For being the capital of the smallest state in the union, Providence, R.I., packs an unusually big green punch. Settled in 1636 by Roger Williams, a religious dissenter from the Massachusetts Bay Colony, and once renowned for its jewelry and silverware industries, Providence now stands as a center of arts and education (there are seven institutions of higher learning within the tiny city limits, including Ivy Leaguer Brown University ). And with residents’ growing commitment to local food, protecting natural resources and sustainable living, Providence is poised to be come New England’s greenest jewel.
The Apeiron Institute for Sustainable Living , a great organization with a curious name , focuses on educating all Rhode Islanders about green living, including through its Sustainable Rhode Island directory , which provides links to green businesses and resources around the state. The institute is gearing up to host the first Providence Sustainability Festival on Sept. 26, featuring walking tours of downtown Providence, sustainable workshops, live music, kids activities and a fair of eco-friendly vendors.
Providence also boasts two other organizations working to green the state: the citizen-driven advocacy group Environment Rhode Island and the environmental lobbying-focused Environmental Council of Rhode Island .
Fresh local vegetables are a year-round priority for Providence residents. In the summer months, the downtown Providence Farmers’ market includes everything from the typical veggies, eggs and artisanal breads to Rhode Island-bottled seltzer. Providence also hosts several other summertime markets across the city, including one on the campus of Brown University.
Back in 2007, a handful of sustainable food activists decided to launch a Wintertime Market to support local growers and food producers after the growing season ended. The market, which sells eggs, winter greens, maple syrup, bread, fair trade chocolate and more, quickly outgrew its first location in Providence art space AS220 and moved across city limits to bigger digs in Pawtucket’s Hope Artiste Village . It seems food and art make quite the delicious match.
Guiding and influencing all of this local food work is Farm Fresh Rhode Island , a nonprofit organization founded in 2004 that is dedicated to supporting local food systems by preserving farmland and culinary knowledge and increasing residents’ access to local food sources. Its Local Food Fest , a gala celebrating Rhode Island’s best farmers, sold out this past summer.
For more info on growing green
Check out these great blogs for more information about sustainable growing in and around Providence.
The Providential Gardener , which aims to “bring together [and educate] the growing community of gardeners and caretakers of urban farms, parks and other public spaces, as well as the individuals and families who tend their own gardens around their homes or in pots on the porch, in Providence.”
The Green Zone , which began as an organic vegetable, herb and flower garden at Firehouse 13 and now includes a blog on urban gardening, Rhode Island gardens and garden pop culture.
Wherever sustainable food is grown, locavore restaurants are destined to follow. In Providence, the options to eat green are almost overwhelming. Apeiron’s online directory hosts a comprehensive list of sustainable establishments and food businesses in Providence and its neighboring towns, like the local and “from scratch”-minded restaurant and catering company Julian’s , and the fair trade-focused roaster and café Coffee Exchange .
What could be better than sharing a beer with like-minded tree huggers? Over the last decade, Green Drinks has emerged as the country’s most popular networking night for green professionals and their friends. Started in 1999, Providence’s Green Drinks is now one of the hundreds of chapters bringing together the nation and world’s best, brightest and thirstiest environmentalists.
Providence’s relatively flat terrain and the bicycle accessibility on the city’s bus fleet make it ideal for biking. Bike Providence , an organization of cyclists founded in 2007, inspires residents to take advantage of their surroundings and get out there on two wheels.
Most cities have some kind of green building association, but Providence has taken things a step further. In 2005, two Rhode Island School of Design graduates teamed up to create an online resource, Ecolect , to help builders find, purchase and use sustainable materials for their projects, eliminating what they call the “frustrating scavenger hunt around the Internet.” Only a few years old, the company now has offices in Providence, San Francisco and Chicago .
Providence is situated on the edge of the Narragansett Bay, a beautiful estuary that became clogged with toxins, sewage and pollution over many years of environmental degradation. But in 1987, an educational campaign called Save the Bay began to “turn the tide.” Today, the Save the Bay organization and center act as an important meeting ground for activists, educators and volunteers who want to play a part of keeping one of Rhode Island’s most precious natural resources healthy for future generations.
The Save the Bay Center even has a 6,000-square-foot vegetated green roof that adds beauty to the center and reduces the amount of stormwater runoff from the roof.
When it comes to the sustainable initiatives at the seven colleges and universities across Providence, Brown isn’t the only school to make the Ivy League. Of course, Brown’s students and administration are actively involved in greening the campus, from their unique outdoor environmental leadership lab to the attention paid to local foods and sustainable purchasing practices in Brown’s dining hall . Brown also teamed up this year with the Rhode Island School of Design to create a joint bike sharing program for students.
Nearby, Johnson & Wales University, known for its culinary program, and University of Rhode Island are teaming up to “become knowledge leaders in the area of seafood sustainability .”
Providence offers a store for virtually any sustainable merchandising need. Balanced Design creates eco-friendly house accessories including pillows, rugs and totes, with a modern design and a commitment to New England craftsmanship. Farmacy Herbs sells dried herbs and teas, tinctures, books and other herbal products. It also offers sliding scale education programs, holistic health resources and a community health center.
And for Providence’s pooches, there’s Bone Appetit Dog Bakery , which carries healthy, nutritious food and treats for humans’ best friend -- and cats too!
Photo: pvdEric /Flickr