LIVE STOCK: Patrick McNiff, owner of Pat’s Pastured, first began raising chickens and pigs as a hobby while working at Casey Farm. But when they began selling, he decided there was enough demand to quit working for a paycheck and start out on his own.
Pat’s Pastured owner Patrick McNiff describes three general types of New England farmer operating in 2013:
The family farmer who grew up on the land and has evolved the old business to survive the modern market.
The gentleman farmer who enjoys owning a few head of cattle, but doesn’t rely on them to balance his checkbook.
And the idealistic entrepreneur who discovered local food and sustainable agriculture somewhere between the college quad and the first desk job.
McNiff, a Long Island native and Providence College graduate, puts himself squarely in that last category.
“Growing up, our livestock was a Cockapoo,” McNiff said. “It wasn’t until the summer after I graduated from PC and was working in an urban-gardening program for at-risk youth that I fell in love with the land.”
A decade after first getting hooked on farming, Pat’s Pastured, McNiff’s meat and poultry company, is a leading purveyor of locally raised and processed chicken, turkey, pork, beef and lamb.
It’s one of only two farms in the state licensed to slaughter its poultry – the only one in a 22-foot-long mobile unit – and this year the farm was recognized as one of the state’s homegrown success stories in The Rhode Island Foundation’s “Our Backyard” campaign.
McNiff’s entry into sustainable agriculture was well-timed.
He discovered farming as the local food movement was hitting high gear nationally, but while there was still a major unmet demand for pasture-raised meat and poultry in Rhode Island.
His first few chickens and pigs were raised as a hobby while working at the historic Casey Farm in North Kingstown.
But when he slaughtered and sold them, Rhode Islanders snapped them up, convincing him there was enough demand to quit working for a paycheck and start out on his own.
He leased an 87-acre farm from the East Greenwich Land Trust and began raising livestock in the polyculture, grass-fed and free-range style advocated by influential Virginia farmer Joel Salatin.
Although McNiff has found no shortage of demand for his products, there are still plenty of challenges to running a 21st-century farm.