On a recent afternoon, when the skies had finally cleared and the earth was beginning to soak up five days worth of rain, Marie Scott emerged out of her field off Middle Road in Chilmark. Barefoot, she appeared to float effortlessly amongst her crops. Her feet squished in the damp ground as she showed the Gazette around the land she has been connected to her entire life off Beetlebung Corner, aptly named Beetlebung Farm.
Today she was beginning to take apart the acre or so field she’s been working on since April, and at the end of September she’ll return to her home in Vermont.
“It’s winding down quickly,” she said. “I had beautiful tomatoes this year. We deserved it after last year [when blight hit]. They had leather covers on them last year, so this year they did very well. My greens and my lettuce struggled; they like the cool weather.”
Every summer brings something different for Mrs. Scott. Sometimes it’s one crop that flourishes better than another, other times it’s a particular crew of workers. This summer she had an all female group who worked part-time, switching off mornings and afternoons to help in the fields.
“They all have different aspects of being memorable seasons,” she said, taking a break under the shade. “One summer my younger daughter was working and we had a singing crew that summer, everyone liked to sing And different years, different vegetables do really well. The same vegetable does well for everybody. I don’t know why that happens but some years everyone will have great carrots or great tomatoes.”
This year brought carrots with legs, arms and limbs that shot out in every direction; Mrs. Scott and her crew even took to naming some of them. “The second planting didn’t do that, so that makes it even more of a mystery,” she added. “Last year with all that rain the broccoli was just amazing. And this year I had very little broccoli. I don’t know what happened to my peppers this year.”
When she’s not on the Vineyard, Mrs. Scott spends her winters in Vermont, where she chooses to lay down the hoe and take up the paintbrush. She has a small outdoor gallery next to her stand. “I work out the other side of my brain,” she said of her painting and quilting hobbies during the off-season. “There’s not much of a garden up there. I look for vegetables when I get back and sometimes I can find them.
“I started back in 1974 when my older son was two years old. That’s how I always remember,” Mrs. Scott said. “My mom used to have beauty shop in the cottage over there; we had just moved back from Hawaii and they offered me a piece of the land. My dad was growing flowers and selling them to my mom’s customers.”
Mrs. Scott’s father, Ozzie Fischer, still has a small garden of his own these days that grandson Chris Fischer helps tend. “My dad, when he was younger, we helped him. He did a lot of tractor work,” she said of the family affair. “He’s almost 96 now, but he did get on a tractor once this summer.
“He’s always been a good role model,” she added, never having an issue of her being a female farmer. “I grew up on the Keith Farm next door and was always involved with what was going on over there.”
Along with advice from the older generation, Mrs. Scott has the same problems as other farmers this summer: extreme drought, most recently extreme rain, deer, theft and weeds.
“It’s not perfect. When it gets really dry like it did this summer, if you’re watering with a drip line it will get the area where the plants are wet but then that dry soil sucks it right out,” Mrs. Scott said. “You find you have to water quite frequently. Overhead watering wastes a lot of water, but it does get everything wet.”
The Beetlebung Farm stand works on an honesty system, where Mrs. Scott leaves a deposit box and change box available to customers. “For the most part it works really well,” she said. “We’ve had a few problems. It’s usually the same person who goes up and down the road to all the boxes. A couple of times I’d call the police and they would look at my box and say, you can’t do that, you can’t keep calling us if you do it that way. I finally put in a lock box.”
“If I had to pay someone all day to stand there and watch my box I’d be out a lot more money than having somebody take a little,” she added.
Part of the reason Mrs. Scott continues to farm after 36 years is the positive feedback she gets from her loyal customers who come to buy her lettuce, tomatoes, beans, squash and recently peaches and pears.
“I love doing it,” she said looking out upon the land she has come to know so well. “I think eventually at some point I would like to have somebody take over the managing part for this and I would love to work here part-time and still do it, but I’m 68 and I get a lot more tired than I used to, especially when it’s hot.
“I think some young energy would be a good position at this time,” she concluded.
Mrs. Scott has a late planting of greens, beans, carrots and beets coming in the next month, but after that she’ll turn the soil and put it to rest for the winter. Every season she leaves one side of the farm fallow, planting native vegetation and even weeds to give the soil back some nutrients. “I want to be able to turn all of this under and put a cover crop here,” she said of her departure in the fall. “If I were to stay here I’d love to have a hoop house and keep selling stuff but that’s not my life right now.”
As another season comes to a close, Mrs. Scott said she would love to be able to visit other farms on the Island and reflected on how the land has changed over her years here. “It’s important to keep the land growing food, and not be used for other things,” she said, before heading out to take down a row of squash.