Young professionals thrive on Island


While for many of the Island’s young people, pursuit of a career can require relocation, those interested in the trades often find that the Island is the ideal place to establish themselves.

Some, like plumber Ryan Kurth and stone mason Mike Furino, are following in their father’s footsteps and, having spent their adolescence growing up around their respective trades, they are more than prepared to eventually take over the family business. Others, like gardener Emily Palmer and permaculturist Kaila Binney, discovered upon graduation from college that their passions could become viable careers, and are working to carve a niche here on the Vineyard.

The common denominator among these four 20-somethings is that they all love what they do and approach their work with an enthusiasm and sense of pride that is not always as apparent in veteran tradespeople.

“I’ve always liked working with my hands and I have a mechanical sort of mind,” says 25-year-old Ryan Kurth, who has been working in the family plumbing business, C. Kurth and Sons Inc., for about 10 years. He now works with his father, Jeffrey Paul Kurth Sr.

The business was started by Mr. Kurth’s grandfather, Conrad Kurth, in 1954. The family has a home in Menemsha, and Mr. Kurth was born and raised here. Although Mr. Kurth took a year off to live in Los Angeles where he had a couple of diversified jobs, the move was temporary. “I wanted to get off-Island for a while,” he says. Since moving back, he has dedicated himself to his trade. He will soon receive his master plumber’s license, which required him to attend school off-Island for three years and work under a master plumber for another three years.

Although Mr. Kurth says that he tries to get away frequently in the off season, his love of the Vineyard will keep him living and working here. “I just love the four seasons, fishing and hunting.”

And his father is grateful. He says, “As a dad, I’m very proud of him.”

Like Mr. Kurth, Mike Furino also represents the third generation of his family’s business. He learned to do custom stone work from his father Tom Furino and his company, T. Furino Masonry, and has been working full time at it since he graduated from high school here in 2002.

However, unlike Mr. Kurth who notes that he has been kept consistently busy this year, Mr. Furino’s family business has felt the effects of the recession — not surprising considering the non-essential nature of their work. Luckily, the Furino family has found a way to supplement their income. Father, mother, and son started making wampum jewelry a couple of years ago and their work can be found at CB Stark Jewelers.

Mr. Furino says that he enjoys the creativity that both jobs offer. He points out that in stonework, every craftsman’s style is unique. “You have to have a good eye,” he says, and notes that he and his father take advantage of having two perspectives on a project. “We make a good team.”

Mr. Furino, who won first and second place ribbons at the Ag Fair this year for his jewelry, remarks that he also comes from a three-generation line of artists on both sides of his family.

He comments on his two vocations, saying, “I like both. It’s nice to really mix and match them. The wampum started as a hobby that turned into a paying job.”

Gardening girls

Emily Palmer and Kaila Binney both turned a passion for growing things into successful Island businesses. Ms. Palmer has two gardens on-Island that she started and cultivates for profit, and she hopes to expand her enterprise. At 24 years old, Ms. Palmer started out in a pre-veterinary program at Wesleyan College in Connecticut but a summer stint at The FARM Institute in 2005 convinced her that horticulture was her calling.

Ms. Palmer worked at North Tabor Farm for a while, and though she had spent summers here at her grandparent’s house as a kid, she found that living here full time was an attractive option. She was actively seeking a garden space to start a vegetable business when she discovered that Danielle Dominick of the Scottish Bakehouse was interested in growing vegetables for the bakery/cafe this year. Ms. Palmer started planting behind the Bakehouse in the spring and also put up two greenhouses. She not only supplies the restaurant, she also sells the surplus from a stand in the parking lot.

The Milton, Mass. native also grows flowers in a space she rents behind the M.V. Glassworks. This summer Ms. Palmer set up at the Tisbury Farmer’s Market, but she also had to supplement her income with other jobs. She did some catering and worked for the mobile poultry processing unit. Next year, she would like to be able to focus on her gardening full time and hopes to expand geographically, although she notes that land is tough to come by here.

For the off-season, Ms. Palmer hopes to extend the growing season at the Scottish Bakehouse plot with winter crops and possibly greenhouse production. She will be seeking other work as well so that she can stay. “I feel if you really want to get ahead in the farming community and be taken seriously, you have to stay. And you don’t make enough money to travel in the winter.”

Kaila Binney also earned her summer living by planting and maintaining gardens, although her focus was on private kitchen gardens for wealthy clients. The 25-year-old was born and raised here, then left to attend Vassar College, where she majored in international studies. After school she traveled and lived abroad for two years, working in Senegal, India, Israel, and Scotland.

Visiting 18 countries, she was exposed to the practices of permaculture — sustainable land use design that deals with the full spectrum from building to agriculture, and more. In her far-reaching travels, Ms. Binney had the opportunity to witness and become involved with a variety of permaculture projects, working and teaching in ecological communities around the world.

Ms. Binney returned to the Vineyard, since, as she says, “There are so many aspects of permaculture here. I wanted to come back and be inspired.”

She took a permaculture course that was offered here a few years ago. On-Island, Ms. Binney has done work landscaping and gardening, worked at The FARM Institute, and taught as part of the Island Grown Schools (IGS) program.

This past summer she started her own small business and recognized the extent of the local movement towards local food production. “I was finding that a lot of people were interested in growing their own food and didn’t have the time, or came too late in the season.” She started and maintained four gardens, including one that consisted of eight beds of vegetables and herbs.

This winter Ms. Binney will work on her master’s degree in education through Antioch New England. She will also continue her work with IGS, and she wants to expand on an organization she started with Jeff Monroe called Martha’s Vineyard Permaculture Guild. She says that they hope to host some events in the off-season.

Next summer, Ms. Binney hopes to hire a crew, add more gardens, and possibly some food forests (fruit and nut trees). She plans to continue her teaching career, hopefully spending more time abroad. However, she will most likely continue to keep the Vineyard as her home base since, as she says, “There are so many incredibly brilliant, skillful people on the Island.” Ms. Binney’s interest extends to other permaculture practices, including building, and her enthusiasm on the subject is boundless. She raves, “It’s just amazing what you can do when you open your mind to the possibilities.”

Gwyn McAllister, of Oak Bluffs, is a frequent contributor to The Times.