This June is the 45th anniversary of the Vineyard’s oldest and largest outdoor marketplace. The West Tisbury Farmers Market is a quintessential Vineyard tradition, founded and maintained by local artisans, chefs, agriculturalists, craftsmen and more. While the number of booths have increased (there are 46 and counting this year), the products have become more diverse, and the patrons have multiplied the spirit has always remained the same. Island photographer Alison Shaw can attest to this — she’s been photographing the Farmers Market since the beginning.
“While the market holds all the distinct Island sights and flavors that can only be brought to us by local farmers and artisans,” Alison said recently, “my favorite part is and has always been the social interaction.”
It’s true for most of us: you aren’t picking up some greens because they are 50 percent off at the supermarket, instead you are hearing about how they were sourced from the people who plucked them from the ground themselves. You are seeing the paint-splattered hands of those who crafted the work of art you just need to have. You are learning that your children’s kindergarten teacher sells an essential oil that could cure that everlasting knot in your back. You are supporting, acknowledging, and uniting with your neighbors.
“Visit any farmers market in any area and the vibrancy (or lack of) will be a reflection of what is happening in the community,” said Jan Buhrman, another Islander who has been a part of the market since its earliest days.
This summer the West Tisbury Farmers Market will welcome back a number of vendors who have been selling the classic products we’ve loved since the beginning; there are also some fresh faces to grace the scene.
Andrea Rogers has been selling her lavender-based goods at the market since the 80s. Gardening and growing food, however, is part of her ancestral roots. Her father grew up on a farm in southern Italy, and while his move to the U.S. meant he would have a much smaller piece of land to cultivate, he utilized every inch. He saw no purpose in using his space to grow anything but sustainable food, but he gave in to his daughter’s interest in flowers, specifically lavender. This is where Rogers’ love for the flowering perennial and useful herb began. She crafts and sells it in sachets, bunches, sleep-aid pillows, and recipes. This year she will offer a card with information on growing successful lavender plants, since customers have often asked about her success.
Sandy Bernat has also been a vendor at the market since the ‘80s, and will be back with her Seastone Papers, crafted from all that our local land, sea, and people have to offer. She creates her paper pulp from cornhusks, gladiola leaves, iris leaves, cattail leaves, and recycled products such as old blue jeans and cotton/banana leaf fibers. With her flower petal and seaweed inclusions, this paper is as useful as it is beautiful. She makes sheets of different sizes, stationery, paper bags, and books.
Breezy Pines Farm will be back for its 15th year, with its well-known herbal apothecary stand, owned and operated by Heather Thurber, a registered clinical herbalist and certified master gardener. While their honeycomb soaps have been a market staple for 15 years, “Everything offered at the West Tisbury Farmers Market is made fresh, in small batches, using the highest quality ingredients,” Thurber said. “From facial oils, flower hydrosols, herb-filled eye pillows, beeswax wraps, herbal bug spray, sleep balm and so much more, Breezy Pines Farm’s apothecary collection has something to offer for everyone.” This year, she will also offer a new line of CBD products, crafted from plants grown on the Breezy Pines Farm.
The Grey Barn and Farm will celebrate its 10th year as a market vendor. Owner Eric Glasgow describes his business as a traditional New England “little bit of everything” farm, known for its dairy. Their booth will offer award-winning cheese, milk, eggs, vegetables, and meat (beef, veal, pork, and lamb); this year they will add a bakery to the operation, and selling freshly made baguettes at the market as well. Glasgow says that while the cheese is what they are known for, they are very excited to debut their house-made baked goods.
Jan Burhman started merchandising her cooking at the market in ‘86, and from there blossomed her full-service catering company, Kitchen Porch, offering culinary education, farm tours, and retreats. While her business is thriving, she hasn’t lost sight of the importance of involvement in her local farmers market. “We love that we got our start at the Farmers Market,” Buhrman said. “We love that visitors [there] are becoming more aware of their role in supporting the culture of our community. In this day of cheap food and regulations that are put into place to make food more cost efficient, our health has taken a toll. Farming and the importance of the small farmer have been disregarded, but here on Martha’s Vineyard, we see farming re-evolving.” Buhrman said she thinks there is no question that the Farmers Market has played a role in keeping our agriculture alive. Her booth will offer ready-to-eat meals and snacks, including popovers, hand pies, and a full line of gluten-free items.
Another returning vendor is Little Rock Farm. The family-owned and operated catering/wholesale business joined the Farmers Market in 1982. They originally offered items from their garden such as lettuce and jarred tomatoes, as well as fresh-baked goods and coffee (for 75 cents a cup back then!). Over the years their booth began serving prepared foods, with their most popular items being fresh fruit pies, Vineyard Sunshine Granola, and gluten-free watermelon gazpacho.
Chrissy Kinsmen of Pie Chicks has been involved in the market since 2013. We all know and love their sweet and savory pies, and this year they are excited to introduce a vegan pie to the public. “We use European-style butter, combined with fair-trade organic palm shortening, for our pie crusts for a perfectly delicious flaky crust,” Chrissy said. “I firmly believe that if you love what you do, it shines right through your products. I love watching someone take a bite of a freshly baked croissant, and then share it with a friend, saying ‘Oh, you have to try this!’ I believe pie spreads joy. I can see it in action!”
Lydia Fischer will launch the harvest of her newest project, The Garden Farm — a vegetable garden she has maintained through Flat Point Farm. Her cousin Emily Fischer inquired about her plans after Beetlebung, her family farm, went on the market. Lydia was interested in continuing her work in horticulture, and Emily and her father told her they had the perfect garden flat on their property that they would love to see her work. Lydia said she was “humbled beyond belief. I have always said, I would not be able to do what I do without the support I’ve received from my family and community.” This garden was also once worked by her great-grandfather. She has been growing local classics, as well as exotic plants and vegetables. “I like growing pretty things and selling produce that makes people ask, ‘What is that?’” she said. “I find myself growing a lot of boutique vegetables because I love having relationships with chefs across the Island and [I love] seeing and tasting the things they cook with my food.”
The West Tisbury Farmers Market, a little piece of Martha’s Vineyard heritage, will be in full swing every Saturday from 9 am to 12pm at the West Tisbury Grange Hall.