Sheriff’s Meadow welcomed supporters under summer benefit big top

Nat's Farm in West Tisbury was the site of the annual Sheriff's Meadow Foundation summer gala. — Photo by Nelson Sigelman

On a hot, humid summer evening, supporters of the Sheriff’s Meadow Foundation gathered under a tent on Nat’s Farm Meadow in West Tisbury to celebrate Martha’s Vineyard’s largest home-grown private conservation organization and hear its leaders outline goals for the year ahead.

John Schaefer of Edgartown, Sheriffs Meadow Foundation (SMF) president, welcomed the guests to the sold-out event, the organization’s single biggest fundraiser, co-hosted by Carol and Jerry Kenney, owners of Misty Meadows Farm.

“We are honored by your presence here tonight,” Mr. Schaefer said. “We exist because of Islanders like you who support our mission. We are humbled by your support. It makes us what we are, your Island land trust.”

Sheriff’s Meadow currently owns 2,005 acres and holds conservation restrictions over another 853 acres. Its properties, including Cedar Tree Neck in West Tisbury and Middle Road Sanctuary in Chilmark, boast some of the Island’s premier walking trails.

In his remarks Monday evening, SMF executive director Adam Moore spoke about the foundation’s mission and its ongoing efforts to expand on that mission as part of a strategic ten-year plan.

“Our mission is to conserve the natural, beautiful, rural landscape and character of Martha’s Vineyard for present and future generations,” Mr. Moore said.

Mr. Moore, a graduate of the Yale School of Forestry, described the properties under the Foundation’s control and his goals.

“Our lands range from tiny woodlots on Chappaquiddick, to groves of ancient beeches at Cedar Tree Neck, to the sweeping fields of the Quansoo plain, to frost bottoms filled with thickets of scrub oaks, to bogs where sundews quiver on the peat, and to the long sand bars of Little Beach, where every night a thousand screaming terns wheel about overhead. Each of these lands has something unique to offer.

“To improve how we care for these lands, in 2010, we adopted a 10-year strategic plan. That plan has three major thrusts. The first goal is to make our properties more accessible, and better known, and more welcoming, and more used by the community.

“A second goal is to support local farms.

“And a third goal is to create a robust educational initiative.”

Mr. Moore said that Nat’s Farm, the site of the Monday night benefit, encompassed all those qualities. It is crossed by a well-used trail network that connects to the adjacent State Forest, he said, and it is marked by one of many new, green signs intended to mark SMF properties more prominently and to make people feel more welcome.

It is also a farm, where a partnership of Mermaid Farm, owned by Allen Healy and Caitlin Jones, and North Tabor Farm, owned by Matthew Dix and Rebecca Miller, grow buckwheat and hay.

And last year, SMF used an Edey Foundation grant to hire Rebecca Solway, a fourth-grade teacher at the West Tisbury School, to prepare a curriculum intended to take advantage of Foundation properties and get the students outdoors.

“At Nat’s Farm in particular, the West Tisbury School uses this land for its physical education program,” Mr. Moore said.

Mr. Moore described the West Tisbury School’s game day, when all of the students from kindergarten through fifth grade go on a run that is over a mile long and include’s the Nat’s Farm trail.

“They run toward the finish line, and their classmates clap, and the adult volunteers and other kids join in with them, and no one finishes alone,” he said. “They feel inspired. They gain confidence. They feel proud. And all of that happens, in part due to Nat’s Farm, and the conservation of this land, and the trail that goes around it.”

Mr. Moore said outdoor education has the power to transform. “It brings out great things in students,” Mr. Moore said. “The kid who sits in the back of the class is alert when out in the woods. The trouble-maker is the first one to grab the soil auger. The shy, quiet one gets out on the trail, and talks and talks and talks. When children do something out of doors, they remember it.”

Mr. Moore, an amateur poet, ended on a poetic note in describing the common theme in his remarks: the Foundation’s desire to connect people to the land.

“It is that connection, a love of nature, a love of every season’s change, of ladies’ tresses in the summer sun, of sumac in the autumn blazing red, of lichens on the weathered bark of oaks — it is the love of these things that we hope to instill in those who visit our properties. It is this connection with the natural, beautiful, rural heritage of this land, of this glacial island, out in the Atlantic Ocean, that you help to instill in every one who sets foot on a Sheriff’s Meadow property.”

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