Rachael Slattery has spent her life working outside. The Alabama native and her family moved to Rhode Island when she was 10, while her father was working as a commercial fisherman in Newport.
After graduating from North Kingstown High School, Slattery began working on cruise ships, then yachts, and eventually became a tall ship captain. But along the way Slattery decided to get back onto land. She started Wild Harmony Farm in Exeter with her husband Ben Coerper 10 years ago.
“It seems like a different world, but there are a lot of similarities — working outside, working as a crew, being in the elements. There’s a lot of crossover,” Slattery said. “So I’d work a season on a boat, then travel on land, usually by visiting a farm. I’d volunteer on a farm for a month and live there with the farmers. It was a way to not just be a tourist, but to have this immersive experience.”
Now she and Coerper raise certified organic pasture-raised pork, pasture-raised chicken and 100 percent grass-fed beef.
You can shop at the in-person farm store or their online store — they offer home delivery for Rhode Islanders — or join their CSA. What to make? Their website is packed with recipes from Kim Ragosta, such as Korean-style ribs, sautéed spinach with chorizo and white beans, bacon and sweet potato hash, steak fajitas, and barbecue pork sammies.
We caught up with Slattery to talk sustainable animal farming and why plant-based diets aren’t necessarily greener than meat-eating..
Q: You’re screening “Sacred Cow” for your 10th anniversary party on Sept. 10. What’s the film about and how did you get to be in it?
Slattery: It’s really talking about — these are my words, not theirs — how the plant-based diet is misinformed. The whole narrative that meat is bad for the planet, for your health, and that we should be eating less meat as a society is not scientifically factual and not true.... The film highlights the aspects of regenerative meat farming that are mitigating climate change, not making it worse. It’s making an argument that [the meat-is-bad idea] is short-sighted and misinformed.
Think about all of the inputs that go into a plant-based protein. If we’re comparing a pound of grass-fed beef to a package of plant-based protein burger, the mono-cropping that goes into growing the soy and high-energy plant-based proteins, they’re energy-intensive and using agricultural practices that are destroying soil and releasing carbon. When you compare it to 100-percent grass-fed beef, we’re part of the natural carbon-cycle.
We’re seeing on [our] land an increase of birds, improvements to the ecosystem, wildlife coming back. It’s really confirming the science. Animals are doing good things for the world if they’re managed in a proper way.
So what did your land look like before? What’s come back?
It was always a beautiful place, but it had been hayed for a long time. Haying is a very extractive process. When you cut down grass, the organic matter, you’re taking away nutrients. So you have to add nutrients from some other source. That’s either coming from chicken manure — which is typically from large warehouses — or some sort of synthetic fertilizer or synthetic urine.
So the land here before was lacking life, the soil was not alive. Bringing animals back has brought in a flourishing ecosystem. Now we have dung beetles and paper wasps; wild hives of honeybees moved in. We have lots of different bird species. We see a lot of mammals — deer, groundhogs, bunnies, fox.
What types of farms?
Mostly vegetable. It wasn’t until I got back to Rhode Island that I was introduced to livestock.
But you’ve been a full-time farmer since 2012?
The last time I was captain of a ship out west was 2017. There were five years that I did both Wild Harmony Farm and would commute to the West Coast to captain a tall ship.
Oh wow. And when did you meet Ben?
We met in 2010. We were processing chickens for a farm in Jamestown.
We’re really philosophically aligned. We shared the same sentiment about the ethics behind farming, the integrity. We both have a very strong, deep passion for living with intention. We’re constantly reevaluating, so [the farm has] ebbed and flowed. We run a livestock apprenticeship program, where folks live and work and learn on the farm. We’re very passionate about educating. We had to learn from scratch, and it feels good to pay that forward.
Why a livestock farm?
Livestock was a little bit of an accident. Ben became really sick when he was in his 20s. He was told he needed surgery and would be on prescriptions for the rest of his life. He had to move home with his parents. He was so weak and sick. He finally figured out that it was wheat, milk and sugar that were the cause. So he took them out of his diet; it took about eight months to a year for him to recover. He learned he basically can’t eat anything processed, so he set out on a journey to learn how to grow his own food.
Something we both realized on vegetable farms, all food relies on animal inputs — fertilizer is either made from synthetic chemical-based, oil-based factories or it’s coming from an animal. In his process of learning to grow his own food, [he realized] to be sustainable, it starts with the animal that feeds everything else. Then he fell in love with the animal part of it.
What are your favorite dishes to make with your own food?
I love our pork chops on a grill. It’s so simple. The trick to the world’s perfect pork chop is a very hot grill, and three to four minutes on each side. That’s it. In cooler weather, I love a good beef chuck roast in a crock pot, making shredded beef for barbacoa tacos, or just a simple shredded beef with leafy greens and sweet potatoes. When you start with high quality ingredients, it doesn’t take much. Ben loves beef short-ribs. I think he’d eat them every day of the year, if he could. He also loves a simple roasted chicken with salt, pepper and garlic.
What about your son?
Milo is such a little carnivore. He loves our sausages, our hot dogs.
In general, what do you love about sustainable farming? What makes you passionate about it?
It sounds so cheesy, but we really do try to live by the Gandhi quote, “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” I believe we have this opportunity to vote three times a day for change. Every time we eat, we’re voting. When we’re actively working towards mitigating climate change and healing some of the systemic problems with our food system and health care system, by eating better, we can start to truly make some change that could turn things around.
This interview has been edited and condensed.