By Cynthia Drummond – Sun staff writer
HOPKINTON — Festival Farm owner Jay Gray was putting up a scarecrow as he awaited the arrival of U.S. Rep. James Langevin Thursday. Gray and his wife, Judy, own the 2-acre farm, which includes a petting zoo of 50 assorted animals, fresh fruits, vegetables and eggs, and a small gift shop.
“I’m going to tell him how tough it is for the little guy,” Gray said. “I don’t know what help he can give me, but I’ll show him around.”
Langevin, who represents the state’s Second Congressional District, chose the farm on Route 3 in Hope Valley as one of the stops on what he calls his summer “Rhode Trip.”
“This is one of my 21-city-and-town tour,” he said. “I’m going to different communities in my district, and it’s an opportunity while I’m home during the district work period over the summer to stay in touch with my constituents and to get to parts of the community that I don’t often get to.”
Gray, a longtime employee of Electric Boat in Groton, bought his farm seven years ago and began transforming it into a family attraction. As Langevin toured the property, visiting goats, donkeys, assorted sheep and a jersey calf, Gray explained what had made him decide to turn the farm into an old-fashioned roadside attraction.
“All the small, family places in Rhode Island, where families would go to, they’ve all disappeared,” he said. “People think doing something with your kids now is going to Walmart. That sounds terrible, but that’s the way I feel.”
Gray told Langevin that he started by growing and selling pumpkins, but it wasn’t long before he started acquiring animals.
“I said ‘we’re going to try and grow some pumpkins to offset the taxes,’ and we started growing pumpkins, and I had no animals at that time, and I saw a couple of alpacas and said ‘it really wouldn’t hurt to buy an alpaca or two. We’ve got the room. I’ll build a pen.’ I started thinking, if those kids are going to come get a pumpkin, we’ve got to have something special for them to see.”
The tour ended in the gift shop. As a farm cat named Snickers watched from a perch high above the counter, Langevin and his staff enjoyed cold drinks and picked up jars of homemade jam.
“We wanted to come here, to a local farm, and they’re doing important work here,” Langevin said. “It’s important to support local growers. We have small farms popping up all over the state, and we should encourage them.”
The Grays said they had enjoyed the opportunity to meet Langevin and talk to him about their biggest concern: high taxes.
“He seemed truly interested, and that’s awfully nice,” Judy said.
“He’s down to earth,” Jay said. “Just a regular guy.”