Editor’s Note: The following went out to Whippoorwill Farm members in a newsletter this week.

Several weeks ago, I began to plow the fields at Thimble Farm for what most likely will be the last time. As the dust rose up from the turning of the soil, I began to wonder just what this land could mean to our community — not only now, but 30 years from now. Until recently, there had been little rain in months and it has been one of the driest starts to a growing season that I have ever experienced.

Recent years here in the USA have recorded some of the most extreme weather conditions on record. If the worst is yet to come due to global warming, I wonder how this will affect food production around the world? With food prices rising, population growing and water becoming more scarce, our life as we know it will become more fragile. It will not only be energy shortages raising tensions around the world, but the availability of food and water as well. So once again I ask myself, just how important could a piece of land like this be to our community in 30 years from now?

Eight years ago Whippoorwill Farm had an opportunity to lease Thimble Farm to expand its operations. It seemed like a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. In making that decision there were two goals we had in mind. One was to establish a more efficient and viable farm at this location by taking advantage of the land and infrastructure; the other was to find a way to permanently protect the farm for food production. While it is no secret that the farm has had its struggles, I am pleased to note that we made money last year, and we are working hard to insure that we stay on that course. More importantly, the effort of saving the farm and placing it into the hands of an Island nonprofit has been elusive and unsuccessful so far. This is not due to a lack of effort.

Last year several members of the CSA began to reach out to the community to see if a bona fide coalition could be assembled to keep the farm as a community resource. Although there were fits and starts to the process, by late summer Island Grown Initiative took the lead in the effort. While there have been a number of nonprofits willing to hold the land in perpetuity for agricultural use, IGI was the group that offered to take responsibility for seeing this effort to fruition.

For months a group of Islanders with interest in land preservation for food production and education met regularly with IGI to develop a plan that might interest the owner, Eric Grubman. While I did not personally participate in that process, this was a serious attempt to keep the land in food production as a community resource. Unfortunately, as I understand it, this effort died several weeks ago due mainly to the lack of funds. Mr. Grubman has held this land for four years now and has not seen enough interest from a financial standpoint from others in the community to feel comfortable in pursuing the effort further.

As I continue to plow the fields, once again I ask myself how this valuable resource that lies just minutes from two major towns can be at risk of being lost as an agricultural asset to our Island. There has been so much effort and interest in local sustainability. There are more young farmers looking for agricultural land than at any time in my lifetime. Recently there were 39 letters of interest in a parcel of farmland owned by the town of Chilmark. We have windmills rising, solar panels going up everywhere. We have a beautiful transportation system; we have school gardens and farmers selling their products to the school system. There are educational programs galore. We have a teaching farm and advocacy organizations like IGI and the Agricultural Society. People are growing their own vegetables and meat again. Simply put, I believe there is a movement around sustainability and food that is here to stay. There is one common denominator in all of this interest in sustainability — and that is land. The bumper sticker “No Farms, No Food” says it all.

Recently, I received an e-mail from the owner informing me that a sale could be imminent. I cannot thank Mr. Grubman enough for his willingness to help with this effort. In my mind it was a very generous offer to give the Island an opportunity to save this farm, and I still can’t help but wonder if there is a means to find a way to keep this land in food production forever. With close to $100 million raised Islandwide each year to fund our annual town budgets, and with billions of dollars in assessed land on the Island and one of the wealthiest seasonal communities in the country, I am still struggling to see how we can let this land slip through our hands. While it is not certain what the next owner may plan for this land, it is highly unlikely that an opportunity like this will come along again. Sadly, what is even more disturbing is that many of the farms on the Island have antiquated restrictions already in place such as Thimble, and over time I believe we will see some of the best food-producing farms lost because of rising real estate values and other uses.

So if you are a person with interest in a sustainable food system on our Island, or if you know someone who may have the means to participate in an effort to save this land, the time to act is now. As I understand it there has been one substantial pledge offered to this effort already. This is a good start but it would take several more significant donations now to move this project forward.

I want to thank all the past and present members of the CSA who committed to eating locally and supported this farm, and all the individuals and organizations that put time into this effort. To date the outcome may not have materialized as I had hoped, but this was and still is a worthwhile effort to pursue in protecting one of our most valuable agricultural resources on the Island.


Andrew Woodruff is the owner of Whippoorwill Farm in West Tisbury.