From the beginning, Slip Away Farm has thrived on the support of the Chappaquiddick community. The island’s thin and sandy soil is sadly lacking in nutrients, but its residents’ enthusiasm for a full-fledged commercial vegetable farm has helped nourish and grow the farm. Since Slip Away moved to Chappaquiddick in the fall of 2012, Lily Walter and her farm team have grown their Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) from 10 members the first season in 2012 (when they grew on an acre at the FARM Institute) to 65 members in 2016, growing on five acres on Chappy. The farmers distribute fresh, organically grown vegetables in their weekly CSA, as well as selling them at their farm stand on weekends, at the West Tisbury and Chappy Farmers Market, and to several Edgartown restaurants. This year they added a 35-member flower CSA.
Slip Away has been the recipient of not just an affordable place to live and land to grow on at Marshall and Wasque Farms (thanks to the MV Preservation Trust and the Land Bank), but gifts of bulbs, seeds, and plants, donations for soil amendments and a well, help with mowing, turning over the fields, and planting, and hauling starter soil, as well as the gift of a trusty old John Deere tractor. As Lily says, “Unfortunately, John died last winter and could not be repaired.” The farm made it through this past season with borrowed equipment and a walk-behind tractor, but many farm tasks were left undone, including turning compost piles — critical for building up the Chappy soil.
This fall, after many months of consideration, and being too busy to think of doing one thing more, Lily made a video about the farm and her need for a new tractor. She set up an online campaign with the crowdfunding platform Kickstarter, which helps people raise money for a large range of creative projects. The Kickstarter campaign took off like wildfire. In the first four days of the 35-day campaign, the $20,000 needed for the new tractor was donated, including five gifts of $1,000 and, amazingly, one $10,000 donation. Lily has, understandably, been overwhelmed by people’s generosity.
On Kickstarter, gifts are usually offered as a thank you-for donations, and on
Lily’s campaign, they range from “You have our eternal gratitude for helping us purchase a tractor” to a lifetime CSA membership in thanks for the $10,000 donation. Kickstarter campaigns run their full course even if, as in this case, the goal has already been reached. Because money keeps coming in, Lily posted an update to the campaign page that lists some other equipment on her wish list, including a broadcast seeder for the tractor that would allow them to spread seed and amendments (presently done by hand), a rotary harrow to prepare beds, a row seeder, and a manual mulch layer. Lily writes, “All of these purchases would help us improve our efficiency and effectiveness on our land. On a small farm like Slip Away, having the right tools at the right time can drastically improve our bottom line. This is crucial in a career with such narrow profit margins.”
Vegetables are not big money makers; most large farms growing single-crop staple commodities get federal subsidies. A bad season can have a big effect for a small farm like Lily’s, where she needs to continue paying off debts from starting the farm and buying a truck, whatever the season brings.
Lily’s future farm plans include expansion into growing more flowers and perennials. For the first time this past season, Lily planted at Wasque Farm, where there’s real dirt, loamy enough to grow lush plants. She wants to keep the vegetables and annuals there, and start growing perennials at the Marshall Farm, where the house and stand are located, in the center of the island. The thin dirt there can be built up over time in order to grow berry bushes and fruit trees. She plans to start with an area of perennial flowers there next spring.
Pondering the enormous backing for the tractor fund, Lily says, “Since coming to Chappy, we’ve only had people with open arms. People have been unbelievably supportive to the farm.” As Chappaquiddick resident Toby Yarmolinsky puts it in an email, “Slip Away needs a tractor, Slip Away gets a tractor. They have given so much to the Chappy community, creating a buzzing hive of fertile interconnection. We have met so many neighbors and spent so many delightful evenings at Slip Away. How they have enriched our lives!”
The farm hosts many community events during the season, including pizza nights, a pig roast, fall festival, open dining in the farmyard, book openings, and open houses. Bob and Marvene O’Rourke live down the road, and attend them all. Bob says what is notable “is that this food is being produced by a small group of young farmers doing the hard work of making a small and difficult agricultural business work. They are not chasing conventional careers in technology, commerce, or finance. They are building a lifestyle based on environmental growing practices, a way of sharing and contributing to neighbors, and a philosophy which illustrates that food is community.”
Being on a small island has a way of giving Chappaquiddickers a sense of being in it together. The gap between year-round and wealthy summer residents may be smaller because there are no stores here; everyone has to wait when there’s a ferry line, and when the ferry can’t run, all are equally stuck on the island. There are always contentious issues, but the neighborliness that the Vineyard fosters is thriving here, maybe even more so because the resources are slimmer. The old-time underlying barter system still functions, which Lily thinks is very much tied to this place. She says, “If I call Skip, I know I can borrow his tractor, and hopefully I can help him out sometime.”
Growing food on Chappy was a bold move. Its sandy soil, and the ferry lines and other limitations, can be daunting to any business. When Lily moved here, she did so knowing there was a niche to be filled: There wasn’t any food being grown there. About the decision to move to the island, Lily says, “My family always had connections to Chappy. My father’s ashes are at Wasque. It didn’t faze me.” She was already fond of the island, and figured she’d like growing food for its people. With the tractor campaign so popular, Lily says, “My goal for Slip Away has always been to make it a community gathering place, a spot for neighbors to meet neighbors. This shows me we’ve kind of succeeded in doing that.”