Illusions, reality, and business


That there is an agricultural aura surrounding Morning Glory Farm and a bedrock, founding fathers, even 19th century ethos attached to the preaching of Jim Athearn in his community planner role should have no bearing on the Martha’s Vineyard Commission (MVC) decision on the Morning Glory expansion plan. Mr. Athearn is the long-time but no longer Edgartown representative to the MVC and the lay leader of the MVC’s Island Plan effort. In real life, he’s a businessman, a retailer, and a sharp and hardworking one.

The Athearn family’s proposal is a business move and one that ought to be endorsed wholeheartedly. It ought not to be swaddled in a dreamy, Disneyland froth for its illusory consistency with what folks of all persuasions – newcomers, rich folk, retirees, young back-to-the-landers, etc. – call Vineyard character. Whatever Vineyard character is, it is variously perceived and remarkably like the character of small, relatively well preserved, tourist destinations elsewhere.

Morning Glory is like the Martha’s Vineyard Savings Bank, the Edgartown National Bank, Shirley’s Hardware, E.C. Cottle’s lumber company, DeSorcy’s construction company, Leslie’s Drug Store, daRosa’s, Reliable Market, Giordano’s, and on and on – well-run, long-lived Vineyard businesses that work hard to serve customers well, that manage the good and bad times but prefer the good ones, that recognize that the summer tourists and residents with the buoyant family treasuries and flamboyant houses and lifestyles fuel their business success, as the growing population of year-round residents do.

All of these businesses survive and succeed because the Vineyard economy, its population, its desirability, its convenience have all grown, slightly ahead of its shockingly expanding cost of living – think of the $5 peach, the $300 sweater, or the $400,000 acre.

Morning Glory Farm is not a farm. It is a family owned business conglomerate that has made a name and a niche for itself on the outskirts of the Island’s richest, most summer-touristy town. It is a retail business that is trying to expand its product lines, volumes, and space to strengthen its financial success in the near term and for the generation of Athearns that will inherit and carry it on. It is a small agricultural enterprise attached to a large retail grocery, an importer of foodstuffs and supplies, a commercial bakery, a commercial kitchen, and a nursery. It employs a lot of people seasonally, 60 or so at the peak – pickers, display creators, farm workers, cooks, checkout persons, etc. – and provides housing for some of them. It benefits from the availability of conserved farmland and the tax advantages attached to that land and to agricultural enterprises generally.

It is a big, smart retail business that is challenged by the need to grow and become more efficient, to take advantage of a good, but small and seasonal market. In lots of ways it’s a model Island retailer, whether you’re retailing clothing, home furnishings, fish and shellfish, loans or food. It’s a Vineyard business, like so many others, laying the foundation for business success to come.