fresh from farm cookbook

Nervous as hell I was, that Memorial Day weekend, 2011. We’d moved into the farmhouse in September, planned the garden over the winter, and started turning the soil over in March. Roy set up his table saw in the backyard, made a quick sketch, and pretty soon we had a handsome little farm stand, fashioned from salvaged fir and roofed with old clapboards. Now here it was May 27 and we had the audacity to put the stand out at the end of the dirt driveway.

I had maybe three bunches of cheery Cherry Belle radishes in a pink Pyrex bowl of ice water, six or eight bags of spring greens – arugula, mustard, and lettuce mix – in a cooler, and four or five pickle jars filled with bunches of herbs up on the shelf. Oh, and a quartet of lovely little Tom Thumb Bibb lettuces.

We filled out the stand with potted geraniums, two wooden bluebird boxes Roy had made, and a couple of copies of my cookbooks. I hung up a clipboard of recipes and a colorful notice about who we were and what we’d have coming up. And I added a note about how to leave your money in the coffee can. If you happened to stop by – if anybody happened to stop by, that is. Gulp.

Like Kevin Costner in Field of Dreams, we set the chalkboard sign out by the side of the road...and waited.

Our friend Cathy turned into the driveway first, followed by Katherine, and then Joannie. Along came Charlie. And our neighbor Katie. Then some people we didn’t even know – amazing! They stopped, they bought lettuce, and said they’d be back. More folks came and we were sold out by two o’clock. We even sold one of the bluebird boxes.

Oh, my.

The thing is, one day you wake up and realize that your fantasy has become reality, and you are more surprised than anyone at what you’ve managed to pull off. This is how it happened to me: I longed for a simpler life, I quit my big job and my fancy suburb, moved to Martha’s Vineyard, became a freelance writer, sold my high heels and frilly skirts at Martha’s Closet, and bought a pair of work boots. I planted a teeny little garden, then a bigger one. I met a carpenter, fell in love, and moved into a creaky old farmhouse on the edge of an endless hay field. And planted an even bigger garden.

I didn’t realize, happily lugging in the heavy chalkboard at the end of that first day, that the dream was only beginning to write itself.

There were chickens to come...lots of chickens. Pigs, ducks – and a farm dog, of course. And a hoop house. And more land to grow more veggies. And a bigger farm stand. And a bona fide farm business. Even a real name – Green Island Farm.

Land-ho!

Susie Middleton portrait
At Green Island Farm, Susie Middleton has surrounded herself with things she loves.

There isn’t time to tell the whole story, though God knows I would bend your ear if I could. But I think maybe you’ll like this part – the part about how we came to rest on this bit of land on State Road. Because it’s a Vineyard story, through and through.

It was one of those days when the magic felt palpable; a day when you know the stars are aligning, like the day we happened to swing by the Centerville MSPCA on our way home from some dreary off-Island errands, and wound up with a little black dog with bad teeth between us on the front seat of the truck, taking a ferry ride to his new home on a farm.

This was a hot and sticky late August day, and I was working – watering, harvesting, digging around – at our rented garden plot over at Native Earth Teaching Farm on North Road. I looked up and saw our friend Joannie Jenkinson in the parking lot waving to me, calling me over.

“You’ve got to see a house and meet some people. Right now,” she said urgently.

I toe-kicked the dirt off my boots, hopped in my car, and followed Joannie’s limey-green Element back down North Road. As I drove, I tried to unscramble the details of what Joannie had just quickly told me: We were going to see a house near the Agricultural Hall in West Tisbury that Joannie had spent part of her childhood in. The house wasn’t technically for rent, but Joannie had just that morning had a conversation with the owners, old friends of her family, and had thought to mention us – Roy and me – to them. Wouldn’t they like to meet us, to consider having some responsible year-round tenants to care for the old place?

I’d heard enough to know – even though I hadn’t lived on the Vineyard for very long – that Joannie had just opened a door for us.

Even before I parked under the shade of the most magnificent maple I’d ever seen, I had my hand on the cell phone to call Roy, who was working on the Chilmark church steeple. I’d already fallen in love. My first glimpse of the little L-shaped farmhouse – clearly as old as the hills – hit me right where it counts. All my life I’d lived in modern houses in a modern (noisy) world. Right here was simplicity, peace, beauty, and purpose, all in one. It wasn’t just a house I saw; it was an opportunity for a new life for our newly formed family – Roy, Libby, and me.

Understand this: At the time, Roy and I, along with (then) eight-year-old Libby on weekends, were living in a one-bedroom apartment above Alley’s General Store. I’m not kidding. We were also driving back and forth every day, several times a day, to Native Earth, where we were taking our first stab at market gardening. All while doing our regular work, too. It was kind of fun; the apartment was cozy and sunny, and for Libby, the endless supply of candy and toys downstairs was awesome.

But by the end of the summer, we both knew that this particular combination of crowded apartment/rented farm plot/traveling-tool-shed-in-the-back-of-the-car wasn’t sustainable. We just hadn’t the vaguest idea what was next.

The universe – and Joannie – took care of that for us.

By two o’clock, we’d met Tom Hickie, shaken hands, and agreed to move in September 1. Just like that.

Tom was getting on a three o’clock ferry and wouldn’t be back to the Island for a month. Hence the urgency. We’d done a quick walk-through of the house with him, but more important, we’d made the pilgrimage across Mill Creek and the Square Field to meet Drusilla. Drusilla is Tom’s spunky ninety-two-year-old mother, and she owns the property, which her grandfather built for his bride in 1890.

farm stand

Together with the two-acre parcel it sits on, the house constitutes the original homestead for the more than eighty acres surrounding it that the family once farmed and still owns. (Morning Glory Farm now grows corn and pumpkins on part of it.)

That day, we sat in Drusilla’s parlor (still in our scruffy work clothes), hoping for her approval. We passed. Thanks to the introduction from Joannie, the Hickies changed their minds about turning the house into a summer rental and decided we’d be good people to live on the “homestead” year-round. They also said we were welcome to grow as many vegetables as we liked.

No way!

We couldn’t believe it. The only thing harder to find on the Vineyard than a good year-round rental is affordable, farmable land. Here we were being offered both in a very reasonable package.

Roy did ask me if I was sure about the house – the steep stairs to the second floor, the one little bathroom off the kitchen, the heating (lack of) dilemma. But he knew, just as I did, that this was right. It was our next step.

Rustic living isn’t for everyone, I know. But, as it turns out, I am strangely happier in this quirky house than I ever was in one with all the trappings. This is what happens when you finally listen to your gut and do what you really love, no matter how strange it may seem.

And this simple structure and the beautiful land around it has sustained us through four years of learning to become farmers – and of watching a little girl make the most amazing lifetime memories. In fact, the farm has offered up enough stories and inspiration to, well, fill a book. Hope you enjoy it. And eat well.

The following recipes were originally published along with this article:

Green Island Farm Open-Faced Egg Sandwich with Local Bacon, Cheddar & Asian Greens
Chinese Grilled Chicken and Bibb Lettuce "Wraps"

Spinach Cobb Salad with Bacon, Blue Cheese, Avocado & Derby Dressing
Lobster Salad Rolls with Fresh Peas, Lemon, and Chives
Spicy Thai Shrimp and Baby Bok Choy Stir-Fry