“This isn’t your grandfather’s barn,” says Patrick McNiff of the East Greenwich, Rhode Island, farm where he raises Black Angus beef; Berkshire, Black, and Tamworth pork; Kathadin lamb; and Cornish Rock and Poulet Rouge poultry and eggs for his Pat’s Pasteured meats. Begun in 2002, McNiff’s operation involves animals that he says are more than simply free range; they’re allowed to “express their natural instincts fully in a pasture environment.” Raised with organic methods (and with an on-farm poultry processing facility), Pat’s was named 2004 Conservation Farm of the Year. And Rhode Island chefs like Matt Jennings, of restaurant Farmstead, as well as farmers’ market customers, and members of Pat’s CSA and buying clubs, are wild for the results.

McNiff came to farming not through family but through a passion for conserving land. After graduating from Providence College and earning a master’s degree in community economic development from Southern New Hampshire University, farming seemed a good way to express “the way land and food can bring people together.” He signed on as a manager at Rhode Island’s Casey Farm for four years and learned from mentors among long-time local farming families. While at Casey, his interest in livestock grew, and he began producing pasture-raised meats, eventually moving to the current location at Briggs Boesch Farm, in East Greenwich. Now, through tours, special events, and classes for farmers both new- and old-school, McNiff, too, passes along the farm’s lessons and builds community along the way.