Susan Murphy: Blueberries and beyond
Ask Susan Murphy about her Chilmark blueberry farm and you’ll likely get the good news and the bad. “It wasn’t the fastest way to get rich,” she begins, with a resigned chuckle. That’s the bad news, along with the year-round hard work that goes into trying to coax a bountiful six-week summer crop from the four hundred bushes that she and her husband, Lynn, planted twenty-four years ago.
“Farming isn’t easy,” Susan says. “You have a relationship with the crop that is intimate and demanding. And, in spite of your best efforts, you realize how much of what happens is out of your control.” Weather and pollination problems, she explains, can hamper the bushes’ productivity.
She’s quick, however, to offer the good news: “The money we earn from blueberries feels like it’s worth more than any other,” she says, a note of awe and pride creeping into her voice. And, she adds, blueberries are the hottest fruit on the market today. “We got lucky – all the research about blueberries’ health benefits has made them a great choice as a crop.”
It all started in 1985 when she and Lynn purchased the two acres adjacent to their Chilmark home off State Road about a half-mile from Beetlebung Corner. They were concerned about overdevelopment on the Island and wanted to protect the lot from any construction. Their solution: a blueberry farm.
Five years later when we first interviewed Susan, she was still new to farming. On leave from her job as the Chilmark postmaster, she and her family were nearly ready to pick their harvest. “Full production could involve twenty pints per bush,” she’d noted. “Fantasy Island,” she says today, laughing. The bushes are not as fruitful as she had hoped.
Susan left the U.S. Postal Service in 1998 after almost twenty years, and in 2001 she was awarded a grant from her alma mater, Vassar College, to pursue her passion for woodworking through a two-year program in Boston at the prestigious North Bennet Street School. There she studied traditional eighteenth-century cabinetry and furniture-making techniques, which she uses as a starting point for her own original furniture designs.
Today she divides her time between crafting custom furniture (including a one-of-a-kind rocking chair she hopes to exhibit at this month’s Agricultural Fair), helping her husband at his business, Menemsha Marine Repairs, and tending to the delicious blue-black berries that magically emerge between July and Labor Day each summer.
Hand-dipped into summer confections by Chilmark Chocolates, the Murphys’ berries are also available for purchase at the Menemsha Market when they are plentiful enough. She appreciates the “dozens and dozens” of customers who come by to pick their own (by appointment only, 508-645-2883) or to buy the berries freshly picked. As for the future, Susan is matter-of-fact. A cultivated bush will last eighty to ninety years, she’s heard. “So I guess I’ll be farming blueberries till the day I die.”
An article on Susan Murphy originally ran in Summer 1990.
Rick Bausman: A different drummer
From 2006: In the course of conducting drum workshops with the inmates of the Dukes County Jail and House of Correction in Edgartown, Rick Bausman noticed the guys had laid down some pretty good grooves. The thing was, they needed some convincing of it.
So Rick, forty-two, lugged in not only the normal array of percussion, but also a bunch of microphones and much of his home recording studio. All to prove a point: that with a little cooperation and mutual support and self-belief, they can produce something good. “I want them to enjoy playing a drum, maybe even start thinking of themselves as having musical ability,” he says later. “But that’s really just the medium. What I do is really about community and self-esteem. It has particular applications for people with a special need.”
And so, for twenty-six years Rick has been working “with everything from autism to incarceration to eighth-grade angst,” he says with a grin. “A lot of people don’t know how to ask for help, don’t know the community is there to support them. So it’s a tangible sort of representation of how to support other people, and receive support, to feel the joy in that, and learn to be available to it.”
Not that he would ever explain his mission in such terms when dealing with the correctional-facility band. He’s not a preacher. He prefers to let the results speak for themselves. And the results are pretty good. Nonetheless, as the jokester of the inmate band puts it, “This ain’t Entrain” – a reference to the popular world-beat band Rick used to belong to, and with which he still sometimes plays. Which raises the question: Why does a top-class musician spend so much time with non-musicians?
Says Rick: “I get as much out of working with beginners and intermediate-level drummers as I do out of playing with the best professionals. It’s just that I get different things.”
In 1980, he conducted drum workshops for Camp Jabberwocky, the Vineyard Haven summer camp for kids and adults with cerebral palsy and other disabilities. It worked, he quickly realized, because unlike melodic instruments, drums were instantly accessible. “I bring a roomful of drums, and people can immediately play,” he says.
In 1986, Rick moved to the Vineyard from Maine and continued his work. A Vineyard teacher saw a performance by the Jabberwockians and approached him to do a workshop with a school. It went so well, he says, “it quickly became apparent that this could turn into something.” What it turned into was a business – the Drum Workshop – albeit a pretty modest business, if measured in the usual bottom-line terms.
But to consider it just in those terms is to look at it in too mercenary a way. Look at it in terms of social capital and you see a much more significant enterprise. Rick’s work with the Jabberwocky campers, for example, went way beyond therapy or education for the disabled and became part of the fabric of summer life on the Vineyard, integrating the camp with the community in an extraordinary way, through public drumming sessions on the beach.
About five years ago, Rick decided to expand the Drum Workshop off-Island. He did some curriculum packages, made Conga Cycle, a CD of kids’ songs (which won a national Parents’ Choice Award in 2001), and attended some national conferences. Soon he was working all over the country.
Another part of his plan is to franchise – for want of a better term – the Drum Workshop. The idea is to use his curricula to train people who are already accomplished drummers and send them back to their home communities, with the Drum Workshop as the parent organization, helping to find grants. He’s thinking big. “In my lifetime I’d like to see ensemble drumming be as normal and culturally valued as activities like dance classes, soccer programs, Little League, community theater.”
The Drum Workshop has always been a grant-by-grant proposition, until now. This year, for the first time, Rick has been able to find enough money to plan ahead, to fund some future growth.
“My business is not necessarily trying to create a world of good drummers, but trying to create a world full of people who appreciate one another, tolerate each other, support each other – through the medium of drumming.”
Update: Rick continues to evolve his business, on-Island, state-wide, nationally, and on the world stage – from the Perkins School for the Blind in Watertown, to the school district of Palo Alto, California, to the Middle East. In the fall of 2009, collaborating with a non-profit organization called the Artsbridge Institute, Rick and his crew went to Bethlehem and other communities across Palestine and Israel to help initiate communication and to foster understanding between cultures using art, dialogue, and drumming. The Drum Workshop and the benefits of Rick’s model – specifically regarding drumming as an on-going therapy for people with Parkinson’s disease – were noted in a 2008 U.S. News & World Report article.
The edited excerpt above is from an article by Mike Seccombe that ran in July 2006.
Lee Fierro: Island theater icon
From 1993: Any mention of Vineyard theater generally brings Lee Fierro’s name to mind; she has lived on the Island and been a part of its cultural growth since moving here in 1969.
She directs, writes plays and musicals (especially for children), is a drama teacher, a birthing coach, and an actress. Although she has devoted much of her life to music and the theater, her single driving force has always been children – her own five grown kids, her seven grandchildren, and the ones she has taught and eased into this world.
Lee’s best-known role came along in 1974, with the filming of Jaws on the Island. She had a speaking part as Mrs. Kintner in the film, and the chance to develop a role with serious acting skill, but she counts the occasion as truly momentous because it was then she met Mary Payne of Island Theatre Workshop.
“Theater stimulates the way a child moves, concentrates, communicates, and discovers. Drama lets children play out the forces of good and evil in a safe environment. It helps define who we are. We have to provide a place for young people to discover the magic and reality that is theater.”
Update: Nearly twenty years later, Lee, eighty-one, is still passionately involved in theater on the Island. Although she stepped down as artistic director of both Island Theatre Workshop and its Children’s Theatre, where she worked tirelessly for more than thirty-five years, she is still involved on the board of directors and is gearing up to teach public speaking at Island Theatre Workshop’s new home base, a historic former library on Music Street in West Tisbury.
Concerned about the current generation of sedentary children, however, Lee feels that theater can play an even more vital role in their development. “Education does little today to encourage the imagination of children. They sit at home, eat snacks, watch TV, and text their friends. Theater keeps the imagination alive and growing – and it’s fun,” she exclaims. “I don’t think electronics will beat us down.”
With regard to her role as Mrs. Kintner, she says, chuckling, “Jaws fanatics still contact me and invite me to coffee when they come to the Island.”
The edited excerpt above is from an article by Jib Ellis that ran in Fall–Holiday 1993.
For our twenty-fifth anniversary edition in May–June 2010, we revisited profiles from past issues of the magazine. This month we feature three more familiar faces on the Vineyard.
Susan Murphy: Blueberries and beyond