Yesterday, while pondering the few remaining picked-over vegetables at one of my favorite farm stands in the hopes of finding enough ingredients to make ratatouille, I considered again the fact that our Island farmers are struggling against almost overwhelming odds to provide us with locally grown produce, meat, and dairy products of the highest quality — many along organic principles if not certified organic — and available at reasonable prices.

This summer with ever growing, incredibly challenging conditions such as: the rising costs of land (and real estate taxes), even on land used for decades for farming; climate change and another year of drought after several years of water shortfall; the cost of insurance for the farmers; a shortage of skilled seasonal labor and lack of housing; the aging factor of the existing farmers; the cost (and hassles) of transporting four-legged animals off to be slaughtered at an FDA-approved facility; the cost of importing hay and/or grain (drought related); the costs of building and maintaining fences; the danger of using various chemicals; broken-down equipment — it is a wonder that anyone is farming at all.

Several farmers have either closed down or downsized in the hopes that they can provide for their families and a few long-term customers, while others are expressing frustration, burnout and exhaustion. It has been that kind of summer!

The biggest challenge here is not promotion and marketing , the problems are production. Consider that the farmer may be dealing with Lyme disease, non-functioning refrigeration equipment or farm machinery, the need to move irrigation equipment daily, inexperienced help and a myriad of other challenges.

Carefree vacationers and local consumers need to treat the farmers, farm stands and markets respectfully and with appreciation. The farmers are working sometimes 12 or 16 hours a day to provide the food that they do. Oh, and probably at 10 cents an hour, with no vacation, perhaps one or two beach days a summer, no benefits and no time to sit on that farmer’s porch that all the realtors promote for their highly-priced offerings.

The next time you are at a farm stand and start to strip an ear of corn, please consider that you have just ruined what is, really, a perfectly good ear of corn. If the worms won’t eat it, neither should you.

Other suggested courtesy practices:

Don’t let your animals (or kids or both) run around and remember that farm animals can be dangerous.

Do not steal from the honor system stands (some now have installed surveillance cameras).

Don’t squeeze the tomatoes/peaches/plums, or demand exquisitely-shaped produce, etc. Don’t expect perfection; a few blemishes won’t hurt you. Don’t complain that there are no squashes, lettuces, beans, blueberries etc. and mutter about the cost. The profit margin is slim to nonexistent.

Bring your own bags and do not leave litter on the ground. Do not lean over fences or pat the bulls. Don’t bother the neighbors and drive slowly. If there is a tractor on the road ahead of you as you move around the Island, wait to safely pass. Everyone needs to slow down anyway; this is an Island with too much traffic going way too fast, and too many people in July and August.

Don’t bother the farmer to ask about raspberries (the deer ate them to the ground), melons (see borers, deer, raccoons, etc.), tomatoes (see bugs, blight, lack of rain, someone else bought them all), lamb chops (there are only so many per animal and we can only grow so many sheep), lettuce (one crop bolted and the other looks miserable).

Buy what is at the stand (everything is on display) and be happy. As for the worm in that ear of corn, get over it.

Along with our fishermen, please cherish our farmers. They feed us.

Virginia C. Jones
West Tisbury