Martha’s Vineyard Living Local Harvest Fest a delight

Kids and kids. — Photo by Ralph Stewart

Saturday’s Living Local Harvest Festival at the Martha’s Vineyard Agricultural Society Fairgrounds in West Tisbury was a daylong celebration of food, friends, and good old-fashioned community country fun and sharing. From flying pumpkins and friendly farm animals, to educational talks, children’s nature crafts, informative exhibits, and local food and music, there was more than enough to keep all ages fascinated.

While the August Agricultural Fair is considered a great place to meet up with friends, this autumn festival is even more geared to neighborly encounters and leisurely conversation. Attraction-packed though it is, Living Local retains a mellow quality — summer’s over, work and chores have slowed, visitors gone home. There’s time to take it easy. Best yet, nearly every face is familiar, heightening the warm sense of community.

Music wafting from a tent at the rear of the grounds welcomed festival-goers. Rob Myers, Mike Benjamin, Dana Edelman, Eric Johnson, and Good Night Louise were among those Island musicians setting a casual country mood.

Hay bales and picnic tables were everywhere, places to sit and picnic, chat, or relax and soak in rich sights, sounds, and aromas.

If there is one challenge with Living Local it’s that it is packed with too much good stuff. But no one would want it any other way!

“Something for everyone” characterizes this multi-faceted all-ages event perfectly. Someone could come determined to spend only one hour, listening to a panel discussion, purchasing a tee-shirt, eating a burger. Three hours later — after watching youngsters play, relaxing by a campfire, learning about energy efficient light bulbs, buying a bouquet, tasting local honey and salt and kale, visiting the horse and antique power shows, and running into numerous friends — one would realize how much more there still was to do, see, learn, hear, and eat!

Along with offering good, simple outdoor fun the festival aims to inform and inspire about “living local” – a phrase that encompasses everything from growing, preparing, and eating fresh food to land conservation, sustainable energy use, water quality protection, healthy lifestyle and child-rearing, responsible business and building practices, and more.

Talks and demonstrations ranged from raising your own chickens to making your own Kombucha and Kimchee.

Cape Light Compact, a major sponsor of the event, offered bright ideas for energy savings at home. Experts and concerned citizens explored more efficient and economical methods, especially composting, to deal with the Island’s 67 million pounds of annual waste that is now shipped off.

Anna Edey suggested solutions for cutting energy consumption, processing wastewater, and living sustainably. Lucky listeners at Offshore Ale’s brewing talk got to sample the new Hopps Farm Road Pale Ale.

A hungry crowd pressed closer, all eyes on Billy Manson of the Local Wild Food Challenge as he deftly assembled venison sliders with tangy sauces and cuke slices, all the while extolling the virtues and pleasures of eating caught, shot, homegrown, and foraged food. When the last sandwich was ready the onlookers swooped and sampled, raving about the flavors. Coming up was freshly caught pike, grilled over coals.

Tables packed the Ag Hall where locals exhibited, demonstrated, and shared useful information. Slow Food Martha’s Vineyard poured mini-shots of homemade beach plum brandy while enlisting new members. Carol Magee, director of Vineyard Open Land Foundation, proudly vended bags of Island-grown organic cranberries. She spearheaded the laborious restoration of the old cranberry bog along Lambert’s Cove Road.

Kyleen Keenan and Bennett Coffey offered samples of Not Your Sugar Mamas guilt-free confections. The Vineyard Conservation Society, celebrating its 50th anniversary next year, invited patrons to make suggestions for the next 50 years.

The festival was a food lover’s heaven. You could start with bracing Chilmark Coffee and a Chilmark Baker pastry, feast on cheeseburgers, squash soup, pork with chick peas, topped off with pumpkin pie and cider — a hearty harvest lunch.

Kids were everywhere and they had a ball. There was everything fun from old-fashioned games to face painting, pumpkin carving, crafts, and delicious freedom to romp and tumble with family and friends all around.

Dozens of Morning Glory Farm pumpkins were transformed into cute, scary, and zany jack o’lanterns by wild, knife-wielding youngsters. Many children embellished pumpkins with the FARM Institute’s peppers, eggplants, and squash, creating fanciful veggie monsters.

“The children are just incredibly creative,” beamed Rebecca Sanders, the FARM’s garden manager, who was also weaving pretty flower garland crowns.

A pair of miniature goats with pricked ears greeted children, friendly as puppies. Fluffy, wide-eyed alpacas invited petting. There were plump hens, pigs, and hulking oxen.

Youngsters lined up for traditional games, climbing into sacks and struggling to stay upright as they bounced towards the finish line. Others gingerly balanced eggs on spoons and crept backwards.

At the sound of a horn fanfare, crowds gathered along a roped off field in breathless anticipation of the afternoon’s final punkin chunkin’. A little blonde girl in a bright pink jacket painstakingly focused her camera on the tall, medieval-torture style trebuchet that would, eventually, send the hapless squash heavenward.

It was hurry up and wait as the tractor inched away, raising the weight that would drop to launch the pumpkin. Every breath was held for the countdown: 5-4-3-2-1! The latch that held the weight aloft would not flip open on the first few tries. The little girl was perched on her dad’s shoulders for the best view. One more pull and the pumpkin soared, far down the field.

“I got a video!” announced the girl with a happy grin, the perfect ending to a perfect day.

Antique engines cough to life

Down behind the animal barns where their noise would not compete with festival fun, antique engines were whirring and clanking and sputtering. It was all music to the ears of George Hartman of West Tisbury, organizer of the Annual Antique Power Show.

Sitting behind his intriguing display of old machines, engine-buff Hartman showed off an ornate steam-powered 1861 sewing machine, several miniature engines, all in working order, and a tiny engine less than two inches tall made by a high school student in Australia.

Tommy Thomas, another longtime antique engine fan, was showing a 1918 Beatty Brothers Time Saver wooden washing machine powered by gas, and a pencil sharpener run by a one-horsepower gas engine — “just for silliness.”

Vintage vehicles sent some visitors into romantic reveries of old-time travel, while the mechanical-minded just wanted to know what was under the hoods. Bob Ganz displayed his 1924 Lincoln touring car; Ernie Mendenhall brought a 1937 Plymouth 2-door sedan and a shiny 1946 Dodge pick-up. There were Ford Model A’s and Model T’s, and a delicate 1960s replica of a 1902 Rambler open-air buggy, “used to go to cocktail parties in West Chop,” Mr. Hartman noted.

Delighted though he was with the steady stream of visitors, especially the youngsters mesmerized by the chugging machines, Mr. Hartman bemoaned the fact he’d become the show’s older generation. He began the event with the late Bill Honey 26 years ago.

“The biggest problem with this hobby is to get young people interested in this stuff,” he said. He added that he and his cohorts had given away several old engines to boys and girls in hopes of getting some younger folks hooked on the magic and mystery of antique power.

A lesson in the flames

A bevy of little boys squatted around the crackling Sassafras Earth Education campfire, adding sticks, watching them smolder and smoke.

“Don’t put anything green in there,” called David Vanderhoop, standing watchfully close by. “Don’t put acorns in — they’ll pop!”

“Blow on it,” he told them as the fire died down, then promptly flopped down on the ground to demonstrate. The boys followed his example and, as promised, the smoke cleared and flames flared.

“See? It gets bigger — you can feel it on your face,” said Mr. Vanderhoop, a member of the Wampanoag tribe, to the spellbound youngsters.

On low benches circling the fire pit, a few festival goers sat, talking, eating, or peacefully gazing at the flames.

Nearby, Mackenzie Luce, 12, and Chesca Robinson, 11, presided over a table of nature exhibits which they proudly identified: bright feathers, a delicate squirrel’s skull, bleached bones, a raccoon’s jaw, two horseshoe crab shells woven together as a basket. Both attend the year-round Sassafras program.

“Everything’s really fun, it’s a good opportunity to be outside,” said Chesca.

“I like the sleepovers too!” added Mackenzie.

“We just had a little village setting here,” said Saskia Vanderhoop who runs the program in Aquinnah with her husband, David, “having time around the fire to reconnect with people.” She spoke of the need to bring connection with nature back into our culture, and for children to express themselves.

“If you can listen to children’s stories, that brings out their passions,” she said.

At a second table, youngsters had been busy all day sketching and doing nature crafts. Covered with illustrated guides to birds, mammal tracks, wildflowers, and trees, drawing paper and a big box of colored pencils, it was a magical table to gently entice inquisitive children and set them on the path to nature learning.

Hay, lets have a bale of fun

As the festival was winding down, Jim Athearn and his Morning Glory Farm crew pulled up a truck and began dismantling the popular Hay Bale Maze. Children had enjoyed uproarious fun with the intricate tunnel adventure all day and they weren’t about to stop now.

Several high-spirited youngsters tried to block progress and then, as a few bales fell apart, began an energized take-no-prisoners battle, launching big, dusty armfuls of hay at each other. Amidst whoops and giggles the kids cavorted and tumbled over one another into the hay, by now spread all over the grass.

“It’s like a drug,” chuckled Jim Athearn, watching safely from the sidelines. “They go crazy on hay.”

Jessica Hartenstine, mom of Azor, 5, and Sarah, 8, had started out trying to help, but found herself in the middle of the wild shenanigans and did what any good West Tisbury mother would do — she joined right in.

“The kids were trying to keep the maze from falling apart, then it turned into a hay fight.” she laughed, picking hay off her hair and clothes as she extricated herself from the melee.

“It’s just as much fun now as the maze was,” she said.

Cape was a coop winner

Much to the disappointment of Island chicken owners and their friends, Cape resident Marie McHugh, cousin of Island builder Leo McHugh, held the lucky ticket for The Silo chicken coop raffled by Slow Food Martha’s Vineyard. The drawing took place at the close of Saturday’s Living Local Harvest Festival. The raffle of the custom coop, created by three designers from Hutker Architects — Tom Shockey, Sean Dougherty, and Nelson Giannakopoulos — raised approximately $1,000. The funds will be used for Slow Food’s 2014 educational programming activities and to support the Vineyard Committee on Hunger.

According to Slow Food treasurer Max King, Ms. McHugh, who bought her winning ticket at the Falmouth Farmers Market, decided the coop would be put to good use as a backyard chicken educational tool at Miss Scarlett’s Blue Ribbon Farm in Yarmouth. She will be donating the fancy chicken condo to the farm.

Susan and Jim Knieriem, who own the 33-acre farm, operate a meat and vegetable CSA along with giving educational tours to school children and adults. Mr. Knieriem stresses the importance of raising products humanely and sustainably, and he believes we should all know who our farmer is and how our food is raised. He is president of the Cape and Islands Farm Bureau.