Thimble Farm has been rescued once again from possible sale into private hands. And a collective sigh of relief went around the Vineyard farming and conservation community this week at the news that thirty-seven acres of friable farmland in the center of the Island will remain in active food production, hopefully this time forever.
The Island owes a huge debt of thanks to both Eric Grubman, the owner of the farm, and Allan and Shelley Holt, whose very generous donations made it all possible. Now the nonprofit Island Grown Initiative will take ownership of the farm, which was started nearly thirty years ago as a berry-growing operation under the ownership of Bencion and Patricia Moskow, retired attorneys who took up farming as a mid-life occupation. Later the Moskows added greenhouses where they grew hydroponic tomatoes that were sold year-round.
Mr. Grubman, a seasonal resident of Katama, has in fact rescued the farm twice — the first time five years ago when he bought it to prevent a sale to another private owner, and then again this week when he gave back a significant sum of money to help make the transaction a reality. The other key players in the deal were the Holts, seasonal residents of Chilmark who also donated a large sum of money to help save the farm. The sale price had not been disclosed at press time, as final papers were still being signed and recorded.
The Thimble Farm purchase comes at a critical time for the Vineyard as it engages in a mighty struggle to find new ways to protect its unique character and keep its balance as a sustainable community, where people from all walks of life and income levels share the same one hundred and twenty square miles of fragile, finite land surrounded by the sea. That includes nine hundred and thirty-five acres of active farmland.
The hard work is just beginning for Island Grown Initiative as it takes ownership of the farm. Fields must be plowed and planted with cover crops, soil must be nourished, and buildings, including the greenhouses, are sorely in need of repairs. A sound management and business plan will need to be developed to restore the farm to its proper place as a thriving center for small agriculture and food production, possibly year-round. The Island Grown Initiative will need the full support of the Island to make it happen.
In an interview with the Gazette in 1984 just after they had plowed the fields for a pick-your-own strawberry and raspberry operation, the Moscows described their vision for the farm, “A lot of dreams,” Patricia Moskow said. “We want to get a little cottage industry going here one of these days.”
How gratifying to see that the dream can now continue.