Ten more working farms grace our fields and roads. Each new farm includes several affordable homes — not tiny homes — but modest guesthouse-sized structures, ranging from 700 to 1,100 square feet, with net-zero energy consumption (where power self-generated on the property is equal to or more than that used). Each of those homes includes small, regenerative yards designed to produce food such as vegetables, herbs, honey, fruit trees and the like, along with built-in composting and rainwater capture systems. A few of these small home/farm projects became senior-living communities, where some could downsize and move to smaller, efficient new homes with fewer expenses. Now, there’s even more local food, more jobs for potential farmers, and more open space, as well as additional affordable homes.
One new farmer, after consulting with blueberry farmer Susan Murphy, planted 200 blueberry bushes on the gentle slopes of a North Shore property. Another added a beautiful glass solar greenhouse and multiple hoop houses for year-round growing of all sorts of greens, especially that Island favorite, kale. Still another farm produces high-protein shiitake mushrooms, a new permanent home for MVM Mushrooms, previously renters.
How did this all evolve? One idea sprouted after 2012, when the town of Chilmark collected applications from farmers or would-be farmers to own and operate the former Tea Lane Farm. About 13 local growers applied with detailed plans, even though the town could choose just one person or couple. (In this case, Chilmark chose Krishana Collins). This made Island leaders recognize the hidden need for affordable farm land for those who wanted to farm, but could not afford land prices or home building costs. These same town leaders joined with housing activists and decided that every affordable housing project would include a farm, or food producer if not large enough for a farm. Donated land was waiting, after the Island earlier appealed to wealthy land/home owners to consider leaving their trophy homes and property, if they could, for future Vineyard families.
It worked. Each year, it seemed, a beautiful Vineyard home and property was bequeathed, becoming a model for the country. These days local kids add to the demand for better quality food grown more sustainably (given climate changes), or express an interest to farm, spurred by the two decades of Island Grown’s school garden programs. The farms and farmers are being further helped by the Farm Bank, started by the Ag Society. The nonprofit Farm Bank finances regular mortgages, but uses the accrued interest or proceeds collected for community projects, in this case, the farmers, with aims toward reducing local food prices. A number of these new programs generate food for the Island’s food insecure. For fairness, the Farm Bank also helps existing farmers who apply. The forecast is for another 10 farms and food producers by 2040, and an Island well on its way to a brighter future with a healthier community in homes powered off the grid with young families and farmers.
Catherine Walthers, a cookbook author and political activist from West Tisbury, raises her New Year’s glass to all those growing and supporting local food and seafood, now and for years to come.