She grew up in Chilmark, the twelfth generation of an Island farming family. He was raised in Brooklyn, N.Y., the grandson of Jewish immigrants. He had never farmed and she was all set to move to Boston. But life, horses and a flock of sheep intervened. Thirty-two years later Mitchell Posin and Clarissa Allen talk about their relationship, while inhabitants of the farm chime in with crows and bleats, contributing to the tale.
Interviews by Julia Rappaport
It was April of 1975. I was 27 years old and I came here to build John Abrams's dad's house. I had never been to the Vineyard before. And I had built houses, but I had never been the guy from start to finish. So we came here in April. We were living in tents on Middle Road and originally, we thought that we were going to come here, then go to West Virginia, buy as much land as we could, start a furniture factory and start bringing wood back up here. We thought it was going to take about seven months to build this building. It was getting to the end of August, we were living in these tents and we thought, Holy moly, we're not gonna be done by the time winter comes. So we needed a place to live and we needed a shop to build all this stuff. So we rented the house from Clarissa and that's where we were living.
To make it short, there were horses involved. When I was a kid, I didn't hang out at home, I hung out at a stable. And I learned how to shoe horses. So that's how we sort of met. Because there were horses involved and I was a horseman, I came over. All the farriers there had for years tried to improve this animal and every time they went riding, there'd be blood. I was this long-haired hippie and I said, oh, I can fix that animal. In five minutes I fixed it. I think I won her over.
She was 24 years old and I was 27. By October, she moved back. What happened is, she was going to go back to Boston and somehow get into graduate school. And I sort of interrupted that, grabbed her and got her back here.
Back then you couldn't just go to the lumber yard, so I had this truck. That's all I had was this truck. And I called her up and I asked her to help me around the Boston area to get timber and wood. She drove me around and then on the way home, I had the truck so weighed down with wood that the tires blew up. They were so old and there was so much weight. As we were coming home, the first person I called was Clarissa, just to tell her that I was safe. She always found that strange and I thought, we're together and this is what you get.
My hippie mantra was to make money from a piece of land. So, if I was going be here, we were going to start clearing the land. In the discussions that we had, we were either going to do sheep or fruits and berries, preserves and things like that. But either way, we needed land to clear. As we started to clear, we found out there was this mile of stone wall. We cleared 100 acres of land and resurrected from rubble a mile of stone wall.
I didn't think this was where I was going to stay. I have to say, staying on the Vineyard was a byproduct of Clarissa's owning the land. Once you're farming a piece of land, it doesn't matter where it is. You get a piece of land and you do what needs to be done. I think it was a perk that it was on the Vineyard. I think of it now, after living here for 33 years. I say to myself, okay. Clarissa's family came here in 1628, one of 29 families that was here and they picked this spot to stay. They founded Farmington, Maine. They were in Braintree, they were in New Vineyard, they were all over the East Coast, but they always kept this land here. There was a reason why and we're pretty lucky. I was lucky enough to be the end product of something that was done centuries ago, that they kept this place. It could have been anywhere, but it was here.
I'm much more open to new ideas, or open to expansion, or rethinking what is there and she's not. That's the tension between us. I want to expand the store, I want to build another house out back, that's the new project, but all the way along, there's been things. The dynamic in our relationship is, I'd come up with an idea and it takes three to five years before Clarissa says, hey, let's build a store. And I'll say, wow, that's good.
Just being a farmer is a wonderful profession for me. When you make a living at your own place, what's important is your own stuff. It gives the farmer a sense of full purpose. So when you do that with your family, it really just makes it that much more full. We're very fortunate and very lucky to be able to do what we do as hard as it is.
She's stayed the same, but has grown and in growing with her, you almost don't notice the changes because they're happening right there with you. I was somewhat of an insecure person. I didn't read until I was 19. I'm very dyslexic. I never wrote anything in my whole life. So Clarissa really helped me grow. My life with Clarissa has helped me blossom. I think she's helped me grow much more than I've helped her grow. Clarissa has really helped me make that jump of being a full person. I wasn't dealt a great deck. So I would go to the stable and live in the stable and I learned how to shoe horses and I fixed the horse that was Clarissa's and I got Clariss. So, you know, life's got a funny way of getting you where you gotta get.
I met him through my summer tenant across the road who rented our barn. He was trying to find somebody to take care of some horses throughout the winter. Marie Scott had taken care of them in the past and she wasn't able to do it that year. Chris Abrams was at Marie Scott's playing the recorder there and Chris said she'd take care of the horses if there was a house to live in. Mitchell came over the next day to check out the house and he had horseshoeing experience, so he fixed a shoeing problem that we were having.
He was kind of a hippie. He had long auburn hair and a beard. He was very interesting looking. He kept bringing out different stories, trying to see what would interest me. He finally told this story about being in Paris during the uprising in 1968 with the students and the workers, prying up cobblestones and I thought, hmm, maybe he is interesting. Mitchell and I have really been together nonstop since we met, pretty much. We come from really different backgrounds. He came from an urban background, although he spent summers in the country, and I guess I come from a strong rural background.
It was almost like I unconsciously knew that I needed someone who could really work hard. I really knew that I needed somebody who could really work really, really hard and care deeply about the farm and help me bring forth the ideas about it. I had a couple of serious boyfriends who weren't really capable with their hands. And it was extremely frustrating to me. I felt like they were missing huge parts of their selves.
I went back to Boston. I was applying to graduate school and he kept coming to Boston to get lumber. He'd come and see me and I'd come down and visit him and before I knew it, I was living here again by Thanksgiving. We started talking about the farm right away. I never gave it a thought, it wasn't like I had decided not to. I always thought I would do something to keep the land and be here, but I didn't really have any plan. Probably in those days I wanted to live in Boston and teach and I thought that I could do that and have a farm, do both. It really quickly became apparent that the farm was going to take all my energy.
It was so much work at first because Mitchell was building still, so he was working before and after work and I was teaching full time at the publicly funded alternative high school. So we had full-time jobs and we were beginning to grow our food. When we got sheep eventually, I was really literally assisting in the birth of a lamb and I had the book open in front of me. We really learned an awful lot because we really didn't have anybody on the farm with us.
The Island was so much simpler then. More people lived like this than not. So it wasn't particularly unusual. You had some land and you had a history of it. It didn't ever feel risky at all, kind of a regular, normal thing to do. This was before the boom years, before the development and the building. We say Mitchell got out of building just in time and went to where the real money is - farming.
I think it's representative of life here from the earliest colonial times. If you think about it, all along South Road, there were farms just like this one in size. You can still see the remnants. To have this one still working, an active working farm held by the same family that had it, it's important. It's important that there's something going on here beyond building and real estate and there's a relationship to place. I think our experience here is very much about that. I feel lucky to be here and I feel responsible for the land and caring for it and protecting it.
Most people in this day and age have separate lives, have separate careers from their home lives and ours are totally intertwined down here. Pretty much every single decision we make together. And even though we have our little spheres of influence, it's definitely our endeavor together. We're always making decisions together. And everything about you comes to the forefront, all the little nuances in your characters that are different. When you have a farm, there isn't a lot of separation between work and relaxation and home and work. Everything is all kind of ongoing from the minute you get up until you go to bed, there's always something going on. Like an animal got caught in the fence the other day in the evening. There's a complication with living and working with somebody all the time and being married to that person. I think we do a pretty good job of balancing it all. We stay pretty focused and pretty sane. I think we complement each other and work well together.