On Martha’s Vineyard, there’s no shortage of farms that offer fresh produce, cheese-making tours and a chance to get up close and personal with chickens, goats and ducklings.By Sarah Shemkusv
When you leave behind the busy streets of Oak Bluffs or wander off the stunning beaches and start exploring the rest of Martha’s Vineyard, you start to notice something. It’s hard to drive more than a couple of miles without encountering a sheep-dotted field, a roadside stand selling homegrown flowers and veggies, or a farm fully stocked with local meat, dairy and produce.
Martha’s Vineyard may have a reputation as a vacation spot for well-heeled visitors, but it also has another, lesser-known side: a deep agricultural heritage that is again thriving. With organic produce, cheese-making tours, and farm-to-table fine dining around every corner, the island today is a legitimate destination for curious (and hungry) locavores.
To check out where the Vineyard’s bounty of local food comes from, start with a visit to one—or several—of the island’s approximately 40 working farms. Begin in Chilmark, a tiny village with an exceptionally high density of agricultural activity.
Native Earth Teaching Farm on North Road is a small, charmingly rustic operation that offers classes in farm skills and fiber arts, as well as the chance to get up close and personal with chickens, ducklings and goats. The farm has scheduled hours three days a week, but is also open by appointment. The admission price is $5 for children and $10 per family, but owner Rebecca Gilbert is always willing to consider barter arrangements as well, as long as the deal is negotiated ahead of time.
“I have found what I have learned from farming to be very helpful to me personally,” says Gilbert. “It has made me healthier and happier, so I like to share that.”
Also in Chilmark, The Grey Barn and Farm runs daily tours that let visitors check out an organic dairy where the cows each have their own name, learn about the process of making artisanal cheese, and visit with the resident pigs, who live in tree-shaded pens and feast on acorns come fall. A farm stand sells meat, cheese, eggs and milk, all produced on the farm.
The nearby Mermaid Farm and Dairy is also a great stop for fresh produce, local meat (lamb chorizo, anyone?), and raw dairy products, including yogurt, cheese and lassi. The farm stand is rarely manned, but is open 24 hours a day; just drop your money in the cash box and take what you’ve paid for.
Looping back toward Edgartown, make a stop at Morning Glory Farm, a large, bustling farm stand that sells its own produce alongside prepared meals featuring local ingredients, scratch-made baked goods and a range of island-made goods, from sea salt to chocolate.
For a more guided adventure, try an immersive experience like those offered by a food-focused tour company Farm. Field. Sea.
“We take people to the sources of their food,” says founder Nevette Previd. “We hope that people will walk away with a different sense of what’s gracing their plate and a different sense of what Martha’s Vineyard is made up of.”
The company offers nine pre-set tours, each on a different theme. Visitors can spend the day learning how to make cheese and charcuterie, for example, or tracing the paths walked—and the foods eaten—by the Wampanoag Indians.
If you just want to get down to the business of eating, there are plenty of options on offer, from casual to upscale. Don’t miss the Scottish Bakehouse in Vineyard Haven, a small eatery that is part bakery, part takeout counter, and entirely delicious. The specials menu changes to accommodate whatever ingredients are fresh from partner farms and the bakehouse’s own sprawling garden out back. In addition to an array of sandwiches, the takeout menu includes entrees like spicy peanut noodles and BBQ chicken (sourced from the poultry farm across the street).
Up the street, 7a Foods in West Tisbury also offers take-out sandwiches and baked goods, created whenever possible from locally sourced ingredients. Breakfast sandwiches come on homemade biscuits and the pulled pork is smoked in house. There are no seats inside, but benches line the front of the building just in case you can’t wait to tear into your sandwich.
If you’re looking for linen tablecloths and more refined plates, make a reservation at State Road Restaurant. Using local produce, meats and seafood, the restaurant serves up delights like pan-roasted cod with Indian flavors and wood-grilled stuffed pork chops. To get a taste of the scene at a fraction of the normally high-end prices, hit up a burger night for gourmet takes on patty melts and milkshakes. Not convinced yet? Keep in mind, the restaurant is a favorite haunt of the Obamas when they are on-island.