Vineyard establishes its own farm bureau

Unprecedented move reportedly creates first new bureau in the U.S. in 40 years.

Martha’s Vineyard farmers have created their own farm bureau, a historic first. — Rich Saltzberg

Updated Sept. 16

Martha’s Vineyard farmers, both terrestrial and aquatic, have seceded from the Cape and Islands Farm Bureau, and established the Martha’s Vineyard Farm Bureau. 

In Zoom and email voting earlier this month, Island farmers, almost entirely composed of Martha’s Vineyard Agricultural Society members, opted to make the move.

Oak Bluffs shellfish farmer Dan Martino was chosen as the bureau’s inaugural president. Martino said it has been decades since a new farm bureau has been created. “It’s the first one in 40 years; we’re really excited about that,” he said. 

“It might even be longer,” Massachusetts Farm Bureau Federation president Mark Amato said. “That’s the whole country,” he added, as opposed to just Massachusetts. “We’re very excited to have them.”

Among other things, the Massachusetts Farm Bureau Federation helps shape agricultural policy in the commonwealth, and provides information and resources to the state’s farming communities. 

“It’s been a long time coming,” Martino said. Vineyard farmers now have a “unified voice” and can “hopefully make some legislation that can help our agricultural community. Even to get priority on the Steamship would be huge for us,” he said.

M.V. Ag Society president Brian Athearn, who was appointed an officer of the bureau, and along with Martino is one of its two delegates, said the Cape and Islands Bureau was supportive of the secession.

Athearn said there was understanding that Cape farming needs are dominated by cranberries, and cranberries dominated the bureau’s agenda. Cranberry farming is not a commercial crop on the Vineyard. 

Martino described the utility of the secession more plainly. “We can raise Island issues, as opposed to mainland issues,” he said. 

Amato pointed out it had been difficult for Vineyard farmers to make off-Island meetings in the past. 

Chilmark shellfish constable Isaiah Scheffer, who hails from a family of shellfish farmers, praised the move, and said he thought it would be a valuable vehicle to address Vineyard-centric agricultural issues. He found Martino a fitting choice for president, noting he sees little essential difference between land and sea farming.

“It’s the same exact thing,” he said of aquaculturists. “They’re doing it in the water instead of on the land.”

Grey Barn co-owner Eric Glasgow said the Vineyard Farm Bureau could be very helpful in interpreting some of the specialized laws and regulations that govern farm life. For instance, farm vehicles receive plates and stickers, but have no registrations. This can be perplexing to police when they happen to pull over a farm vehicle, he said. A local farm bureau can help get police and local officials up to speed on such things. Glasgow also said he hoped the new bureau could help advance the Vineyard’s food independence. He pointed to impacts the pandemic had on the food supply chain as a motivating factor. 

Amato said the Martha’s Vineyard Farm Bureau will be formally welcomed by Massachusetts Farm Bureau Federation in early December at the annual delegate session; delegates Athearn and Martino will represent the Vineyard at that session. While the event has been held at various locations across the state over the years, Amato said, it will be held virtually this year. 

Updated to clarify the status of the farm bureau.  –Ed.