The opening of the 2019 West Tisbury Farmers Market was nothing short of perfect. Clear blue skies and bright warm sunshine greeted vendors and patrons crowding the Grange Hall grounds to open the iconic market’s 46th summer season.
Longtime locals and weekend visitors appeared delighted with the offerings, browsing the booths, sampling tasty edibles, purchasing everything from produce and flowers to gourmet delicacies, herbal lotions, teas, coffees, and condiments.
Farmers Market regulars headed to favorite booths — Chilmark Coffee for a jolt of cold brew, Tabor House Farm for a bouquet, Martha’s Vineyard Smokehouse for irresistible bluefish spread, Linda Alley’s blueberry jam, a fluffy popover from Jan Buhrman’s Kitchen Porch Catering. As always, a top stop was Khen’s Kitchen for a delicate egg roll.
Upbeat music by Rob Myers and his Maniacs of the Heart, a versatile combo often performing for kids as the Pinkletinks, added to the festivities as patrons greeted friends and vendors.
Though it’s early in the growing season, farms both large and small displayed lush greens, radishes, spring onions, herbs, and seedlings ready for home gardens.
Sales were swift at Cinnamon Starship, where baker Olivia Pattison said the top choice was Einkorn bread using local grains from Dan Sternbach.
Emily Fischer of Flat Point Farm arranged bars of her handmade goat’s milk soaps, prettily packaged in pastel paper or felt. Next door, Morning Glory Farm featured greens, potted herbs, and spicy micro basil.
Early morning arrivals grabbed a sweet pastry from Pie Chicks or Little Rock Farm for energy before beginning their shopping in earnest.
Several vendors, including Blackwater Farm, Blissed Out, and the Miller’s Wife, are taking this year off. Jo Maxwell’s Chesca’s, the Scott family’s Beetlebung Beef, Loon, and Wandering Farms left permanently. But there was one joyful return. Fans flocked to the Beth’s Bakery booth to welcome Doug Reid back after a season’s hiatus. They scooped up loaves of his wife Beth Kramer’s hearty bread, with Doug’s plump scones, sinful brownies, biscotti, and savory vegan pizzas.
Nettie Kent arrived with 2-month-old Wyld snoozing on her chest, husband Colin Ruel, and son Razmus, age 2, sporting an engineer’s cap. They came for Chilmark Coffee and Olivia’s bread, and hoped for more stops before naptime.
Caroline and Daniel Mayhew, who live nearby, came when their perky 2-year-old, Luna, insisted after hearing music from the market. Like many young families they shopped, then headed for the adjoining playground, where little ones cavorted while grownups took a welcome breather.
Customers sampled Mermaid Farm’s delectable raw cow’s milk cheeses by Jessica Miller, and yogurt-based lassis in coffee, raspberry, and lemon. Tabor House Farm’s Rebecca Miller was enthusiastically recommending miniature Japanese hakurei turnips for salad or sauté. Stannard Farm’s truck was heaped with tempting organic produce.
Missy Larsen in her Vineyard Herbs and Apothecary tent instructed a fascinated customer about brewing times for herbal and medicinal teas.
Suzanne Fenn, at the salsa and juice booth she operates with husband Bucky Burrows, reassured Erica Gannett that the tangy Citrus Cooler was not too sweet. After sipping the icy beverage, Gannett, visiting from Brooklyn with her husband Wes Lambert, happily agreed.
Surrounded by leafy kale and lettuce, Ghost Island Farm owner Rusty Gordon showed off jewel-toned glycerin soaps with herbs, healing salves, jars of red pepper and dried spices, all new additions.
Pam Glavin, wearing green that echoed the basil in her popular pesto, replenished the sample tray between sales. “This is the first time I’ve ever met Pam,” said a smiling Eileen Murphy of Vineyard Haven, shopping for pesto, mushrooms, and egg rolls with Eric Peters. Murphy has enjoyed Pam’s Pesto for years, but never encountered its creator.
Island Bee Co. owner Tricia Colon said mild winter weather slows honey production, but summer supplies would be plentiful. Her stock of last season’s sweet harvest keeps honey lovers satisfied.
On the Grange Hall’s shady veranda customers, swooned over Andrea Rogers’s fragrant lavender and tastes of Grey Barn cheeses.
Co-manager Collins Heavener strolled among the booths, checking in with vendors. Moving to the Vineyard in 2011, the young Vermonter, a woodworker by trade, took a job at Morning Glory, and eventually joined with Slip Away Farm owner Lily Walter. The Chappaquiddick farming colleagues volunteered to manage the market in 2017. With Walter stepping down this year, Heavener enlisted as co-manager Olivia Rabbitt, who worked extensively with Island Grown Initiative (IGI) as program coordinator.
Heavener announced that soon a new program in cooperation with IGI will allow patrons to drop off food waste for community composting.
Although the market’s low-key atmosphere creates the impression that it all evolves naturally, it takes countless hours of meetings, working, and planning by managers and vendors to keep all running smoothly. Paperwork, yearly applications, and board of health approval are required for all booth holders. Vendor numbers are capped at about 50.
In line with market bylaws, two-thirds of these must offer locally grown farm products. The remainder comprises nonfarm vendors selling food items made on the Vineyard, along with a few exceptions who joined the market before current bylaws. Vendors pay a modest participation fee. Many sell at both Saturday and Wednesday markets, others only at one.
New this summer are Mimi’s Hittin’ the Sauce and Beetlebung Farm under new ownership. Lydia Fischer, of her family’s original Beetlebung, now grows at Flat Point as the Garden Farm.
Along with regulars Rob Myers, Taurus and Ellen Biskis, Sean McMahon and Robbie Soltz, new musicians include Rose Guerin and Kimberly Townsend.
Heavener is not looking to make any substantial changes. “We’re trying to keep the market the same as it’s always been,” Heavener said. “It’s an institution, it’s great. It doesn’t need too much, just a gentle guiding hand.
“Every season gets a little better, and this will be the best season yet.”