It was the Vineyard’s wettest weekend with gutters overflowing, but the Martha’s Vineyard Agricultural Hall in West Tisbury was overflowing with people for Saturday’s Living Local Harvest Festival.
The two-day event began on Friday night with a panel discussion at the Chilmark Community Center and continued all day on Saturday with workshops, demonstrations and plenty of home-grown food as well as food for thought.
There was an exhibit on Island wool, bottles of Island-made honey and bags of Island-grown produce.
Four organizations — the Martha’s Vineyard Agricultural Society, Vineyard Conservation Society, Island Grown Initiative and Vineyard Energy Project — shared the venue, while farmers, shellfishermen, landowners and land managers shared a common concern about protecting the Vineyard, conserving its resources and exploring new energy initiatives.
“This was more like a three-ring circus,” said Tad Crawford, one of more than a dozen organizers of the event. Mr. Crawford opened panel discussions for talks about energy, land conservation, agriculture preservation and the future of finfish and shellfisheries.
The three-ring circus included John Abrams of South Mountain Company leading a panel discussion on alternative energy, while a few feet away growers listened to Caitlin Jones of Mermaid Farm speak about how to preserve this year’s seeds for next year’s garden. Spirited discussions took place in white tents, while drizzle streamed down the plastic windows.
Inside the hall, Andrew Woodruff of Whippoorwill Farm stood behind a display of his Island-grown tomatoes. The smell of fresh-baked goods wafted around him.
Oscar Thompson of SBS, one of the Island’s oldest feed and farm supply stores, showed off a plastic composting bin.
Many people shared their stories. Lindsey Scott of Chilmark talked about her and her husband Josh’s efforts to have a small garden. Seated next to her was Jim Athearn of Morning Glory Farm. Mr. Athearn spoke about his earliest days on the farm when he began growing on borrowed land, in 1973.
Emily Bramhall, president of the Sheriff’s Meadow Foundation, spoke about the expanding relationship between growers and property owners, including conservation groups.
Brendan O’Neill, executive director of the Vineyard Conservation Society, spoke about hopes for the future.
Mr. Athearn said growers on the Island still look for parcels with good soil. He said his tractors get a lot of wear on their tires from traveling to the different places for farming scattered about the Island.
While he spoke, a group of local musicians played banjo music and acoustic bass.
Later in the afternoon, a panel discussion led by Jonathan Mayhew of Chilmark focused on the future of the fisheries on Island. Rick Karney, director of the Martha’s Vineyard Shellfish Group, discussed his concerns about water quality as nitrogen from fertilizers and other sources leaches into inshore ponds, harming shellfish beds. Warren Doty, a Chilmark selectman and former owner of a seafood processing business in Vineyard Haven, spoke optimistically about keeping fishing a viable industry on the Island. Tom Osmers, shellfish constable from West Tisbury, spoke about the collapse of the cod fishery and the fear that there may not be a future.
In a panel discussion about local business, Steve Bernier, owner of Cronig’s Market, spoke about the challenges of running a grocery store on the Island. Seated next to him were Sharon Florio of Vineyard Heating Alternative, Mr. Abrams and Mark Martin of Eco MV, a green retail store.
“What impressed me was the shoulder-to-shoulder nature of the event, that people were crowding into the tents, people were milling in packs. The agricultural hall is large. It is hard to fill,” said Mr. Abrams.
“We definitely built bridges at a lot of different levels,” said Mr. Crawford. “There was collaboration between the four organizations that made the event happen. We are kindred spirits, but we are also working in different new areas,” he added.
Kate Warner, the founder and former director of the energy project who came up with the idea two years ago, said she was pleased by the result.
“What was important to me was noting that everybody took a piece,” she said. “It was not only a community event, it was put together by a community team.
“It will be up to that group if we do this again. It was a lot of work. We have to find ways to push this further, so that people recognize that the world is changing. What we are used to is moving away. We have to ask ourselves how can we work as an Island to live more locally.”