The following letter was sent to the Edgartown selectmen:
The Martha’s Vineyard Agricultural Society, founded in 1859, has had as its mission these many years to improve breeds, promote agriculture and educate in the “mechanic and domestic arts.” We currently have over 1,200 dues-paying members, many of whom are Edgartown citizens, and our affairs are administered by a 16-member board of trustees. At our meeting on Jan. 12 the board unanimously voted to instruct me to send this letter to you.
We commend the Edgartown selectmen on your search for renewable energy sources and in particular the recent choice of solar panels. However, we are concerned with the choice of Katama Farm as a site for these panels, which are expected to cover five to six acres. We urge you to continue to seriously consider other sites for the project with less harmful impact on our limited prime agricultural soils.
Throughout our country’s history we have repeatedly placed our shopping malls, subdivisions and industries where it was easiest to build: on flat, mellow farmland. The Connecticut Valley of New England has some of the best agricultural soils in the world and now hundreds of acres are under roads, houses and stores. On Martha’s Vineyard we have done better, and saving Katama Farm was an excellent example. The soil there, a unique type called Katama sandy loam, is very productive and will be there to produce food for many generations of Islanders. Taking five to six acres out of production for 20 or more years means thousands of dollars worth of beef or chicken, or lamb or vegetables, per acre every year, will not be available to the farmers and consumers of Martha’s Vineyard. It is comparable to setting up solar panels over five acres of productive scallop beds in Cape Pogue Bay and removing the production of scallops from the area.
New England’s food supply is more fragile than most of us want to admit. With most of our food coming from thousands of miles away, we are dependent on transportation system, fuel cost and availability, the stability of foreign countries and water resources of our western states. With a major disruption in one or more of these factors, we could find our choices sharply limited within days. It is public policy in Massachusetts and many communities around the country to preserve and enhance our local agricultural resources for greater food security, as well as the other benefits agriculture brings to our economy and enjoyment of life.
We are hopeful that other sites are feasible for the solar array, even if not as ideal as the farm. The old landfill, the leaching beds at the sewer plant, and the two sites in the scrubby oaks off Pennywise Path seem like possibilities and there may be others. We hope it is not too late to reconsider. The self-reliance you are helping us achieve in energy is great but should not also diminish our self reliance in food production.
The writer is president of the Martha’s Vineyard Agricultural Society.