Self sufficiency on Martha’s Vineyard

Under Saturday's crisp blue cloudless sky, Islanders learned about new initiatives in self-sufficiency and participated in age-old autumnal activities like pumpkin carving. — Photo by Ralph Stewart

Tad Crawford, one of the organizers of last Saturday’s Living Local Harvest Festival, prefaced his introduction to each of the day’s seven speakers by outlining the mission of the event. “We hope it’s going to be a fun day for you – but we’re looking for more. We want to move more specifically and concretely towards increased self-sufficiency and sustainability.” With a focus on education, the daylong event introduced Islanders to the many organizations that are working towards sustainability on a local level.

But fun was also a large component of the festival. The fairgrounds bustled all day as folks enjoyed music, food, carriage rides, a multitude of kids activities and demos on cider making and goat milking. Two new elements were hugely popular — bovine bingo, where folks bet on which spot on a gridded field a Farm Institute cow would leave its mark, and an impressive pumpkin flinging catapult from Morning Glory Farm. A perfect warm sunny fall day drew hundreds to the event, which last year was severely restricted by a rainstorm.

The festival is a conglomeration of three events — Living Local Day, which was hosted jointly four years ago in May by the Island Grown Initiative (IGI), The Vineyard Energy Project (VEP), and the Vineyard Conservation Society; the Agricultural Society’s annual Harvest Festival; and Energy Day, which was hosted for many years in the spring by VEP.

Randi Baird of IGI estimates that between 800 and 1,000 people turned out on Saturday. The Ag Hall was filled with booths introducing local businesses and organizations with a shared goal of sustainability. Two bright yellow pedal-powered fully enclosed vehicles attracted a lot of attention to the far end of the hall. Nearby, one of IGI’s many displays featured chicken slaughtering tools, including an evisceration table and a chicken scalder.

Rebekah Gilbert of Native Earth Teaching Farm was spinning wool. Orange Peel Bakery handed out samples, as did New Moon Magick Chocolates. About a dozen other displays featured visuals, literature and information. The hall was full, yet not crowded, all day with visitors as eager to learn as the exhibitors were to discuss their projects and ideas.

Patrick Phillips, who heads the student-produced video journal Vineyard Voice, noted that the event not only helps raise awareness for his group but also for the organizations that his staff spotlights in the videos that were running at the event. He said that there seemed to be more interaction between exhibitors and the public this year than last, when people crowed into the hall to avoid the rain.

And there were also fewer booths this year, which was intentional. “I think less is more in this case, which also fits our theme,” IGI president Sarah McKay said.

“Four years ago it was more like a trade show for businesses on the Island,” Ms. Baird said. “Now it’s mostly non-profits and individuals and less about businesses that do green things and more about organizations that promote sustainability.”

Outside, a typical fall festival was in full swing all day. A pig provided by Grey Barn Farm roasted on a spit (to be served up later at the evening potluck). Kids enjoyed face painting, pumpkin carving and a hay maze.

There were long lines at the two food booths all day. People purchased a variety of veggies from Beetlebung Farm and flowers from Flower Tins.

The inclusion of WVVY 93.7FM in this year’s festivities proved very popular. Crowds gathered under the music tent throughout the day to listen to local musicians and eat. VVY employees TaraRose Macuch and Diana Reilly, who were recruited to facilitate the activities for the first time this year, were responsible for adding the music component.

The day’s series of talks began with two officials of the Wampanoag Tribe, Bret Stearns and Jim Miller, who detailed the tribe’s focus on environmental protection and outlined various far-reaching initiatives to protect our land and water.

John Abrams of South Mountain Company discussed his business’s increasing focus on retrofitting existing homes for energy efficiency. Rob Myers, the design/build company’s energy services manager, enumerated the financial incentives available to homeowners interested in either going solar or increasing their home’s energy efficiency.

Warren Doty of the M.V. Fisherman’s Association talked about local fluke fishing and efforts by Vineyard towns to sustain commercial fishing on the Island.

Rhode Island apiary owner Everett Zurlinden, whose talk was the most popular of the day, packed a lot of information into his one-hour presentation. He expounded on the many advantages of beekeeping, including the positive environmental impact that an individual hive can make, extending well beyond the beekeeper’s property.

Vineyard Power consultant Tyler Studds explained the steps that the community-owned energy cooperative is taking to determine an appropriate location for an offshore wind farm. “Our process is really finding a solution that is both economically viable and publicly acceptable,” he said, outlining Vineyard Power’s extensive efforts to ensure that the community’s concerns are being fully considered in the controversial wind farm discussion.

Amy Voll of Cape Light Compact talked briefly about the organization’s Green Affordable Homes program, and the day’s talks concluded with an presentation from the M.V. Commission’s Mark London, who outlined the Island Plan, including some alarming projections on unchecked development.

Mr. Crawford commented afterward that he will do more next year to promote the talks, which were for the most part lightly attended. “I think that it adds momentum to this whole movement and the level of understanding that we have in this community about how important it is to have a more sustainable lifestyle,” he said of the event as a whole. “Many more people are getting into this business. There are people far more serious and capable than in the past. I think we’re partly responsible for establishing this movement.”

Drumming and singing by the Black Brook Singers and a blessing of the food in the Wampanoag native language announced the follow-up potluck dinner. Upwards of 300 people of all ages crowded the hall. The evening finished with live music by Good Night Louise.

Ms. McKay was very pleased with the day itself, and with the way the event is developing. “It’s really just evolved each year as we learn new things that we want to do,” she said. “This year we wanted to focus on the education component.” Citing the increase in beekeeping on the Island as a concrete example of people being inspired to action by the group initiative, she added, “We want people to take away things that they can start doing at home – at the family level – whether it’s composting or buying local food.”

Ms. Baird said, “As well as celebrating the bounty of the island, our goal is to provide the actual tools and info on how to live more intentionally with the vision of a lighter footprint on the Vineyard and beyond.”