ACT brings local action and global perspectives to the table

What started as a simple discussion about a community farm between a coalition of island organizations, informally known as Island Commons in 2008, has since transformed into a grassroots movement led by Aquidneck Community Table (ACT) that connects, enhances, and educates the public about the importance of growing and strengthening our food system.

“A table represents a place to eat and come together,” says executive director, Bevan Linsley. “Aquidneck Community Table is a gathering of the Aquidneck Island community around the subject of our local food system. The acronym ACT embodies our goal to put it all into ACTion, while thinking globally and acting locally.”

Formally established in January 2016 with the merging of Island Commons, the Growers Market and Sustainable Aquidneck, ACT brings an in-depth understanding of food and agricultural issues, woven around the health of our bodies, our community, our land, and their inextricable future.

The local food hero works on its mission to grow a healthy local food system that is accessible to all on Aquidneck Island through the distribution of fresh foods at farmers markets, education in school and community gardens, programs that inspire young people to love healthy foods, as well as through a food-scrap collection program to divert food from the waste stream.

“Our programs and conversations explore solutions to current and future challenges to community health,” says Mary-Kate Kane, program coordinator at ACT. The group is not afraid to ask the hard questions: what are the consequences of climate change to our food system? Is a healthy food system available to all? What is the legacy we want to leave our children and grandchildren?

The organization has experienced tremendous growth and success over the years. In 2018, ACT members collected more than 4,200 gallons of food scraps and kept them from heading to the landfill. The food scraps were instead composted at Island Community Farms, where the compost was used to improve soil health in community garden plots, enabling islanders to grow more nutrient-rich  food.

ACT member at the farmer’s market on Aquidneck Island.

ACT’s local leadership in sustainable agriculture and food wast diversion makes them a perfect addition to the Healthy Soils, Healthy Seas Rhode Island (HSHSRI) project team. The multi-year initiative funded by 11th Hour Racing and in partnership with Clean Ocean Access, Rhodeside Revival, and The Compost Plant seeks to inspire long-lasting environmentally responsible behavior by tackling ocean pollution at its root: on land.  As one of the three HSHSRI partners , ACT will continue to lead the local food movement and spark long-lasting behavior change that empowers people to reevaluate their waste footprints and build healthier communities.

Composting just got easier with a new discounted price!

ACT currently offers a food scrap drop-off service at its Saturday farmer’s market at Newport Vineyards in Middletown, and will offer the service at the Wednesday farmer’s market on Memorial Boulevard beginning in May.

“The food scrap drop-off program at the farmer’s market allows residents who may not have the space to compost at home to contribute to a more sustainable future by diverting their food scraps from the waste stream and instead put them to good use, building healthy soils,” says Kane. As part of the HSHSRI program, new ACT members on Aquidneck Island can enjoy the same drop-off services at a subsidized rate. Interested in getting started?

Step 1: Sign up and choose a service

To join the HSHSRI program, new ACT customers must sign up online here. By signing up for the food scrap drop-off, customers will be prompted to sign a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) that asks them to recruit 1 other member to join the program and act as an ambassador by posting a lawn sign indicating that they compost with HSHSRI. Once the MOU is signed, a confirmation email will be sent with a 5 digit discount code.

Customers have the option to sign up to be a citizen scientist and provide ACT with metrics each week on the weight of their food scraps, recyclables and trash. Citizen scientist customers will be provided with a hanging scale and kitchen bucket to assist in collecting metrics.

Step 2: Pay the tab and pick up your bucket

The next step is to bring the discount code to the market and pay the annual membership dues at ACT’s “Sustainability Stall.” ACT will then provide customers with a 5-gallon bucket with seal-tight lid, 2019 membership card (which customers present each time they drop-off), and the HSHSRI yard sign.

Step 3: Compost and make nutrient rich soil

Buckets of food scraps can be emptied into a large 48-gallon bin at the farmer’s market that is picked up weekly by HSHSRI partner, The Compost Plant. Food scraps then travel to North Smithfield where they are re-purposed and turned into nutrient-rich compost at Buxton Hollow Farm.  At the Wednesday farmer’s market on Memorial Boulevard, HSHSRI partner, Rhodeside Revival, will be collecting food scraps and transporting them to Earth Care Farm to be turned into compost, as well.

Spitalnik speaking with an ACT member.

“Sometimes our planet’s challenges seem overwhelming and too big to tackle,” says Jason Spitalnik, who manages ACT’s Island Community and Farms project. “Composting is a small, yet important way to make a contribution to a healthier future, one that all of us are capable of taking part in, whether it’s composting in your backyard, connecting with a neighbor who is composting, having your food scraps picked up on your curbside, or dropping them off at the farmer’s market.”

The HSHSRI program will allow the development of the next stages of food scrap collection at the farmers market so that local organizations like ACT have the infrastructure to support greater community participation. Composting has wide-ranging positive benefits that will reduce the effects of climate change, build a healthier community and a more resilient food system.


99 Volunteers Collect Nearly 400 Pounds of Marine Debris at Weaver Cove

Photo credit: Hugh Fanning

PORTSMOUTH — On Saturday, March 9, 2019, Clean Ocean Access (COA) hosted a cleanup at Weaver Cove, located on the west side of Aquidneck Island. This popular boating and kayaking area overlooks Narragansett Bay with Prudence Island in the distance and boasts ample parking for public access, a boat ramp, and a gravel beach suitable for launching hand-carried boats, such as canoes and kayaks.

The brisk, sunny Saturday gathered 99 volunteers from across Rhode Island, including Jamestown, Bristol, North Kingstown, Portsmouth, Middletown and Newport. Volunteers such as Portsmouth Town Councilors Linda Ujifusa and J. Mark Ryan, students from Salve Regina University, and members of the Rhode Island Athletic Trainers’ Association worked together to collect 378 pounds of marine debris from the Weaver Cove shoreline.

“Rhode Island is blessed with so much coastline, which is all the more reason to keep it safe,” said Clara Read a resident of Bristol. “Oceans are the lungs of our planet and now more than ever we need to take care of them.” Read was accompanied by Jay Hurd who was happy to participate in his first beach cleanup with COA.

Photo credit: Hugh Fanning

“Protecting our ocean is important for generations to come, and it is also important for our current diet because the fish that we eat are ingesting the plastic in the ocean,” said Hurd, also a resident of Bristol. “There’s natural beauty and a peaceful sense from looking at the water, and that for me counts for an awful lot.” 

Volunteers collected over 2,138 individual items of marine and litter, including 303 food wrappers and containers, 260 plastic bags, 237 plastic caps and lids, and 181 plastic straws and stirrers. COA volunteers both new and old come from across the state and bring an unwavering passion for the ocean. One enthusiastic young voice stood out from the crowd this past weekend.

“I want to help the world,” chanted one Portsmouth elementary schooler, who was accompanied by her mother. “I want to help keep the animals here alive because I care about them,” added the young ocean steward as she carried her grabber and reusable bag.

COA’s beach cleanups are made possible by the generous sponsorship of People’s Credit Union and their support of a clean local economy. Their sponsorship helps fund the beach cleanup program and by supplying volunteers with cleanup kits that include grabbers, gloves, reusable bags, scales and clipboards.

The 2019 beach cleanup schedule is available online. COA actively seeks volunteer photographers to capture our weekend cleanups, as well as volunteers to join the flexible cleanup program. If you are interested in adopting a section of Sachuest Point to clean on a flexible monthly basis sign up online or email jessica.frascotti@cleanoceanaccess.org.  

Rhode Island, Feed the Hungry Not the Landfill!

With roughly 100,000 tons of food waste entering our landfill each year, it’s hard to imagine Rhode Island doesn’t have enough food to go around for everyone. Unfortunately, the reality is quite different and the disparity between food waste and hunger presents a much greater food security challenge for the Ocean State.

According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), 12.4 percent of Rhode Islanders, over 54,200 households, are food insecure, meaning they are often unsure where their next meal will come from due to lack of resources. Moreover, 24,500 households experience severe conditions associated with hunger and report very low food security.

Food Insecurity Snapshot

In 2018, the Rhode Island Community Food Bank served 53,000 people each month of which 33 percent were children under the age of 18 and 20 percent were adults over the age of 60. According to the Rhode Island Food Policy Council, in 2017 Rhode Island had 167,512 Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) participants and 22,040 participants in the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC).

While food insecurity plagues communities across the state, it also hits home here on Aquidneck Island. In 2017, the City of Newport served 3,815 SNAP participants and 453 WIC participants with 1,430 students eligible for free or reduced meals. At the same time, Newport alone produced 1,200 tons of residential food waste, not including the thousands more coming from the City’s 249 restaurants.

Our Healthy Soils, Healthy Seas Rhode Island (HSHSRI) project partners serve as local food waste warriors, fighting to divert waste from the landfill and alleviate food insecurity in communities across Rhode Island. You may have seen Aquidneck Community Table (ACT) at the local farmer’s market, but our project partner is also a leader at the state-level, recently being recognized as one of Edible Rhody’s 2019 Local Hero Winners. ACT strives towards its mission to grow a healthy local food system, accessible to all on our island, and engages residents around important topics of food equity, diversity, and inclusion.

Across the pond, our project partner Rhodeside Revival (RSR) was born out of the idea of providing a service that brings the community together in an effort to prevent waste from entering our landfill, while also creating quality compost for all Rhode Islander’s. These efforts allow the team at RSR to make donations and positive changes to schools, gardens and other institutions within the communities they serve.

Food Waste Hurts Your Wallet

Throwing away food scraps and leftovers in the face of growing food insecurity is not just unfathomable, it’s also expensive. The Natural Resource Defense Council estimates that growing, processing, transporting, and disposing of uneaten food has an annual estimated cost of $218 billion, costing a household of four an average of $1,800 annually.

Even as the cost of food steadily climbs we continue to send unwanted leftovers to the landfill, where they take up precious space and produce harmful greenhouse gas emissions. The Rhode Island Community Food Bank conducted a study on food cost from 2016-2018 to measure changes in the cost of food for consumers. Over the three-year period the cost of food increased by 15 percent, with the average monthly shopping list rising from $252.82 in 2016 to $290.69 in 2018. 

Data source: Rhode Island Community Food Bank

Farm to Fork

As Rhode Islanders, we’re lucky to enjoy the bounties of both land and sea. We’re surrounded by the waters of Narragansett Bay that support roughly 2,056 commercial fishers and 35 aquaculture farms. Rhode Island is also home to fertile farmland, 792 farms and 83 community gardens to be exact. Aquidneck Island boasts 56 of those farms and 7 of the community gardens that provide residents with fresh produce.

Local farms are at the center of a sustainable food system and a strong economy that keeps food on the table and jobs in the state. Rhode Island’s food system supports nearly 70,000 jobs and 8,000 businesses, including 1,205 markets, 182 farm stands, and 73 farmers markets statewide. Many of these local farms are also leading the effort to feed those in need, making fresh produce more accessible in urban city centers, often referred to as food deserts for their lack of grocery stores, farmers’ markets, and healthy food providers.

Last year, the Rhode Island Community Food Bank distributed more than 2.2 million pounds of fresh produce to people in need of food assistance in Rhode Island. Local farm businesses and the Food Bank’s network of community farms produced 278,000 pounds of that total. Our third project partner, The Compost Plant (TCP), is another game-changer in the local food economy, helping farmers grow healthy food for all Rhode Islanders.

TCP seeks to close the loop in the food system, turning food scraps and “waste” products into compost and soil mixes that help gardeners and farmers grow more local food. Our project partner believes more local food means healthier communities, and it all starts with healthy soils.

Reducing food waste and ending hunger are tall orders, but we have the power to make change everyday with the decisions we make at home. Rhode Island Resource Recovery Corporation offers helpful tips and advice on how to plan better, shop smarter, and waste less. For more information on statewide initiatives to address food insecurity and to get involved visit:

And if you’re still looking for ways to reduce your waste footprint and repurpose those unwanted food scraps, then sign up for our composting pilot program, Healthy Soils, Healthy Seas Rhode Island. Together we can ensure food security in Rhode Island, while building rich soils that feed healthy people and grow sustainable communities.

Curbing Climate Change in Our Own Backyards

Aerial shot of Greenvale Vineyards. Photo credit: Robert A. Elias.

Carbon gets a bad rap. It’s known as a greenhouse gas and an air pollutant. It warms our planet and fuels climate change . It’s a byproduct of burning fossil fuels. Too much of it in our oceans causes acidification. But carbon is also a building block of life and makes up much of the biomass on Earth, including our own human bodies. For centuries, scientists have studied the composition of our planet and grappled with the mysterious forces that dictate life on Earth.

While many scientific conundrums still exist, planet Earth as we know it is undoubtedly defined by the delicate balance of its elements and our harmonious existence with them. Anthropogenic, or man-made, climate change has disrupted this natural balance through the accelerated burning of fossil fuels, agricultural practices, deforestation and other land-use changes.

As one of the most common elements and greenhouse gas emissions, carbon can be found virtually everywhere. There are five main pools where carbon is most abundant:

  1. Atmosphere
  2. Ocean
  3. Biosphere
  4. Soils
  5. Fossils

The burning of fossil fuels, such as coal and petroleum, taps into Earth’s ancient carbon deposits and releases them into the atmosphere. Cutting down forests releases carbon stored in the biosphere within plants and trees, and agricultural practices, such as plowing and tilling, also expose carbon stored in our soils. Thankfully our ocean absorbs much of the excess carbon in the atmosphere and serves as a primary carbon sink. In fact, the ocean has absorbed over 90% of the heat from climate change, and is the sink for roughly 30% of human-caused carbon dioxide emissions. But too much carbon in the ocean can lead to ocean acidification and coral bleaching, resulting in devastating effects as demonstrated in the Great Barrier Reef. 

From Fossil Fuels to Flatulence

Yet, carbon isn’t the only greenhouse gas we need to worry about. Methane is another heat-trapping gas that contributes to climate change. Although not as abundant, methane is more potent than carbon because of how effectively it absorbs heat. Methane is the primary component of natural gas, a common fuel source, which has been falsely seen as cleaner energy . On the contrary, the mining of natural gas, especially through fracking, leaks harmful methane emissions into the atmosphere, further exacerbating the effects of climate change. Not to mention, methane emissions are also associated with other activities, such as livestock flatulence and other agricultural practices and by the decay of organic waste in municipal landfills.

With an issue as complex and endemic as climate change it’s difficult not to feel hopeless, as if individual actions can’t make a difference. While it will take systemic change to wean our dependence on fossil fuels and invest in renewable energy sources, communities and individuals everywhere have the power to take local action and make an impact. It all starts in the backyard.

We have the ability to bring balance back to the natural systems we have disrupted. And believe it or not, the key lies in composting. Composting is a natural process that turns organic material into a dark rich substance, also known as humus (not to be confused with the Mediterranean dip, hummus). Not only does composting produce nutrient-rich soil, perfect for organic gardening, it also helps divert unnecessary food waste from the landfill and reduces those harmful methane emissions. Composting may start in the backyard, but the benefits certainly extend far outside the garden.

Carbon Sequestration

Studies have shown that compost can aid in a powerful natural process called carbon sequestration. Carbon sequestration is the process of capturing and storing atmospheric carbon dioxide, and it’s one method used to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions with the goal of curbing global climate change. When applied to soil, compost functions as a carbon sink, trapping and storing the element in the soil. And if carbon is in the ground, it isn’t in our atmosphere or our ocean. Nutrient-rich soil allows plants and trees to grow and remove more carbon from the atmosphere through photosynthesis.

Source: Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

Composting is much more than a waste diversion strategy, it’s a way to curb climate change and bring balance back to the carbon cycle. Applying a thin layer of compost to top soil provides an ongoing positive feedback loop that pulls increasingly more carbon from the atmosphere each year. Carbon sequestration is so effective in pulling carbon out of the atmosphere that there is a new wave of farming dedicated to this effort. it’s called carbon farming.

This modern way of land-use management aims to address our 21st challenge using a variety of agricultural and forestry practices to increase the amount of carbon in the soil of crop and range lands. Carbon farming includes practices, such as agroforestry (growing trees and crops together to increase carbon retention), no-till agriculture (to avoid erosion and carbon loss) and keeping farmland covered with nutrient rich compost, as bare soil releases carbon.

The best part about composting is that it’s easy and accessible for everyone. You don’t have to be a scientist or need fancy equipment to start reducing your food waste, enriching soil, and curbing climate change right at home!

Healthy Soils, Healthy Seas Rhode Island

Photo credit: Aquidneck Community Table.

We believe in the power of communities and individuals to make positive change through small actions that have big ripple effects. That’s why we launched Healthy Soils, Healthy Seas Rhode Island, a new initiative to help residents and businesses on Aquidneck Island take local action with long-lasting environmentally responsible behavior that starts on land. Whether you are a renter looking for curbside pick-up, a restaurant that needs frequent collection, or a homeowner who wants to do backyard composting, our pilot program offers a food waste diversion service that’s right for you and your family!

Restaurant collection with The Compost Plant

Residential curbside pick-up with Rhodeside Revival

Farmer’s market drop-off & backyard composting with Aquidneck Community Table

Diverting food waste through composting is a tangible way to make a difference that empowers communities to build a more sustainable future in harmony with the natural world. By reevaluating our waste footprints and our need for low-and-no value materials in our waste stream, we can start to make more responsible decisions about what we choose to throw away and how we choose to manage our waste. Together we can build healthier, stronger, more resilient communities and bring balance back to people and the planet.

Press Release: Clean Ocean Access Honored for Public Access Efforts as It Releases Quarterly Report

Clean Ocean Access (COA) recently released its quarterly public access report detailing the safety and status of 50 public rights-of-way across Aquidneck Island.

During the fourth quarter, COA says that 23 volunteers completed 151 site surveys and monitored all 50 public rights-of-way within the City of Newport and the Towns of Middletown and Portsmouth. Volunteers and staff monitored and performed marine debris removal at all 50 public rights-of-way. Volunteers also monitored water quality testing at select public access points that remain popular destinations for residents and visitors all year round.

“The ocean has given me more than I could ever give back,” says Eric Vienne, a Newport resident, surfer and longtime COA supporter in a press release. “A time has come when coordinated efforts are necessary to counter negative impacts of modern living against our oceans. I volunteer for COA so generations to come will have clean waves to ride.” Preserving and protecting shoreline access is critical to COA’s mission and lies at the foundation of the organization’s core programs. Without safe and available access to public rights- of-way, surfers like Eric would not be able to access the shoreline to enjoy their favorite ocean activities.

The third quarter assessment finds that most of the access points are in good status, and all require short, medium and long-term action plans to maintain access to the water for recreational ocean activities. One right-of-way in Newport and two rights-of-ways in Portsmouth are not clearly identifiable and require coordinated action with Rhode Island Coastal Resources Management Council (RI CRMC) and municipal staff to remedy the situation.

In January, COA received an award from the Rhode Island Saltwater Anglers Association (RISAA) recognizing COA’s work to improve public access to the East Bay coastal areas, clean the shoreline, monitor rights-of-way, and to advocate for a clean Narragansett Bay. COA staff attended the 21st Annual Banquet, held at the Quonset O Club in North Kingstown, where RISAA honored organizations that promote and enhance recreational fishing through environmental efforts, fisheries management, public access, and more.

COA program manager, Eva Touhey, holding the RISAA award overlooking Green End Pond.

“We are honored to accept the environment award from the Rhode Island Saltwater Anglers Association for our work to improve public access and advocate for a clean bay and ocean,” says Jessica Frascotti, program coordinator at COA in a press release. “We are thrilled to collaborate with an organization that shares in our goals to protect and preserve shoreline access for all to enjoy and we look forward to continuing our hard work towards protecting public access, eliminating marine debris and improving coastal water quality in 2019 and beyond.”

COA extends its sincere appreciation to all its volunteers and citizen scientists, as well as to the staff and council of the City of Newport, Towns of Middletown and Portsmouth, and RI CRMC for supporting the organization’s current and future efforts to protect and preserve shoreline access for all.