I recently had the pleasure of being invited to an exclusive local farmer dinner. When I say farmer, I don’t just mean the food was farm-to-table. It was a meeting of Island farmers coming together for a night of healthy discussion and updates on a cold winter night at the Ag Hall. We walked in as probably the only non-farmers in the crowd, and we were welcomed with smiles from all around.
The gathering was hosted by the Martha’s Vineyard Agricultural Society — established in 1859 to promote the pursuit of agriculture, horticulture, land conservation, and youth activities, and it also provides grants and scholarships to local farmers. And it’s home to the annual Agricultural Fair, one of my favorite events in the summer.
We came together for a locally sourced dinner crafted by Jefferson Munroe of the GOOD Farm, and it was a meal I’ll never forget: the most luscious, most savory baked beans (Morning Glory Farm), creamy potato gratin, spoon-tender brisket (Morning Glory Farm), cabbage slaw, and a salad of tender greens (Thimble Farm) paired with butter from Olivia Patterson of Cinnamon Starship. We took our seats at the communal tables to indulge in these Island-produced goods prepared with love, and began to discuss all things farming. As Jefferson Munroe presented the menu, other farmers took a moment to ask him what he was up to this season. Opening up the Larder in Vineyard Haven has been a project for the past several month. It will also be providing a certified commercial kitchen for rent, along with a market for local products. Along with raising about 600 chickens, ducks, and turkeys, Jefferson has his hands full.
For all the meat lovers, Beetlebung Beef has plenty of sausage and bacon at Cronig’s in Vineyard Haven. This year, they’re raising 24 piglets as well as making more artisan sausage with a company in Vermont that puts a lot of effort in showcasing Island-raised meats.
Alec Forbes, FARM institute manager, also reminds everyone that their freezers are filled to the brim with meat and cuts of all kind, so locals can call ahead to order anything they need. You can find pasture-raised whole chicken, 100 percent grass-fed all natural beef, 100 percent grass-fed, all natural lamb, and pasture-raised pork. For a complete list of their offerings, go to their website.
On a less meaty note, Dan Sternbach, Island grain grower, recently donated wheat berries to a local kindergarten class that was recreating “The Little Red Hen.” The students had a chance to experience milling the wheat berries into flour and taking that same flour and baking a cake from it. From start to finish, it seems, the kids really enjoyed being able to see the full process.
Some farmers take this time off-season to educate themselves and travel to conferences, like the Food Equity Summit that Meg Athearn of Morning Glory Farm recently attended, where discussions on food access were of interest, especially to our Island community. Rebecca Haag, executive director of Island Grown Initiative, asked attendees to consider growing vegetables for CSAs that accept Food Stamps. Having dedicated farmers growing for the CSAs, not just counting on the gleaning programs, would make a substantial difference to Islanders in need.
Moving on to Island cheese, Joe Alstat, cheesemaker at the Grey Barn, discussed a couple of projects they are working on, including building another barn. Off-Island, the cheese has been well received, and sales are moving forward. They’ll also be working in conjunction with Polly Hill Arboretum in a two-part orchard pruning class in March and June.
As the evening moved on, farmers from Bakehouse Farm, Mermaid Farm, Down Island Farm, Pumphouse Farm, Stannard Farm, and Allen Farm, among others, discussed upcoming issues and ideas. It was a night of education, information, and all-around camaraderie between Island farmers. To find out about what the MVAS does, visit them online at marthasvineyardagriculturalsociety.org.