‘Dream team’ of farmers takes root in Portsmouth

Cloverbud Ranch offers meat, poultry, eggs, organic vegetables and more

By Jim McGaw
Posted 5/25/17

PORTSMOUTH — This town may have lost hundreds of acres of working farms over the years, but it just gained a whopper of one off Jepson Lane.

This item is available in full to subscribers.

Please log in to continue

Log in

Register to post events

If you'd like to post an event to our calendar, you can create a free account by clicking here.

Note that free accounts do not have access to our subscriber-only content.

Day pass subscribers

Are you a day pass subscriber who needs to log in? Click here to continue.

‘Dream team’ of farmers takes root in Portsmouth

Cloverbud Ranch offers meat, poultry, eggs, organic vegetables and more


PORTSMOUTH — This town may have lost hundreds of acres of working farms over the years, but it just gained a whopper of one off Jepson Lane.

Despite its wealth of diverse offerings, a spirit of collaboration hovers over the 100-plus sloping acres of farmland now known as Cloverbud Ranch, which is named after the smallest children within the 4-H youth program.

Here you can purchase beef from Cloverbud founder Martin Beck, who raises cross-bred Angus, Devon and Hereford cattle for his New England Grass Fed LLC operation on the lower fields. Nearby is DaSilva Farm run by Joshua and Felicia DaSilvia, who raise egg-laying hens, broilers, turkeys and soon pigs.

Up closer to Jepson Lane, Amy and Andrew Smith’s The Local Patch offers organic vegetables of all varieties, while Michelle Cruz, a Cape Verdean, grows flowers and herbs and produces natural beauty products under the Natural Creola banner. 

“This has been a dream of mine — to assemble a collaborative farm co-op of like-minded artisan farm producers who can collaboratively market while maintaining our sovereign businesses,” said Mr. Beck, who was raising grass-fed beef for five years on other people’s property before acquiring a lease on the Jepson Lane parcel that allows room for multiple farmers.

The land, which had been vacant for three years, was formerly owned by Van Hof Nurseries for about 50 years before being purchased by Paul Zurlo, according to Mr. Beck. “We’re actively working about 74 acres,” he said. “We have a five-year lease with an expectation to renew.”

Mr. Beck realized that raising beef alone would not work, and he needed to bring in other team members. “We need to get people to treat this as a destination farm stand and a single-item store is very difficult,” he said.

Besides featuring a rustic timber-frame farm stand off Jepson Lane for retail sales — Mr. Beck said it will be open 2-6 p.m. Thursday through Saturday by next month — the farm also offers a CSA (community-supported agriculture), where customers can sign up to receive farm shares of different yields and price points.

“We’ve done it Goldilocks style. People can do a baby share, a mama share a papa share. The Cloverbud Ranch share would be some eggs, some chicken, some vegetables, some beef and some pork,” Mr. Beck said, adding that other shares may contain flowers, herbs, honey and even beauty products. “The CSA lets them get a sampling of all the things we’re going to be doing.”

CSA members will also be treated to special events such as monthly cookouts, bird walks, mushroom foraging and more, he said. Further details about the CSA can be found at www.cloverbudranch.com.

Rotating cattle

Mr. Beck purchases yearlings from known grass-fed sources. “We’re basically buying 500-pounders and turning them into 1,100-pounders,” he said. “We have heifers, which are females that have not had a calf, and steers, which are castrated males. Nobody’s getting pregnant here. We need to grow meat, not babies.”

Although he has 26 heads of cattle, they have plenty of room to roam. They’re in a rotational grazing plan and moved around together “every two to three days” to allow the grass to rejuvenate. He compared them to the North American bison, which ramble around native pastures, grazing on grass and preventing excess growth that chokes the soil and leads to unhealthy plant growth.

“The land benefits best when there’s a high intensity, short-duration grazing event, just like with bison. We’re doing that on a micro-scale,” he said.

The soil’s health is important to everyone involved, he added. “With cattle, we grow them and use them as a land-management tool to improve the quality of that soil that will then enable Josh and Felicia’s birds to get more beta-carotene and nutrients. The synergy of the cattle and the poultry are amazing,” he said.

In addition, the birds will pick fly larvae out of the cow patties to get more protein and nutrients, while reducing the number of flies that bother the cattle. The natural synergy doesn’t stop there.

“And,” Amy Smith of The Local Patch told Mr. Beck, “we hope to use your compost on our fields and we’ll feed our scraps to the chickens and the cows. We’ll all work together.”

50 dozen eggs daily

Like Mr. Beck’s cattle, the DaSilva’s birds also have plenty of room and are shifted around — every one to two weeks for the 1,000 or so egg-layers, but daily for the 300 broilers on the farm. 

Mr. DaSilva said their non-GMO-fed birds are “pasture-raised” and don’t spend most of their time in a barn as do chickens and eggs labeled “free range” or “cage free.” 

“That’s the ideal — that’s what you want,” he said, adding that labels don’t always tell the story anyway. “It can say anything and you’ll never know. That’s the benefit of buying from your local farmer. You can come to the farm and see exactly what they’re doing.”

CSA members are welcome to view Cloverbud’s operations, but at the farm’s discretion, Mr. Beck said. “There are two very dangerous dogs back here, so we want to get a handle on who is here and when,” he said, motioning to the DaSilvas’ Portuguese cattle dogs that guard their poultry: Flore (“flower” in Portuguese) and Faial (after the island in the Azores, where Mr. DaSilva’s family is from).

Loyal following

The DaSilvas, who have two children — Sienna, 3, and Brielle, 1— live in Bristol but plan on relocating close to the farm in Portsmouth soon. 

This is their third year raising poultry, having previously operated on a 30-acre farm they leased in Berkley, Mass. 

“We just outgrew it; there wasn’t enough acreage for us,” said Mr. DaSilva. “We wanted to expand into pigs and possibly cattle, which we can do here.”

The couple already has a loyal customer base and has sold its products at numerous farmers’ markets as well as through their own small CSA. You can find the couple’s chickens and eggs — the farm produces about 50 dozen daily — at Sunset Cafe in Bristol and their products are also sold at A Market, a grocery store in Newport. They’re looking to expand in other stores and restaurants on Aquidneck Island as well.

‘Fell in love’

The Smiths were once chained to corporate desks in Boston — Amy worked at a private equity firm while Andrew was in finance — before slowly transitioning into farmers and founding The Local Patch.

“We learned this lifestyle was so much better for us,” said Ms. Smith. “We did an apprenticeship up in Maine, where we lived and worked there with a family. They had chickens, pigs, cows, vegetables. That was really where we learned that we wanted to do this.”

They learned about Mr. Beck’s search for farmers to join him at Cloverbud and immediately signed up. “Land is so expensive to buy on your own. We fell in love with the space,” she said.

The couple grows organic vegetables on its one-acre plot on the upper fields. You name it, they have it: organic corn, seven different varieties of tomatoes, kale, cabbage, tomatillos, Brussels sprouts, root vegetables, spinach, arugula, squash, cucumbers, melons, pumpkins and more.

Mr. Beck said there’s nothing like the taste — and nutritional value — of truly fresh produce. “A lot of our food supply is shipped long, long distances, so it’s often picked before its peak of freshness. Here, customers will be able to buy something that was just picked,” he said.

Mr. Beck is eager to have curious customers descend upon Cloverbud Ranch, which he envisions as a “destination farm.”

“We want it to be a draw,” he said. “There will be curb appeal. This has been vacant for so long, we want people to say, ‘Hey, what’s going on over at Jepson Lane?’”

And, he thinks he has the group of partners that can make it happen.

“These are the folks I’ve been looking for — the dream team,” he said. “I’ve been all around the world farming, looking for a place to land, and it’s here.”

For more information about Cloverbud Ranch, visit www.cloverbudranch.com.

Cloverbud Ranch, farms, farming, CSA

2024 by East Bay Media Group

Barrington · Bristol · East Providence · Little Compton · Portsmouth · Tiverton · Warren · Westport
Meet our staff
Jim McGaw

A lifelong Portsmouth resident, Jim graduated from Portsmouth High School in 1982 and earned a journalism degree from the University of Rhode Island in 1986. He's worked two different stints at East Bay Newspapers, for a total of 18 years with the company so far. When not running all over town bringing you the news from Portsmouth, Jim listens to lots and lots and lots of music, watches obscure silent films from the '20s and usually has three books going at once. He also loves to cook crazy New Orleans dishes for his wife of 25 years, Michelle, and their two sons, Jake and Max.