Interview with Greg Gerritt

The Moshassuck River and Compost June 2010

uestion 3.
The most active project of FOTM is the Collyer Field Forest Restoration project.  Beyond the baseball field lies the Moshassuck River and an upland of filled wetland that was entirely overgrown with Japanese Knotweed, and invasive species.  Along the River, here and at other places there was a riverine gallery forest, a line of trees, one or two trees deep at its largest, with relatively old trees, trees growing since the area had been first industrialized, coming up on the canal walls.  Under them was some serious shade, and lo and behold the knotweed stopped where the trees shaded the place all day.  In other words closed canopy forest suppresses knotweed.

The Collyer Field site, especially beyond right field, was a perfect place to attempt a forest restoration, but no one in New England seemed to have attempted such a thing.  I wanted a methodology that a small community group could do with a minimum of scarce volunteer time.  We have it.  It requires planting only a few large trees a year, and taking care of them for the first growing season, then they are on their own, and they flourish.  After 10 years you can really see a forest forming, and some evidence that the plan will eventually work once the forest canopy closes.

We are going to have a forest.  Tours available.  Some pictures

Happy to talk more.

Question 4

Friends of the Moshassuck has always had at the heart of its work two things.  The restoration of the river and the revitalization of the community through which it passes.  The Moshassuck is probably the most degraded river in RI, with a higher percentage of its watershed paved (over 50%), than any other.  The headquarters are in a Nature Conservancy preserve (Limerock above the quarry in Lincoln) but even the headwaters are being polluted by runoff from the development above the pond.  Serious bad erosion issues.  The lower half of the river has been industrial forever, with the first mill on the river being built in 1675.  It was the home of the cholera epidemic that forced Providence to build its first sewage treatment facility at Fields Point.

The lower river borders low income communities, immigrant communities, communities devastated economically since the textiles industry started heading south in the 1920’s.  Revitalization is critical.

What distinguishes FOTM is our insistence that economic revitalization will only come about via ecological healing.  Our watchwords are “You can not heal ecosystems without ending poverty, you can not end poverty without healing ecosystems.”

Based on my long agricultural experience in northern New England, the agricultural revitalization of the Moshassuck watershed has always been on the table.  I actually ran a barn shoveling service in Maine with payment in manure, so composting is deep in my soul, and I really understand and have experience with how it transforms soil.  I have therefore been an active member of the Greater Providence Urban Agriculture Task Force, with a variety of responsibilities including advocating at public hearings for changes in city documents to make the city more agriculturally friendly.

Some of my work on the task force has been funded by various grants.  Eventually a partnership was formed between Southside Community Land Trust (spiritual home of the Urban Ag Task Force (and where the grants go)) and my part time employer The Environment Council of Rhode Island Education Fund so that I could put even more effort into the Compost Project.  Recently I obtained another grant to fund even more of my time on the project.  If you want more information on the Compost Project check out and look at the various compost files.  It is a project bent on transformation.

But to bring it back to FOTM, FOTM has no official role, but it is the work I do there, the philosophical underpinnings and ecological knowledge I obtain through that work and the contacts I began assembling there, that helps the Compost Project move forward.

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