Heather ’72 and Don Minto ’73

The Farm Gate to the Dinner Plate

The road to Watson Farm in Jamestown, R.I., runs up a wooded drive, past the farmhouse, through the farmyard with its resident sheepdogs, geese, and chickens and over the hill to open pastures that sweep down to Narragansett Bay. This land has been farmed for 400 years, the last 30 of them by Heather and Don Minto.

The Mintos met at URI where Don studied plant and soil science and Heather studied historic textiles and museum education. By the late 1970s, they had decided to farm and were reluctantly ready to move to North Carolina for affordable land when they heard that Historic New England was searching for a farmer to work Watson Farm, recently bequeathed to the organization with the stipulation that the 265 acres be farmed in perpetuity.

The deadline for applications was close, the Mintos had a new baby with another on the way, no money, and no plan, but inspired by their first walk across the “green paradise,” they worked up a proposal, wowed the interviewers, and were offered the position at their first meeting.

While the 18th century farmhouse was being made habitable the Minto family lived in a tent, “a very nice tent” Don remembers, with a floor covered with sheepskins for the two babies. The young parents worked outside to bring the farm back to life.

These days Watson Farm is a beautiful working landscape open for trail walks and farm festivals. The Mintos, who pasture-raise Red Devon cattle and Romney cross sheep, articulate the benefits of grass fed meats while selling their beef and lamb at local farmers markets as well as directly from the farm.

The Mintos are champions of local sustainable agriculture intent on “raising awareness of the importance of rebuilding the decaying fabric of agriculture and soil sustainability.” Don emphasizes that sustainability must make economic sense for the farmer by “shortening the distance between the farm gate and the dinner plate” to make family farms viable once again.

For more information, see historicnewengland.org/visit/homes/watson.htm.

—Bevan Linsley