Read the original article by Donita Naylor at providencejournal.com here.
One of Rhode Island’s last nine dairy farms, which has been in the same family for 118 years and is recognized as a model of outstanding dairy practices, is looking to find new homes for its cows.
The farm, which has kept up with technology and survived all the forces that reduced the state’s count of nearly 400 dairy farms in the early 1950s to the single digits today, has crushing debt and can no longer keep the dairy business going.
In an effort to generate income, the Cottrell family in 2016 sought a zoning exemption to put in a one-acre solar field.
While considering an exemption, the town decided it needed comprehensive solar regulations. Although the process for changing the zoning ordinance took only a month and the farm’s application under the new rules “is moving at a very good clip,” in the words of Town Manager Robert C. Zarnetske III, relief might not come soon enough for the cows.
“The Cottrells have been milking cows here for 118 years, and it didn’t have to end like this,” said Glen Cottrell, 56, expressing frustration at regulatory delays.
Since 1900, the farm has been a dairy operation owned by Cottrells. The Cottrell Homestead, on the National Register of Historic Places, has been a farm since 1790, nearly 50 years before Route 138 was built. With barns and a farmhouse at 500 Waites Corner Rd., the farm extends to Route 138 and continues to the other side.
Since their father died in June 2016, Glen and his brother Matt, 47, have been running it with administrative help from their sister, Julie Brodeur.
They breed cows and raise corn and hay for the herd of about 50. They produce a million pounds of milk a year, part of the supply for Rhody Fresh milk, a brand of the Rhode Island Dairy Farms Cooperative. They sell vegetables from a farm stand on Route 138 and manure from an exemplary manure management system.
Their parents were among the founders of the Washington County Fair and mentored hundreds of 4H students over the years. Its corn fields, silos and cows have long been part of the visual charm of Route 138 between Route 2 and the University of Rhode Island campus. By selling development rights, the Cottrells ensured that the farm would be preserved for agriculture.
One acre along Waites Corner Road was kept out of the preservation agreement with the R.I. Department of Environmental Management, allowing the Cottrells to develop it commercially. They applied to the town through Northeast Solar Power and Wind in April 2016.
The Cottrell brothers, who seem to see all the different bureaucratic hurdles as one big tangle of red tape holding back their relief from crushing debt, had to wait while the town decided to write solar zoning rules. The state told them they couldn’t bury a power line under the preserved land, until their developer proved they could, they said.
Recently, they were told they have to install an 8-foot-high red balloon as a test for whether the solar panels will be visible to traffic on Route 138.
Glen ridicules the test. “What are you looking at that for?” yells Glen, pretending to be in the passenger seat of a passing car. “Keep your eyes on the road!”
Matt described how close they are to running out of time and money.
A cow named Gisele, after Tom Brady’s wife, drooled nearby and a cow named Ani, who has a white heart on her forehead, crowded Matt after he jumped down from a tractor.
He said he recently bought enough grain for three weeks. Once the grain runs out, Matt said, they’ll have to find new homes for all the cows, and cash the check from a turf farm that wants to lease their fields.
If the deal goes through, Matt will work for the turf farm. Glen will continue to grow vegetables and sell them from a stand on Route 138. They’ll sell their high-tech milk tank and insemination equipment.
Although working for a paycheck would give him days off for the first time in his life, and he would be able to take vacations, which is impossible when you have a herd to milk every 12 hours, he still has a hard time accepting the change. “I don’t want to go out of business,” he said.
Permission for the solar project is on track for approval by May or June, the town manager and a solar developer for the Cottrells said.