It is a farm


To the Editor:

Though I’ve been told that you can’t please all the people all the time, it’s still upsetting to read the letter from Edward Klein in the January 6 Times (“Retail, actually”) which says negative things about me and my farm. Fortunately, everything he lists as a fault is false, so it should be easy to dismiss as ignorant bluster. However, I think it is important to provide some facts about our farm in case there are other readers out there who are as uninformed.

Before I begin I must say that I am disappointed that your editorial writer also lacked the basic facts before he/she chose to analyze our farm in an editorial that coincidentally occurred on the same day as Mr. Klein’s letter. Though we and our farm business are complimented in various ways in the editorial, the writer is just plain wrong to say Morning Glory Farm is not a farm. That is as ridiculous as saying the MV Times is not a newspaper.

For the benefit of Mr. Klein and your editor and anyone else who wants to know, please allow me to list a few facts.

In the first place, any credit for being a sharp business person goes to my wife, not me, as Debbie has been the one to direct the farm stand, and my role has been to conduct the field operations, now being taken over by our sons.

Morning Glory Farm operates as a retail farm stand in a residential/agricultural zone because Section 3 of Chapter 40, the state’s zoning act, specifically outlines that farms may also sell bought-in products provided that we grow a required percentage of our own agricultural products during the growing season. For this reason we work hard at farming locally and producing tons of our own food, not only because it is our primary mission but also because we need to maintain the right balance of local food to imported to keep our legal status as a farm. This ratio of home-grown to imported was tested, rightfully, by the building inspector before he would accept our application for a building permit, was then reviewed and approved by town counsel, and found to be securely within the legal parameters.

In order to grow enough food for our farm stand, we plow, till, plant, weed, water, and harvest 57 acres of vegetables, fruit, and flowers. In a typical year, we will harvest about 15,000 dozen ears of corn from about 24 acres, about 5,000 pounds of beans from two acres, 22,000 pounds of potatoes from two acres, 2,200 pounds of Swiss chard from one-quarter acre, and over 15,000 pounds of cucumbers, 32,605 heads of lettuce, about 10 tons of winter squash, up to 17,000 pounds of tomatoes and dozens of other crops on the rest of the acres of Vineyard land we cultivate in Katama, Edgartown, and West Tisbury, in 12 locations. In addition, we harvest hay, which we have planted and fertilized, on 40 additional acres and graze 20-30 head of cattle on pastures we have developed on about 16 acres of land in Chilmark. We also take care of and collect eggs from close to 800 laying hens and raise about 600 meat chickens over the summer sharing pasture with the cows. We also raise about 20-24 hogs a year, supplementing their diets with about one ton of ear corn we grow in Edgartown. If this is not a farm, what is?

Many farm stands in Massachusetts sell imported produce to supplement their own, including Bartlett Farm on Nantucket, Wilson Farm in Lexington, Verril Farm in Concord, and Volante Farm in Needham, all with significant acreages of spectacular crops of their own. These farmers, and the legislators of the Commonwealth, all recognize that in order for a farm to be successful retailing sufficient volume of their own products, they must provide their customers with the assurance that the food products they seek will be there, even if there is a crop failure or it hasn’t ripened locally yet. The insurance of imported produce helps to make possible the sale of local produce and, likewise, the local produce provides the reason that people go out of their way to shop at local farm stands. All the produce is clearly labeled in the store as to its origin.

We would also like to note that we buy more than $60,000 worth of produce from our fellow Island farmers, and we sell more than $100,000 worth of our own produce to stores and restaurants around the Island.

It’s ironic that Mr. Klein says I’m against a bike path when, in fact, we donated an easement 10 feet by about 1,600 feet for a dirt path on our land. It winds nicely around trees as it runs alongside the Meshacket Road and follows the natural contours of the land. There is not enough space in the narrow town layout for the road and a bike path. As our new path wears in it will be a pleasant place for families and children to ride and walk, while the serious road bikers can continue to ride on the paved road, which they do very nicely now with the traffic.

Why he says I am against sewers I have no clue, except that I have said on occasions that I am against extending sewers which would encourage development of raw land.

Our compost pile takes leaves and grass clippings and digests them into a form that is very stable with less than one percent soluble nitrogen. It is the desired form for slow release of nutrients as well as improving the water and nutrient holding capacity of the soil. It is our understanding that if there are residues of pesticides on the grass clippings that come to us, the 12 to18 months of heat and bacterial digestion will disintegrate them, thereby neutralizing them. The compost pile has been good for the community and good for the land.

I invite your editor to spend some time working with us this summer to see whether we are indeed a farm or not. He or she may then have more respect for the blood, sweat, and tears, as well as the decades of financial insecurity that have been our dues for the privilege of operating our farm business.

James A. Athearn