Escobar’s Highland Farm

Portsmouth dairy farmer Louis Escobar rushed into action when he saw smoke coming from his barn. He and his grandson ran into the old barn to try to rescue some of the young cows close to the door. Then he heard the roof start to crumble. It was too dangerous to stay inside. When the firefighters arrived they could see the flames leaping along the roof. Firefighters from Portsmouth, Middletown, Tiverton and the Navy base endured heat and thick smoke to battle the flames to protect the animals. They cooled the cows by watering them down with their fire hoses. A back hoe pushed in the side of the burning barn so that the livestock would have a path out of danger. The animals were so fearful that at first they wouldn’t move at all. When they began to move, they charged out of the barn. Crowds of neighbors cheered the cows as they escaped the flames. Neighbors also took a big role in rescuing the livestock as the firefighters tried to prevent the fire from spreading to a nearby gasoline tank and the two homes on the farm.

Through the help of brave neighbors and firefighters, the milking cows escaped the fire, but there were injuries. Animals were burned on their backs from embers that fell on them while they were in the burning barn. A veterinarian treated them and late into the night farmers arrived with trailers to move fifty of Escobar’s cows to a farm in Warren where they could be cared for. Five of the cows had lung damage and bad burns. One of the bulls was not expected to recover, but he did. When the community organized an Escobar Farm Fun Day at Glen Park three months later, the recovering animals were there to greet the crowd of almost 3,000 people who came to support the effort to “Bring the Cows Home” to a new barn. The community appreciates all that Louis does, including his annual Fourth of July fireworks display.

Fire investigators say the fire was started accidentally when two boys were playing with fire in the hayloft. Although it began as a foolish mistake, Louis Escobar stressed the positive results. He was thankful that the community had come to support him. He began to build a new and better barn complex.

The barn fire was only one of the challenges that farmer Escobar has faced. Louis was born into a farming family and he has lived on the family farm all his life. Farming is what Louis loves to do, but it has never been easy to keep his Highland Farm in business. Louis inherited the 98 acre dairy farm in 1974. Farmer Escobar had to find ways to compete with the big industrial dairy farms. The large milk companies could offer their products at a lower cost because they produced dairy products in large quantities. Louis helped form “Rhody Fresh” in 2004. Eight Rhode Island dairy farms banded together to produce their dairy products together to compete with the larger farms. When people buy dairy products with the “Rhody Fresh” label, they know they are supporting local Rhode Island farms.

In order to stay in business, Louis has to use his land for a variety of purposes. Escobar’s farm raises Christmas trees, has a pumpkin patch and has a corn maze in September and October that is a popular tourist attraction. When a neighboring farm came up for sale, Louis bought the property so it would still be farmed and he made the farmhouse into a bed and breakfast inn.

Like many of Portsmouth past farmers; the Escobars use the latest methods to insure the quality of their dairy products. The soil is tested regularly to make sure it is rich in nutrients, cows are tested to improve their nutrition, and good grazing land is set aside as open space. Younger cows have outside pens and these cows are used in the 4-H program. Young people can learn responsibility and independence by taking care of an animal.
Louis has continued to have his good times and his tough times. In 2013, when Portsmouth celebrated the 375th Anniversary of its founding, Louis Escobar was chosen as the Grand Marshal of the parade. He was a popular choice because he represents what has traditionally been good about Portsmouth. Farming, however, can be a dangerous job. On a June day in 2015 Louis was driving his tractor a little too fast when he drove into a 10 foot deep pit. Louis’ spine was injured and for a while he was paralyzed. Through hard work in physical therapy and the support of his family and community, Louis has been getting better.

Portsmouth is still proud of its farmers and our farming heritage. Dairy farmer Louis Escobar’s story shows that the hard work, community spirit and the ingenuity of Portsmouth past farmers is still represented in Portsmouth farmers today.

Bob Mello: Providence Journal, July 24, 1998. 2 boys charged in barn fire.
Jim McGaw – Portsmouth Times 6/23/15:  Portsmouth Farmer Louis Escobar still on the mend.
Sean Flynn – Newport Daily News July 23, 2015
Soljane Martinez, Providence Journal Sept 8 1998.  Community effort helps rebuild burned dairy farm.
Liz Foran:  A Fair to Remember July 28, 1998  Providence Journal