More than art blooming at Featherstone

Molly Flam, age 20, is launching her own flower business with leased land at Featherstone Center for the Arts. — Photo by Ralph Stewart

There will be some added color at Featherstone Center for the Arts this summer in Oak Bluffs thanks to Mother Nature and flower farmer Molly Flam of Vineyard Haven.

The 20-year-old Ms. Flam has worked at Morning Glory Farm growing and arranging flowers in the summers since she was 15. Now she is launching her own flower business and has rented two small plots – one at Featherstone behind the Virginia Weston Besse Gallery adjacent to the Southern Woodlands Reservation, and one on farmer Paul Jackson’s property on Anthier’s Way in Edgartown.

Ms. Flam is sharing the Featherstone plot with carpenter Pat Brown of Vineyard Haven, who is also involved with The FARM Institute’s Pilot Parcel Project. Mr. Brown leased the one-acre plot from the Martha’s Vineyard Land Bank Commission about 12 years ago. He has been limited in his use of the land until this spring. Now, not only has he subleased to Ms. Flam, but he is also increasing food production on his half.

Featherstone, which took its name from the farm that originally occupied the land, is situated in the middle of an 18-acre piece of Martha’s Vineyard Land Bank property off Barnes Road in Oak Bluffs. The land was purchased from horse farmers in 1996 in a cooperative acquisition between Featherstone and the Land Bank. The arts organization owns the six acres that house their six buildings. The rest of the cleared land, including the gardens and a cow pasture in front, are leased to farmers while the remainder of the parcel is preserved land that supports walking trails. The soon to be verdant garden plots are a wonderful reminder of the land’s agrarian roots.

Ms. Flam has planted a variety of flowers including larkspur, lilies, zinnias, sunflowers, and dahlias. A row of roses in the front of the plot is now blooming. The young flower farmer will be selling bunches and single stems at the Featherstone Flea Market on Tuesdays, at the Katama General Store in Edgartown, and at the Scottish Bakehouse in Vineyard Haven. Mr. Jackson’s wife, Mary, who died two years ago, previously tended the flower field that Ms. Flam leases from Mr. Jackson. The small stand where Ms. Jackson sold her flowers for many years will be in operation once again this summer.

Ms. Flam grew up in upstate New York. She moved to the Vineyard with her family five years ago but attended boarding school in New Hampshire. Before that she was a Vineyard summer kid who attended camp at Featherstone. Her mother, Pam Flam, is a Featherstone board member and artist whose elaborate art quilts win first prize at the Agricultural Fair every summer.

Ever since she started working at Morning Glory five years ago, Ms. Flam has wanted to have her own flower business. “I didn’t think that I would start so young,” she says, “but I can’t imagine doing anything else.” For the past couple of years she has been growing flowers in a vacant lot next to her family home in Vineyard Haven.

Ms. Flam leased the Featherstone land from Mr. Brown in November and has logged many hours clearing, planting, weeding, and watering.

“For several months, Molly has spent an incredible amount of time working the land in all kinds of weather – cold, hot, rain,” says Featherstone executive director Ann Smith. “We are anxious to see the fruits of her labor.”

Mr. Brown, too, has been very busy in the back half of the plot. He leased the land over a decade ago when he decided it was time to expand his home garden. However, until this past fall, he focused only on very low maintenance crops.

“Until this year it had been an experiment in really low input highly sustainable production of food with somewhat less common crops,” Mr. Brown says. “More for my own curiosity – to see what could be done.” He used only hand tools to clear the land, restricted his use of fertilizer and compost, and relied on rainfall for irrigation.

His crops were previously limited to potatoes, walking onions, self-seeding grains, and weeds as cover crops. “I experimented with kinds of food crops that have a tendency to establish themselves and don’t have to be replanted,” says Mr. Brown.

This year he and Ms. Flam have erected deer fencing and hired someone to plow the field. Mr. Brown is now growing sweet potatoes, peas, grain corn, and a variety of beans, among other things. The yield will be for him and friends who have helped him with the farm. Mr. Brown would like to lease more land eventually but is realistic about his prospects of farming full time.

“I certainly have my eye open but it’s not easy on the Vineyard,” he says. For now, gardening is a hobby, but one that is taking increasingly more of his time. “The new expanded plot keeps me pretty busy.”

The crops – both flowers and veggies – will be a nice addition to the bucolic Featherstone campus, with its verdant, rolling fields and single bovine occupant grazing in the front pasture.

“Our guests and visitors are very curious and excited about the activity happening on the hill behind Featherstone,” says Ms. Smith. “We really applaud the Land Bank for making these plots available to those who wish to cultivate them and for being great neighbors.”