Sections

5.1.04

Getting Fresh

It’s a nice summer morning and Bernadette Cormie, mother of two, turns into the dirt driveway at Whippoorwill Farm, off Old County Road in West Tisbury. She parks and heads to the stand, glancing up at the chalkboard that tells her what she can take for this week’s farm “share.” She weighs out tomatoes and onions, then picks up a perfect eggplant and a fragrant bunch of basil and soon has a big basket of just-picked vegetables that includes cucumbers, carrots, kale, beets, peppers, and salad greens. Before leaving, she grabs the scissors and heads outside to cut flowers. No money is exchanged. Earlier in the year, Cormie and eighty others paid farmer Andrew Woodruff for
a season’s worth of produce – twenty-four weeks. This arrangement, like others across the country, is known as CSA, or community supported agriculture.

In her vineyard haven home, Cormie places the flowers in a vase on her wooden kitchen table, and starts the night’s dinner: a tomato and cucumber salad, eggplant ratatouille, some pesto and pasta – a simple summer feast.

“You’re getting what’s in season; it’s much more flavorful,” says Cormie of the benefits of CSA. “You constantly have that fresh produce – you just eat better. We definitely eat more vegetables.”  

She also gets roasting chickens she swears by from another Vineyard farm, Northern Pines, owned by friends of hers, Janet and John Packer. She even recently bought a freezer and ordered half a pig from the Packers – a pig, she says, “I’ve actually known.”

Before the American Revolution, Vineyard farmers were growing enough food for themselves and exporting butter and cheese by the “vessel-load.” There were so many farm animals that during the Revolution, when the British Army raided the Vineyard, it left with some 10,000 sheep and 300 cattle.

Accounts in the early 1800s recorded a comeback and found Vineyard farmers tending to more than 15,000 sheep, 2,800 cattle, and 800 “swine.”  

At the turn of the twentieth century, when farming here began its decline, the Island had 212 farms and more than 34,000 acres of land either in cultivation or pasturage. By the late 1990s, an agricultural census showed 64 farms on fewer than 5,000 acres.

Though Islanders have a history of living off both land and sea – and in some quarters still do ­– in recent decades most residents have gotten their food from Island supermarkets, not Island farms. But more and more small family farms are now bringing their goods to the public. Because of this revival, a Vineyard resident can find fresh Vineyard fruit and vegetables all summer long, and eggs, chicken, lamb, beef, and pork year-round. It’s not hard to enjoy the immediate benefits of food grown here: better health, nutrition, and overall taste.  

“I think people really care about their food source and I think they want to be a little more involved instead of going to the grocery store and buying generic food,” says Elizabeth Thompson who, with her husband Jeffry, raises oxen, sheep, cows, chickens, and runs a farm stand on Thompson Farm off Lambert’s Cove Road in Tisbury.

Though only fifty-five, Jim Athearn, who owns and operates Morning Glory Farm in Edgartown with his wife Debbie, now calls himself one of the farming “old-timers.” For the past twenty-eight years, he has built up one of the busiest and largest Island farms, growing vegetables, fruits, herbs, and flowers on fifty acres, harvesting hay on another thirty acres, and raising cattle that pasture on six more acres.

“The economy of Martha’s Vineyard is dependent on our natural attributes,” says Athearn – “the beaches, the farms, the rural feeling. It’s all a package people enjoy and the reason we want to live here ourselves.”

Says Jim Norton of Vineyard Haven, who left his job as a professor at Oberlin College in 1973 to reactivate the Oak Bluffs and Tisbury farm his great-grandfather had purchased in 1837:
“I think those of us in it feel a commitment to recognizing the fragile environment we live in
and trying to preserve it.”  

In addition to the children growing up on family farms such as North Tabor, Northern Pines,
and Thompson Farm, who may one day carry on these ideals, there’s another generation of farmers already busy at work: Simon Athearn at Morning Glory, Jamie and Dianne Norton, Fred Fisher Jr. who runs Nip ’n Tuck Farm, and Arnie Fischer Jr., who with his sister carries on the Flat Point family farm. The established farmers and ones coming on the scene face the same challenges of farmers everywhere – that of hard work and trying to make farming profitable – but are also resolute advocates for preserving farming as a way of life on the Island.     
    
And, of course, one of the best ways to help preserve family farms on the Vineyard is to buy and eat the products they’re offering. Island restaurants are turning more and more often to Island farms for the best ingredients. Ryan Hardy, executive chef at The Coach House at the Harbor View Hotel in Edgartown, puts it this way: “The quality of the food is always going to be better if you pick it off the vine and deliver it to your back door than something you’re going to ship in. Produce has a life span, just like seafood. Anytime you can get it as fresh as possible, the better it’s going to be.”

Allen Sheep Farm
South Road, Chilmark

One of the most photographed and painted places on the Vineyard, this farm, overlooking the Atlantic, is home to over a hundred sheep, who munch on nothing but salt-tinged grass and hay. This lends a wonderful taste to the meat, and evidence suggests grass-fed animals offer better nutrition than their factory-farmed counterparts. Clarissa Allen and Mitchell Posin sell boneless and bone-in legs of lamb; shoulder meat (great for stews and braises); ground lamb; racks; chops; and lamb sausage. There’s also chicken, olive oil, and chutneys (all organic), along with hand-knit sweaters and hats. Noon to 5 p.m. daily, starting in June. All other times, phone the farm: 508-645-9064. 

Beetlebung Farm
Middle Road, across from the Chilmark Town Hall entrance

At Beetlebung Corner, you can check out a library book, collect your mail, and pick up freshly dug potatoes, pattypan squash, and triple-washed salad greens for dinner. It’s all delicious and grown organically, making it a favorite stop. Grower/owner Marie Scott is usually behind the self-serve stand, ready to answer questions.

Blackwater Farm
Lambert’s Cove Road, behind Cottle’s lumberyard, West Tisbury

My son once wandered around this small farm and learned where food really comes from by asking questions such as, “Where did the pigs go?” Named for the brook behind the house, Blackwater is owned by Debby Farber and Alan Cottle. Next to the refrigerator stocked with eggs – they have more than two hundred chickens – is a freezer filled with steak and hamburger, bacon, pork chops, and roasts. Debby also sells organic vegetables at the Farmer’s Market on Saturdays. Her mix of baby – and I do mean baby – salad greens is one of the best around, as are the green beans I wait all winter for: slender and crisp with real flavor.    

Flat Point Farm
Road to Great Neck, off New Lane, West Tisbury

Flat Point is the family farm purchased in 1939 by the late Arnie Fischer Sr., who operated a dairy farm there until the late 1960s. Arnie Jr. and sister Eleanor Neubert now raise some twenty sheep and a dozen or so cows on thirty acres, and harvest hay – they sell three thousand to four thousand bales a year – on another thirty acres. You can buy eggs, a whole lamb (averaging forty-five pounds), or beef by the pound. To get on their list for lamb or beef, call Arnie at 508-693-5685 or Eleanor at
508-693-4343.  

The Farmer’s Market
Grange Hall, State Road, West Tisbury
Wednesday afternoons and Saturdays, 9 a.m. to noon


Opening mid-June, the Farmer’s Market offers a spot for Island farmers to hang their signs for a few hours. Many sell flowers, jellies, and breads, but you can still find just-harvested produce. Nothing will improve your cooking more. At least five or six of the growers farm organically. Don’t miss North Tabor Farm, offering shiitake mushrooms and a vibrant salad mix; Stannard Farms with arugula, asparagus, haricot verts, and an amazing array of leafy greens, such as kale and collards; Whippoorwill Farm with tomatoes, basil, and another fine salad mix; and Blackwater Farm, described above.  

The FARM Institute
Herring Creek Farm, 19 Butler’s Cove Road, Edgartown

Since 2001, the FARM Institute has been operating Herring Creek Farm along the Atlantic shoreline as both a working and teaching farm with programs and summer camps for schoolkids. It raises rare breeds of grass-fed cows and sheep, which are humanely slaughtered at an organic facility in Vermont. Customers can pre-order beef or lamb as available. The FARM Institute recently leased  nearby Katama Farm, a former dairy, and plans to relocate there in 2005. For information, call 508-627-7007.  

Middle Road Farm
9 Middle Road, Chilmark

Caitlin Jones and Allen Healy haven’t found a name they like for their sheep and vegetable farm but have no problem finding endless heirloom varieties of fruits and vegetables to grow. There is a variety of eggplants – pink, purple, white, or striped, and they grew seventy types of tomatoes last year. Jones saves seeds from varieties of tomatoes to promote genetic diversity. The couple also sells heirloom lettuces, greens, leeks, and herbs at a self-serve stand on Middle Road, across from Brookside Farm, and at the Saturday Farmer’s Market.  

Morning Glory Farm
Edgartown–West Tisbury Road, Edgartown

If not for Morning Glory, where would I find strawberries that taste like strawberries, and Island-grown summer corn? And all those herbs, fruits, and vegetables, picked fresh daily, even hourly?

People snap up their homemade fruit pies or zucchini bread, but I reach for the crisp lettuces, peppers, cucumbers, wax beans, and anything else harvested from this sixty-four-acre farm – one of the largest on the Island – owned by Jim and Debbie Athearn. Naturally raised beef is also available. Look for their booth at the Farmer’s Market. Phone: 508-627-9003.
 
Native Earth Teaching Farm
94 North Road, Chilmark

This stop for fresh food can also be a place to learn about raising goats, pigs, or sheep. Education is one of the goals of owners Rebecca Gilbert and Randy Ben David, who vividly recall one Agricultural Fair where they heard parents and kids mistakenly call chickens ducks and ducks chickens. The couple opened their farm to the public two years ago with a newly built stand, and have five acres out of twenty-five under cultivation, selling seasonal vegetables, flowers, eggs, and herbs, as well as strawberries, raspberries, and blueberries. They also sell free-range chicken and duck, if you call ahead (and know which is which). Open Wednesday, Saturday, and Sunday from 10 a.m. to
6 p.m. Call 508-645-3304 to order.

Murphy Blueberry Farm
Off State Road, Chilmark

Susan Murphy’s blueberry farm, not far beyond Chilmark Chocolates, is a great Island spot to pick your own blueberries. In fact, stopping at both places makes for a memorable summer day. There are five varieties among the 320 blueberry bushes – all free of pesticides, herbicides, and chemical fertilizers. The season lasts from mid-July through August. Call first for availability: 508-645-2883.

Nip ’n Tuck Farm
State Road, West Tisbury

The only Vineyard dairy farm left, Fred Fisher Jr.’s Nip ’n Tuck is the place to find eggs and milk year-round, and garden vegetables in the summer. It’s an Island source for raw organic milk that many believe contains vital nutrients and is more easily digested than conventional homogenized milk. (For more information on raw milk, visit realmilk.com.) Phone: 508-693-1449.  

Northern Pines Farm
Northern Pines Road, off Lambert’s Cove Road, Tisbury

Turn right at the mailboxes on lower Lambert’s Cove Road and follow the yellow animal signs to Janet and John Packer’s forty-two acre farm. The self-serve “first come, first serve” freezers
hold all cuts of grass-fed beef, from stew meat to tenderloin; you weigh it out on an old-fashioned scale, and leave cash or a check. Frozen whole chickens are meaty and delicious. Pork lovers can order a whole or half-pig, the only ways it is sold. A half-pig weighs about fifty pounds
and sells for $250. Phone: 508-693-1025.

Norton Farm
Off Vineyard Haven–Edgartown Road, Oak Bluffs and Tisbury

Jim Norton jokes he was once dubbed the “pea baron” of the Island for the large crop of snap peas and English peas grown at Norton Farm each year. The pea harvest in mid-June signals loyal customers that the farm stand has opened for the season. All summer there’s a bounty of other vegetables, including corn and flowers, grown on this farm that has been in the family since 1837. Son Jamie and daughter-in-law Dianne plan to convert to an all-organic operation soon.

Thompson Farm
Northern Pines Road, off Lambert’s Cove Road, Tisbury

You might see oxen, goats, sheep, pigs, and children in the big Vermont barn on Elizabeth and Jeffry
Thompson’s farm. The Thompsons welcome Island classes to come learn about farming life. “It’s very low-key,” says Elizabeth. “Visitors are always welcome.” Look in the stand for seasonal beef, pork, lamb, organic chicken, eggs, and herbs, along with wool and knitted goods. Call 508-693-7354 for more information.

Whippoorwill Farm
Old County Road, West Tisbury

Andrew Woodruff started farming here when he was eighteen and purchased Whippoorwill Farm in 1993. If you don’t sow your own vegetable garden, the next best thing may be buying “shares” in Woodruff’s organic farm, the only community supported agriculture enterprise on the Island.
Participants fill boxes with vegetables and herbs picked at the peak of ripeness – basil, tomatoes, spinach, squash, leeks, and lettuce greens, among others. A share costs $450 for about twenty-four weeks. If you don’t own shares, you can find Whippoorwill’s produce at both Cronig’s Markets and at the Farmer’s Market. There’s usually a line on Saturday, especially when the tomatoes are ready. For information, call 508-693-5995.

Vineyard Lamb Stew

Cuts from the shoulder are the top choice for lamb stew. They are flavorful and stay moist during long cooking. Shoulder arm, blade, or shoulder roast can all be used. The shoulder roast may be easiest to cut into cubes. Buy a little more than needed since you will be cutting off some fat and bone. If shoulder meat is unavailable, lamb leg is fine.    

• 2 tablespoons olive oil
• 3 pounds lamb shoulder, cut into 1-inch cubes
• 2 onions, diced
• 2 garlic cloves, minced
• 1/4 cup flour
• 1 cup red wine or port
• 2 tablespoons tomato paste
• 4 cups chicken stock
• 2 teaspoons fresh thyme or 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
• 3 carrots
• 2 turnips, rutabaga, or potatoes
• 2 cups green beans
• 2 tablespoons minced parsley, for garnish
• Salt and pepper to taste
 
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Dry lamb with paper towels and sprinkle with salt and pepper. In a large pot (preferably a stove-to-oven pot), heat 1 tablespoon olive oil over medium-high heat. Brown lamb on all sides, in batches if necessary, to avoid overcrowding. Set aside.

2. Pour off any fat and add 1 tablespoon olive oil. Sauté onions until translucent. Add garlic and cook another minute. Add flour, mix well, and cook for 1 minute. Add wine, turn up heat a little, and scrape up any browned bits. Add tomato paste, stock, and thyme, and bring to a boil.

3. Add lamb back, cover, and place in oven. Peel and cut carrots and turnips or potatoes into bite-sized pieces. When complete, add to pot with the lamb and return to oven. Bake until lamb is fork-tender, between 1 hour and 1 1/2 hours.
 
4. While lamb cooks, steam green beans for 5–6 minutes. Just before serving, add green beans and parsley. Adjust the seasonings. If sauce is too thick, add a little water.
 
Vinaigrettes for Local Greens

Maple balsamic vinaigrette
 
Vary the vinaigrette flavor a little by blending with a dozen fresh basil leaves or some black olives.

Island lettuce, mixed salad greens, or arugula, washed and spun dry.

• 3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
• 2 teaspoons maple syrup
• 1 tablespoon finely chopped shallot
• 1/2 cup olive oil, or more to taste
• Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

In a small bowl, whisk together vinegar, maple syrup, shallots, olive oil, salt, and pepper. Toss with lettuce greens.

Anchovy and lemon dressing

Don’t be afraid to try anchovies – at least once. The trinity of anchovy, lemon, and garlic forms the basis for most Caesar salads. Pared to the essentials, this recipe is delicious as is, and a snap to make.

You can also make it with the traditional raw egg yolk, Parmesan-Reggiano cheese, and/or parsley as variations.

Island lettuce or mixed salad greens.

• 3 to 4 anchovies
• 1/2 teaspoon minced fresh garlic
• 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
• 2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
• 1/2 cup olive oil
• Salt and pepper to taste

Put anchovies, garlic, and Dijon in a food processor and mix thoroughly. Add lemon juice to combine. Stop the processor, add olive oil, a pinch of salt, and a few gratings of pepper and pulse to combine. Toss with Vineyard greens.