Something to Celebrate

As well-resourced men and women from Washington and Wall Street jockeyed this week for a multi-billion-dollar bailout, a band of earthy Vineyarders was busy preparing a festival about living local. This ironic juxtoposition is an accident of timing, of course; still, the broader economic crisis does concentrate the mind on those aspects of living that Islanders can and should control.

The late Everett S. Allen recalled moving to the Vineyard as a child, when his father foresaw a slump on the mainland in the 1920s. “I visualized the coming ‘slump,’ whatever it was, as being something peculiar to the mainland that could not cross water,” he wrote, adding that this reaction was essentially correct economically and socially, as the Vineyard of those years was splendidly independent of much that bothered the United States and the world.

Less so these days. The Vineyard will experience fallout from the market implosion, directly and indirectly. Investment bankers now out of jobs in New York figure prominently here as homeowners; their builders, caretakers, landscapers and real estate agents already feel their mainland pain directly. Shaken investment institutions such as Lehman Brothers are directly invested in some Island projects and were leading the financing of others.

Though the Island has recorded few foreclosures, and its locally-owned banks thankfully steered clear of offering or investing in subprime mortgages, the housing market here has declined and looks as though it may be falling farther. Folks are buying less, which hurts the retailers. Fuel for transportation and heating costs us all more.

So it’s a fine time to revive a bit of old Island sensibility. As derby anglers will tell you, even the casual fisherman can provide dinner at virtually no cost but his time. And at the Living Local Harvest Festival tomorrow at the Agricultural Hall, Islanders will share other traditions that have lately been misplaced: food preserving, composting, seed saving, keeping your own chickens, making your own cleaning products, powering your home efficiently.

The Vineyard economy is no longer built on potatoes and salt cod. But as the value of so many slick paper investments is shown to be so unreal and unsustainable, it is critical for Vineyarders to consider deliberately how we can enhance Island-based food and energy production, as the festival’s discussions will do. Or maybe just invest some time, just for fun, baking cookies in the sun at the festival. At least you can eat the profits.