans of Island Commons include a physical food-based community center and farm at St. Mary’s Episcopal Church in Portsmouth, Chuck Allot explained, “We need to build a food community before building a food hub.”
As a result of its first Island Food Summit in November 2014 and strategic interviews with more than 40 local leaders, Island Commons is shaping three more projects in addition to the plan for St. Mary’s: a food map, food web, and comprehensive food plan for Aquidneck Island. According to Project Director Bevan Linsley, these centralized banks of data and information are essential for the Island’s community to understand the strength of its current community food system, the potential for building a stronger system, and its current and projected vulnerabilities.
As the sun set over the thriving vineyard a picture-perfect island evening, it was easy to imagine the growth and nourishment of this movement.