photo credit: Grant Butler
Not a day goes by where we’re not inspired by the food and culture of our little Island. We are lucky enough to have an abundance of it all within the confines of our 20x9 rock. A connection to farm, field and sea is weaved into the island lifestyle as has been the tradition here for hundreds of years. It can make an accidental foodie out of almost anyone.
Ever had a sea bean? Foraged from the shore, these strange but highly nutritious thin bright green stalks have a salty flavor and crunchy texture available for just a couple of weeks in June, Island chefs love to use them when they are in season and can be seen scooping them up on the water’s edge on their way to the kitchen.
It’s not out of the ordinary for a friend to stop by for a quick hello with a freshly caught bluefish in the back of their truck. Or a big bouquet of lilacs from their yard; or a bag full of foraged watercress; or a basket of colorful eggs...does everyone have chickens here?!
By default, what America deems 'fast food' is absent from our everyday. Dairy Queen made its way here almost 25 years ago and seemed to stay, McDonald's tried to put their golden arches where wooden boat builders Gannon & Benjamin have a shop on the shore (they were unanimously thrown out) and we hear there was a Subway once upon a time in Oak Bluffs. Yes, there is fried chicken at Stop & Shop, hot donuts at Back Door Donuts and a plethora of burgers and fries at the summer take out joints - but the reality if it weren’t for trips off island, kids wouldn’t know what a Happy Meal was.
We live in a community that supports all things Island grown, where even fast food is good food, and where our kids grow up with an appreciation for our local bounties, often growing, catching and eating the whole foods that surround us. Increasingly so - food they eat in school is locally sourced too. A couple of weeks ago, students at the West Tisbury School hosted Island fisherman and shellfish growers so students could meet the folks who catch the fish that they’ve been eating for lunch on Fish Fridays.
This July, Island Grown Initiative is launching a mobile farmer’s market. With food equity in mind, the mobile market plans to bring affordable produce to Island neighborhoods that may not have access to or be able to afford the farmer’s market. SNAP benefits will be accepted as well.
Besides being sustainable and community-minded, eating locally is also incredible nutritious. Talk to any local farmer or fisherman or food creator and the conversation always includes information about the vitamins and minerals that make up what they are producing.
Scouting new collaborators, we got to meet the fabulous fellas of Martha’s Vineyard Mycological’s shiitake farm last month. In the woods of Chilmark, Tucker shared with us some incredible information about log-grown wild shiitakes. Not only do they contain high levels of protein and immune boosting agents selenium, potassium and vitamins B6 and B12, but he said they also contain immense amounts of lentinan, which supports cholesterol reduction, immune system enhancement and tumor suppression through T-cell boosting properties. So we were happy to munch on a couple of meaty shiitakes we plucked off the logs on their farm. We even passed some wild fiddlehead ferns on the way out!
Soothing medicinal teas and tonics can be found across the island. Morning Glory Farm has Aqua ViTea kombucha from Vermont on tap this year, so you can fill a bottle or a growler of the raw, organic kombucha flavors including blood orange, hibiscus ginger lime and turmeric. Not Your Sugar Mamas whips up dairy-free anti-inflammatory turmeric lattes at their shop in Vineyard Haven. Friends share nettle tea to help battle seasonal allergies. And many people make their own fire cider, especially during the cold season.
And kelp! Our friends and co-collaborators at Cottage City Oysters started growing the sustainable superfood in Lagoon Pond this winter. With its high vitamin and mineral content (it has more calcium than kale), antioxidant properties and its ability to be consumed in many forms, kelp is emerging as the next big food trend. Along with sea beans and shiitakes, kelp is making its way onto island menus as well.
As we get ready for summer we are so looking forward to the experiences we will have - shopping for fresh veggies and flowers at local farmstands, indulging in long sunny beach days, hosting barbeques with friends and family, eating lobsters on the docks waiting for Menemsha sunsets. And sharing our love of the island with our guests through our summer series, getting our hands dirty alongside of folks who are passionate about farm, field and sea. We can’t wait!
“Pinkletinks!” Islanders know that the chirping of these little tree frogs, peeper frogs as they’re referred to on the mainland, means that spring has opened its door. They’ve been here all winter, just waiting for the right moment to emerge from the tree bark. Their signature sound is like an aural cue that tells the crocus to push their purple petals through the cold ground, to let the robins know it’s time to start digging for worms and for us, to remind us too that it’s time to come out!
It’s a unique experience to live on an island during the off season. The seasonality of our way of life here dictates that we stay indoors and hunker down for months. Come January 1st, many businesses and restaurants are closed, ferries are cancelled due to weather, you’d be hard pressed to find a decent cup of coffee in Edgartown in the winter months- or any cup of coffee for that matter - but there’s plenty of parking! Making plans with friends to meet for a drink usually starts with the question: “What’s even open?”
There’s a certain kind of darkness here during the winter and it can settle into the soul of even the heartiest Islander. So the harbingers of spring have special meaning to us. It almost feels like a movie set: cue the pinkletinks, now bring in the daffodils, cue the painters for the white picket fences, where’s the sun, cue the sun. It's like what Caitlin from Mermaid Farm and Dairy said, “you live here long enough and you start to know the order of things.” It’s too soon for the catbirds, the cherry trees haven’t blossomed yet. The osprey are returning, so that means the fish will too.
Spring also brings the baby animals: calves and lambs and kids and chicks. The Island celebrates their arrival, often with educational workshops and farms opening their barns to celebrate. As their guests, we get to cuddle, feed, count the growing numbers of little ones and try to resist bringing them home.
While farmers and friends start preparing for the season to come, we check in with them to see how things are going, what they their plans are. We meet with with our collaborators to see what they fun new things they have been learning over the winter. These stories are the inspiration for the new Farm.Field.Sea season.... how we can help our guests look at a tomato, a strawberry, shiitake mushrooms, flowers, oysters differently? How can we help foster a greater, deeper meaning and downright appreciation for the island and local food than they had before?
There’s a rhythm to Island life that is truly dictated by the seasons. Nature stops for no one - so we, as Islanders have had to learn, iIt’s best not to push back, the seasons will change no matter what - and Spring is always around the corner.
Farm.Field.Sea. adventures start June 22nd til' October 2017. Custom, private events offered year round.
Photos by Lisa Vanderhoop and The FARM Institute.
Food—its capture, cultivation, preparation, and consumption—represents a cultural act. To explore the multi-cultural tables of Martha’s Vineyard, we head to The Gay Head Cliffs in Aquinnah to venture behind the scenes with members of the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah). There, we explored their roots through stories, tradition and and their relationship with the land.
Our guide is tribal member Juli Vanderhoop, who builds community via her outdoor wood-fired bread oven at Orange Peel Bakery in Aquinnah. Summertime pizza nights bring Vineyarders and visitors from across the island together to share a slice every week. A storyteller in her own right, Juli travelled the world as a commercial pilot and teacher before she returned home to the rolling moors of Aquinnah to open the bakery. Now, she works to pass on the traditions of the past to the next generation.
Our adventure with Juli began weeks before the tour group arrived. When we sat down with to hear the story of the Wampanoag's from the tribe, we heard a very authentic story - the good, and the bad. As Juli collected the information from her own life, and the people around her to share, she came across a box of documents in her house including an old newspaper clipping of the Gay Head Cliffs which looks very different from today's view, along with letters hand written by her family during very important times of their history. It was powerful to watch the unraveling of a story that hopefully can continue to build into the story of hope and rebuilding the infrastructure a culture may exist on.
Photo provided by Juli Vanderhoop
We gathered a lot of information to help lead the tour and collected an amazing amount of facts from the following group: Juli Vanderhoop, Linda Coomes, Director of the Aquinnah Cultural Center, Buddy Vanderhoop, purveyor of Tomahawk Charters, Daniel, a young member of the Martha's Vineyard Wampanoag Tribe who works for the Natural Resource Department, and Christina Hook, tribal elder of the Martha's Vineyard Wampanoag Tribe.
Here are a few of the most fascinating:
1. The Wampanoags have a series of Thanksgiving traditions and holidays that center around harvest times throughout the year:
Penned by the staff of Farm. Field. Sea. and inspired by the experiences of working with Martha's Vineyard's chefs, farmers, fisherman, oyster cultivators, artisan producers and food educators.
Farm.Field.Sea. An Island Culinary Adventure