Local meat production on Martha's Vineyard
Photo by Susan Safford
This weekend, Islanders will get a chance to sample chicken and pork raised on Martha's Vineyard while supporting the effort to have meat processed here too. Called Local Meat is Good to Eat — But There's More to Life than Chicken, and sponsored by Island Grown Initiative (IGI) and the Martha's Vineyard Agricultural Society, the event is on Saturday, November 6, from 4 to 9 pm at the Agricultural Hall. The evening is intended to raise both funds and public awareness to support the development of an Island processing facility for beef, lamb, pork, and other four-legged animals.
Locally grown food at the dinner will include pork from Cleveland Farm in West Tisbury and The FARM Institute, and chicken from the Good Farm, all prepared by Tim Laursen and Everett Whiting, the creators and cooks of Local Smoke, barbecue and smoked meat caterers. Side dishes will come from Morning Glory Farm and the Scottish Bakehouse and dessert from Tisberry Frozen Yogurt with smoothies made from Mermaid Farm yoghurt. The Eric Johnson Trio and DJ DI will provide music. Tickets are $50 per person and $75 per couple (children free) and are available at Cronig's, Alley's General Store, and the Scottish Bakehouse.
Building on IGI's successful mobile poultry processing unit, a meat processing facility would be another step in the Vineyard's version of the local food movement. IGI has been awarded a competitive grant of $40,000 from the USDA's Know your Farmer, Know your Food program to research and develop recommendations for the facility: What size would it be? Mobile or stationary? Who will run it? Who will own it?
"It is great to see this happening and the interest," says Eleanor Fischer Neubert, long-time manager of the agricultural fair and a member of the Agricultural Society's Board of Trustees. "This idea has been talked about for years, especially when the new fairgrounds were built. But IGI has gotten the ball rolling."
Ms. Neubert grew up on Flat Point Farm in West Tisbury during the 1950s, a time when "locally grown" was a practice, not a movement. "We had our own beef, chickens, pork, guinea hens, lamb..." she says. "I don't remember ever having meat from the store." She still owns Flat Point Farm, with her brother Arnie Fischer, and they still raise meat animals. But she shares the frustrations of other Island livestock producers.
Currently, farmers who sell beef, lamb, and pork must take their animals off-Island to a USDA-inspected slaughtering and processing facility. With the increased centralization of meat production, the number of these facilities has shrunk dramatically in recent years. USDA reports show that between 1992 and 2008, there was a 33 percent reduction — to only 800, nationally — even as the number of small farmers increased by over 100,000. There are only two plants in Massachusetts now, the closest in Athol, some 130 miles from Woods Hole. It means two round trips, one to take the animals and another to pick up the processed meat.
But is there enough livestock on the Vineyard now to support a large animal slaughtering facility? IGI's mobile poultry processing unit has demonstrated at least part of the answer.
Richard Andre of Cleveland Farm and IGI's poultry and meat coordinator, explains that the mobile poultry processor showed that developing the infrastructure is — well -— a chicken and egg proposition. "Three years ago there might have been 200 chickens processed," he says. "With the mobile processing unit this year we have done about 5,000." The birds were not there before. Knowing the processing was available made farmers and home producers see it was feasible.
"And it was a little economic stimulus package," Mr. Andre adds "There was $100,000 in business generated, with $35,000 of it being in wages."
Andre doesn't imagine the same kind of increase in beef, pork, and lamb, but he can picture a doubling or tripling of numbers if the processing were more convenient and economical.
And with the growing interest in food quality and locally grown food, the market may well be there. The 5,000 birds processed this year do not amount to a chicken per year in every year-round Island family pot, never mind the summer population and the demand for premium food from restaurants. "Even supplying 10 percent of our meat from local sources would be a big deal," Mr. Andre says.
One of the organizers of Saturday's dinner is the Good Farm's Jefferson Monroe, who represents the future of the Vineyard's livestock production. Mr. Monroe will supply chickens for the meal from the 1,300 he raised this year on leased Land Bank property off State Road in Tisbury.
Mr. Monroe would like to raise meat goats, an idea that is not being done on the Island yet. "I've had a lot of interest from local chefs," he says. "I think it would be popular." He also works on the poultry unit for IGI and will be involved in the feasibility study for the facility that could help make his idea a reality.
Sundy Smith is a writer and long-time summer resident. She moved to West Tisbury full-time this summer with her husband, Jon Previant, Director of The FARM Institute.
Meet Your Local Meat Producers
The following Island farmers sell meat, according to IGI's summer Island Grown map. Call ahead to check on availability.
Allen Farm Sheep and Wool
Clarissa Allen and Mitchell Posin
421 South Road, Chilmark,
Organic grass-fed lamb, beef, pork, pastured poultry.
Debby Farber and Alan Cottle
Lambert's Cove Road, Behind Cottle's
Richard and Ina Andre
674 Old County Road, West Tisbury
Pastured poultry and pork
Sue and Sam Hopkins
185 Christiantown Road, West Tisbury
The FARM Institute
14 Aero Avenue Edgartown
Grass-fed beef, pork, chicken, pastured turkey for Thanksgiving
Flat Point Farm
Road to Great Neck, off New Lane
West Tisbury, 508-693-5685
Arnie Fischer Jr. and Eleanor Neubert
By appointment, grass-fed lamb and beef
The Good Farm
Tisbury Meadow Preserve, Vineyard Haven
Mermaid Farm and Dairy
Caitlin Jones and Allen Healy
9 Middle Road, Chilmark 508-645-3492
Lamb and beef
Morning Glory Farm
Jim and Debbie Athearn, Simon Athearn, Daniel Athearn
Edgartown-West Tisbury Road, Edgartown
Beef, pork, chicken
Native Earth Teaching Farm
Rebecca Gilbert and Randy Ben David
94 North Road, Chilmark
Occasional pork, duck, and turkey.
North Tabor Farm
Rebecca Miller and Matthew Dix
4 North Tabor Road, Chilmark,
Northern Pines Farm
Janet and John Packer
Off Lambert's Cove Road, Vineyard Haven
By appointment: Chicken, beef, pork
Spring Moon Farm
Liz Packer and Children
Northern Pines Road off Lambert's Cove Road
Vineyard Haven by appointment or
At SBS Grain Store
By appointment: Lamb, poultry, pork