Close to home: Living Local Harvest Fest
"It was about feeding my family," says Ali Berlow, executive director of Island Grown Initiative (IGI). Looking around Martha's Vineyard for fresh meat, eggs, and vegetables, she heard rumors of where to find them, but wondered -"Who, how and why...is it really okay to walk on to this land?"
Ms. Berlow continues, "As a food writer, I started to look behind the curtain. It's great to talk about locally grown food, but how do you get it to the table?"
It was during dinner at Ms. Berlow's home three and a half years ago that Randi Baird, event chairperson of the upcoming Living Local Harvest Fest, found herself in a conversation about - "Sustainability, whatever that meant," she says, "and the question of how to do it on Martha's Vineyard."
Ms. Baird says, "From that, a core group decided to do something; to educate the consumer about why it's important to eat local food." The seeds of IGI were planted that night. "About five people joined on," she says, "and I was one of them."
And it began with a map.
IGI's first project was to design and print a map of food-producing farms on Martha's Vineyard.
The map has grown, and this weekend it leads Islanders to where IGI Harvest Fest teams with the Vineyard Energy Project, Vineyard Conservation Society, and the Martha's Vineyard Agricultural Society under one heading, Living Local Harvest Fest.
The group launched its first festival in April of 2007. It was so successful they took a big leap forward and asked the Agricultural Society if Living Local could be a part of the 2008 traditional Harvest Festival. The response was not only affirmative, but also generous. The Living Local Harvest Fest will be free to all.
"It's a celebration of abundance," says Ms. Baird, smiling. "A celebration of how people are living local presently on Martha's Vineyard, and also a way for people to find out how to do that. Even if you think you live local, there's more everyone can do."
Sarah McKay, store manager for Cronig's Markets, grew up in a rural farming community in Northern Ireland and joined IGI about six months ago. She contributed many hours over the summer to help create the event, which she describes as a chance to "explore together many ways that we haven't done things that we really need to do. One of the topics is Island-wide waste management. We know we've got an issue with recycling and waste management but we haven't really gotten together and figured out how to do it."
Living Local Harvest Fest starts on Friday, Sept. 26, with a community forum at the Chilmark Community Center, and the showing of a 20-minute film, featuring author Dr. David Korten ("The Great Turning: From Empire to Earth Community") who is considered by many to be the father of the Living Local movement.
Following the film, John Abrams of South Mountain Company will moderate a panel that includes Jim Athearn of Morning Glory Farm, West Tisbury Shellfish Constable Tom Osmers, Emily Lindsey, Agricultural Society board member Clarence (Trip) Barnes, and Kate Warner, founder of the Vineyard Energy Project. The ongoing community dialogue will center on how the big picture is reflected in the small and unique one of Martha's Vineyard, and on the importance of implementing and maintaining alternatives to corporate dependence.
On Saturday, the Living Local Harvest Fest moves to the Agricultural Hall on Panhandle Road in West Tisbury, where the grounds and the hall will be full of activity. In the morning, you can find the West Tisbury Farmer's Market in residence, moved over from the Grange Hall for a special one-time-only appearance. "Bring a cooler," suggests Ms. Berlow. "Go to the Farmer's Market, and then stay."
There will be workshops and exhibits, environmentally mindful vendors, and delicious local food. In charge of serving local fare will be The Farm Institute, Morning Glory Farm, Scottish Bakehouse, and Christine Cordozza, who makes burritos. Melinda DeFeo, another founding member of IGI, will be organizing children's activities like pumpkin carving, corn shelling, cider pressing, and worm box building. There will be goat milking, goat sheering, a hay bale maze, and honey extracting.
Ms. Berlow says, "You know, one out of every three bites of food you eat is because of pollination."
Local businesses will gather inside the hall; they include local farmers, local builders who employ energy efficient materials, the wool CSA, Kate Warner's Under the Sun solar company, Brian Nelson's geothermal water heating, Gary Harcourt's wind power generation, and Vineyard Alternative Heating's pellet stoves.
Another member of Living Local Harvest Fest, Nan Doty, has arranged for panel discussions and demonstrations by Islanders expert in fishing, farming, land management, energy, environment, and economy. There are common threads connecting all these issues of sustainability. Throughout the day there will be a sharing of what's already happening, as well as answering questions about where we want to go, and how can we get there as a community from the grass roots up as well as from the top down. A food production panel - including CSA founder Andrew Woodruff, Brendan O'Neil of the Vineyard Conservation Society, and Emily Bramhall of Sheriff's Meadow Foundation, will address State regulations and Department of Natural Heritage guidelines that impact land use and access.
"There's a real mosaic of how people are already farming," Ms. Berlow says. "We can't really talk about food production if we don't have the land."
Along with the "Big Picture" panels there will also be hands-on demonstrations, workshops, and a fisheries panel, discussions of issues around local fisheries featuring demonstrations on how to harvest mussels, how to scallop, and how to smoke fish. There will be a bike parade, and people are encouraged to peddle to the event, unless they are transporting a local food dish for the evening potluck.
Organizers are aiming for zero waste, requiring vendors to use either biodegradable or compostable products. There will be no bottled water - local water will be served. After the potluck dinner some homegrown music will be served up by Willy Mason and Ballywho.
Ms. McKay smiles and says, "When you see people starting to get the message, person by person, it makes a difference."
The average food item travels 1,500 miles to get to a plate. Luckily, we don't have to travel that far and, even better - we have a map.
Living Local Community Forum, 7:30 pm, Friday, Sept. 26, Chilmark Community Center.
Living Local Harvest Fest, 9 am-3 pm, Saturday, Sept. 27, Ag Hall, West Tisbury.
Fae Kontje-Gibbs is an artist, teacher, and freelance writer.
Photo by Fae Kontje-Gibbs