Sue Sosnowski was first elected to represent South Kingstown and Block Island in the Rhode Island Senate in 1996. She is the first woman to represent South Kingstown in the Senate. In January of 2003, she became chairwoman of the newly-formed Senate Committee on the Environment and Agriculture, a position she continues to hold. Previously she served as vice chairwoman of the joint House and Senate Committee on the Environment.
Born and raised in Richmond, Sue graduated from Chariho Regional High School. Her interest in government comes naturally—her father, the late Herbert L. Arnold, was Richmond's elected Treasurer and served several terms on the Richmond Town Council. He was an active member of the Carolina Volunteer Fire Association. The Richmond-Carolina Fire District's newest facility, on Route 112 in Carolina, was named in his honor.
Sue and her husband Mike have owned and operated an organic farm in West Kingston for the past thirty years. They raise livestock, including sheep and turkeys, and grow vegetables, fruits, Christmas trees, flowers, turf, hay, and native Rhode Island flint corn for jonnycake meal on about sixty acres. Sue and Mike operate a farm stand at the intersection of Routes 138 and 110 in West Kingston, and sell their vegetables and flowers at the local farmers' markets at East Farm (on Saturdays) and Marina Park (on Tuesdays) in South Kingstown.
Sue and Mike raised four children: Sgt. Ron Smith, of Danielson, Connecticut, is currently serving with the Army National Guard. Mike Sosnowski and Debbie Brown both live in South Kingstown, and Steve Sosnowski lives in New Britain, Connecticut. All four grew up doing farm chores. "It's important for people to know where their food comes from," Sue says, "and our kids certainly do."
Sue's work in agriculture—and her concern about land use, water resources, and environmental regulation—led to her direct involvement in government.
Before her election to the Senate, Sue served on the South Kingstown Planning Board for four years, gaining first-hand experience about the land use issues that are crucial to the quality of life in South County.
"During those years, legislation was introduced that would have had a major effect on farmers' access to adequate water, but many members of the legislature just didn't understand irrigation issues. They thought agriculture in Rhode Island was just sweet corn and apples," Sue says.
Beginning in the late 1990s, organized labor made a major effort to unionize agricultural workers in Rhode Island. "Rhode Island is not California," Sue says. "Most farm workers here are local and they are adequately paid, with benefits. They might be harvesting in the morning, mowing in the early afternoon, and delivering nursery stock in the late afternoon.
"A lot of my time was spent just educating people about the needs of the agricultural community and how important agriculture is to the state's economy."
The late 1990s also saw agriculture in Rhode Island move toward more retail sales as residential growth consumed farmland and farmers needed to find more profitable outlets for their products. During this crucial time for agriculture, it occurred to Sue that she could accomplish more as a legislator than as a lobbyist. During the spring of 1996, she decided to make her first run for public office, and was elected to the Senate.