CELS Alumna Adapts to the Changing Trends in Farming
“Mother Nature runs our show; we are at her whim with the weather,” says Sarah Partyka, alumna of the College of the Environment and Life Sciences (CELS) at the University of Rhode Island. Partyka is a third generation farmer and owner of The Farmer’s Daughter, a thriving fifty-acre farm located on Route 138 between URI and Route 1. Farmers like Partyka who rely closely on the land are the first to feel the effects of a changing climate and extreme weather patterns.
Since Partyka opened The Farmer’s Daughter in 1998, she has seen firsthand the changes on her family’s land. “We’re in a valley, so we tend to get late frosts in spring and early frosts in the fall, but those dates have been changing,” Partyka explains. “Our season seems to be extending.” Although a longer season may sound like a good thing, climate change impacts also exacerbate extreme weather that leads to prolonged droughts and floods, which can be detrimental for a farmer.
Running a successful farm business is no easy feat; with long days starting at the crack of dawn and year-round care for both animals and crops, one really has to love the work that accompanies owning a farm. Partyka’s passion for farming traces back to her grandparents, who immigrated to the United States from Europe and started a home farm in Rhode Island in 1936.
“I love every aspect of being outside with the earth,” says Partyka. “It is in my ancestry so it is a deep passion of mine.”
In the early 1970s, Partyka’s parents expanded her grandparents’ family farm and started The Berry Patch, one of Rhode Island’s first pick-your-own strawberry farms. Since then, the farm has evolved and grown in size to include fifteen greenhouses with retail crops, including unique annuals, perennials, trees, and shrubs.
While working on the family farm, Partyka pursued her studies at URI, receiving a degree in horticulture in 1995. Partyka came to the university with valuable hands-on experience and practical knowledge, and her studies in horticulture expanded Partyka’s experiential knowledge, providing her with a comprehensive understanding of the ecological processes behind planting and farming.
Shortly after graduating from URI, Partyka found her niche on the family’s farmland with the development of a new facet of the business. Now on its twentieth year, The Farmer’s Daughter was voted “Best of Rhode Island” by RI Monthly in 2005 and “Best Garden Center in RI” for four consecutive years beginning in 2008.
The plant life on the farm is nothing short of unique with over 100 varieties of coleus (a colorful summer annual), a wide selection of begonias and orchids, and an ever-expanding vegetable garden full of heirlooms and unique herbs, which The Farmer’s Daughter has for sale at its own farmer’s market in the summer months.
“People in South County really appreciate locally grown and produced food,” notes Partyka. “They like getting to know where their food is grown, who it was grown by, and making that connection.”
Yet, with an aging generation of farmers across the country and warmer and more extreme weather increasing pressure on the agricultural sector, the future of farming may look vastly different from the experience of landowners and farmers like Partyka’s grandparents. Today’s generation of growers must adapt to the changing social and environmental circumstances that are transforming how food is produced.
“It’s a different type of farming; it is on a different scale,” says Partyka regarding the new trends of cultivation. “But farming changes; everything changes, and you have to accept that.”