Farming is the oldest profession in the world.
Liz Packer announced this to a crowd of around 100 people at the Slow Food Martha’s Vineyard farmer’s brunch that took place this past Sunday.
Beginning at 10 a.m., people gathered at the Chilmark Community Center to hear from Island agriculture and aquaculture leaders about the challenges and joys of farming.
“Farming, like life, has many challenges,” Jan Buhrman, vice president of Slow Food Martha’s Vineyard, said in opening remarks.
From the drudge work of farming to natural disasters to losing money and livestock, each of the four speakers —Ms. Packer of Springmoon Farm, James Athearn of Morning Glory Farm, Michael Holtham of the Menemsha Fish House, Todd Christy of Chilmark Coffee Company — talked for 15 minutes.
“This is why we are all here today — to hear about the challenges and joys of farming on Martha’s Vineyard,” Ms. Buhrman said. There was a buffet of buckwheat waffles, local cheeses, a Morning Glory Farm egg and vegetable frittata, gluten-free cornbread and Mermaid Farm yogurt. Chilmark Coffee Company set up a station, too. As at all slow food events, people brought their own plates, cups, utensils and napkins, making it a zero waste event.
Mr. Athearn spoke first and talked briefly about the challenges he and his wife Debbie have encountered farming: Hurricane Bob’s aftermath in August of 1991, understanding the current soil health, the town of Edgartown not always being supportive of the farm. “We have so many avenues to grow in still and there will always be challenges,” he said.
Yet there will always be joys, too.
“My granddaughter Clara, just watching her run across a pasture and pick dandelions, well that just makes my heart burst out of my chest, that is one of the greatest joys. I have seven grandchildren and they all have places to run and play and that is where I came from,” said Mr. Athearn. He also shared memories of his three children calling him and his wife up to tell them that they were going to return to the farm. “I always say every day is Father’s Day for me,” he said. Mr. Athearn also thanked the community for being so supportive of his farm.
Ms. Packer spoke about the responsibility and love it takes to raise poultry and other animals, and the sadness that comes with losing livestock. She invited Tom Ranchich to share a story of the challenges and joys of farming. He reflected on a special relationship he had with a pig Ms. Packer once gave him for his birthday. “I raised that pig and we drank beer together and we developed a special relationship. But at the end of the summer I looked at the pig and was like, ‘Oh you’re getting big and it’s time for you to go,’ and man that was hard.” Many people in the audience shook their heads in agreement.
And these tales weren’t limited to the land. “We are slowly but surely trying to figure out farming from oceans,” said Mr. Holtham, who explained how years of experience in restaurants brought him to the realization that what he liked best was “the part before the product hit the restaurant.” He added, “The less hands on the product, coming directly from the ocean, that’s what I like to see,” he said. “And it’s pretty interesting how we’re just now figuring out how to farm the oceans.” Mr. Holtham admitted that there is still a lot to learn and each day there are new challenges thrown his way. “A lot is tied up with the government regulations and what is allowed and not allowed,” he said. “But there is a light at the end of the tunnel.”
The final speaker was Mr. Christy. “I’m not really a farmer but I’m farmer related,” he said. “I deal with a product that is heavily farmed around the world. Coffee is the second most traded commodity besides oil and there’s a lot of coffee out there.” Mr. Christy shared challenges he encountered in starting up his coffee company. He had a rough first year, but learned from it and has since been progressing in production. And the joys? He gets to drink really great coffee. And share it with the people on Martha’s Vineyard. The speaker series concluded with a 20-minute question and answer period. The majority of the questions were directed to Mr. Christy about coffee production.
Before saying goodbye and thanking the crowd, Ms. Buhrman asked everyone to consider signing two petitions to the FDA to require labeling of genetically engineered foods. She also announced that Slow Food Martha’s Vineyard is always looking for volunteers to be part of their leadership committee.
Aaron Oster, former president of Slow Food Martha’s Vineyard, moved off the Island last summer, creating a vacancy in the leadership board. Since then, Ms. Buhrman, along with another former president, Cathy Walthers, have organized events together with help from other members of the Island’s chapter of the national Slow Food group. They are looking for a new president but until then they will continue to keep hosting events to educate the community about farming. So far, it is working. “This event? Wildly successful,” Ms. Walthers said after the brunch.