Greener pastures on Martha’s Vineyard

14 October 10

| Cape Cod Green |

Martha's Vineyard in fog at Cape Cod, Massachusetts, USA

We knew that “The Vineyard” was a favored playground for presidents, politicos and the privileged class, but never considered it to be a green travel destination. That is, until we arrived “on-island” and started sleuthing.

Edgartown harbor on Martha's Vineyard, Cape Cod, Massachusetts, USA

Edgartown harbor: sea views

Maybe we should have guessed. Seven miles from the closest mainland shoreline, the 15 thousand year-round inhabitants of Martha’s Vineyard have by necessity always relied heavily on local resources and neighborly attitudes. From its earliest denizens of Indians, pilgrims and whalers to today’s diverse, eclectic community of farmers, merchants, artists and haute hoteliers, Vineyarders have a long history of self sufficiency and sustainability.

Nonetheless, we were still amazed to find 40 active farms, fisheries and farmers’ markets supplying fresh, locally grown food to hundreds of island homes, restaurants and CSA pick-up points. There’s even an “island grown” logo stamped on local food packaging, a program spearheaded by the Island Grown Initiative, a volunteer, community non-profit that works to support MV agriculture.

Healthy lands, healthy seas

Farm Institute truck on Martha's Vineyard, Cape Cod, Massachusetts, USA

Farm Institute: healthy farming

Keeping healthy pastures and fields in production is a challenge almost everywhere these days, and even more so here. As the island economy tilted heavily toward tourism and pressure increased to convert farm land to vacation homes and other visitor venues, an island version of “farm aid” came to the rescue. In the mid-1980s, when farming began to decline,  island voters created the Land Bank Commission, whose revenues accrue from a public surcharge of 2% on most real estate transactions. These revenues have helped conserve nearly 3 thousand acres, representing 5% of the island’s area. More help has come from private trusts such as the Sheriff’s Meadow Foundation and the Nature Conservancy by creating wildlife sanctuaries to preserve the island’s biodiversity.

Martha’s Vineyard is fortunate to have 27 coastal salt ponds. Many of these are 10 acres or more in size. All around the island, tidal ponds are important shellfish resources and support large eelgrass beds, a crucial component in providing protected nurseries for fish, bay scallops, blue crab and other marine life. Stewardship of coastal lands is a cooperative effort between government agencies partnered with local advocacy groups and non-profits like the Martha’s Vineyard Commission.

Bike rental on Martha's Vineyard, Cape Cod, Massachusetts, USA

Bike rental: healthy transport

The island’s unspoiled charm is on stage daily at its many scenic beaches, from protected, shallow, clear-water stretches on its northern and eastern shores to expanses of rumbling surf along the south side. Some beaches are open to the public without restriction, while others are reserved for residents and summer visitors staying in the towns where the beaches are located. To use these town beaches, permits can be obtained by contacting the town hall in the appropriate community.

Farm to table

Eco-consciousness is clearly visible in the way folks get around. Bicycles are the preferred mode of transportation. Visitors are encouraged to leave their cars on the mainland and bring bikes onboard for the 45-minute ferry ride. If you don’t have your own wheels, numerous local bicycle rentals can fix you up.

Morning Glory Farm market on Martha's Vineyard, Cape Cod, Massachusetts, USA

Morning Glory Farm market: Morganic and more

A fun place to stop, either by bike or car, is Morning Glory Farm, one of the most popular farm-to-table purveyors on the island. This 35-year-old family enterprise grows 50 acres of vegetables and fruits, about 6 acres of which are farmed organically (because they lack official organic certification, they sell the harvest from these acres labelled as Morganic). Their popular ranch-style farmstead market is located a mile from the center of Edgartown, our favorite of the island’s 6 townships. Even before you reach Morning Glory, you will see their wind turbine in the distance. As you approach, you’ll notice the picnic tables out front that invite visitors to enjoy fresh fixings from the salad bar, with its cornucopia of organic ingredients, a bowl of hearty, homemade soup, or a treat from their wide array of delicious baked goods from their on-site bakery. Locals love to pick up fresh seasonal pies and breads throughout the year.

Seasonal bounty from Morning Glory features prominently on the menu at State Road restaurant in West Tisbury. The décor here is simple and clean, with hardwood floors, high ceilings and Edison bulb chandeliers. At breakfast, lunch or dinner, the menu features an island farm-to-table selection, some starring produce from its own garden—along with locally caught seafood.

Hob Knobbing with Maggie

Hob Knob Inn front porch in Edgartown, Martha's Vineyard, Cape Cod, Massachusetts, USA

Hob Knob: luxury eco

In keeping with our mission of seeking out the greenest and greatest lodging options available, we discovered the lovely, hospitable Hob Knob Inn. This “luxury eco-boutique hotel” pampers its guests and Mother Nature in equal measure. The 19th-century gothic inn is a short stroll from both the heart of Edgartown and the beach. A hungry and windblown Senator named John Fitzgerald Kennedy found his welcome here in 1947, during a sailing regatta. You’ll find it, too, from its king-sized beds with European-styled linens to the pampering treatments available at the inn’s luxury spa. In the 17 guest rooms, natural bath and beauty products are by Aveda, the first beauty manufacturer to power its plant with wind energy and one of the largest purchasers of organic ingredients.

Other eco-highlights: non toxic cleaning solutions are used exclusively throughout the inn, carpets and fabrics meet LEED standards, and low VOC paints also optimize indoor air quality. Composting, recycling and energy-saving are standard operating procedure. The Hob Knob features locally grown and mainly organic food on its B&B menu. In fact, we enjoyed sausage from a neighboring farm, and an egg dish (they buy 150 eggs a week!) that featured spinach from the owner’s garden directly across the road—doesn’t get more “green” or local than that!

Maggie White, owner of Hob Knob Inn - Edgartown on Martha's Vineyard, Cape Cod, Massachusetts, USA

Maggie White: she came with cows

That owner is Margaret “Maggie” White, who spent her childhood summers on Martha’s Vineyard, and purchased this property in 1995. “I wanted to accomplish a true Vineyard experience that was upscale, yet casual and current. I didn’t want to be stiff and pretty,” she says. A dedicated environmentalist, this determined and business-savvy Colorado ranch woman arrived on the island unannounced and unknown, but instantly assimilated into the island’s agricultural community by bringing her own herd of cows with her. “When you come with your own cows,” she says, “you’re a force to be reckoned with.” (Appropriately, the Hob Knob logo is an artistic rendering of, you guessed it, a cow.)

Farm education

Maggie ultimately donated her 14 cows to The Farm Institute, a local educational cooperative housed at the historic Katama Farm, where Hob Knob guests and others can experience a sustainable working farm. Here visitors roll up their sleeves and participate in hands-on activities to help them appreciate how food is grown and raised and brought to table. After collecting just-laid eggs, you help prepare a farm-fresh breakfast. Farm tours are offered every Sunday throughout the summer months, with proceeds supporting the institute, where Maggie serves as a board member.

historic Katama Farm on Martha's Vineyard, Cape Cod, Massachusetts, USA

Historic Katama Farm: hands-on farm learning

Maggie has also designed and built the only LEED-certified home on the island, which she enjoys as her primary residence. Further proof that she walks her talk, like so many of her fellow islanders.Linda & Rolly Wahl, contributing editors

  • http://www.glenribbeen.com Peter O’Connor

    Great article on Martha’s Vineyard. I had a very different idea of it.
    Here in Ireland we’r going the way of the ‘eco-route’ too. More and more accommodation providers are opting to be vetted by the GHA. Green Hospitality Awards that help and educate (and ultimately save money) the accommodation providers.
    Our on success at European Union level here in Glenribbeen Eco Lodge has even meant rewards within the tourism industry itself. See; glenribbeen.com
    I’d love to link with any accommodation providers that are eco-friendly.
    Peter

  • Joyce Foster

    What a delightful article about Martha’s Vineyard. It was informative and interesting. Definitely made me want to visit the area again! The Hob Knob Inn sounds like a perfect place to relax and enjoy the eco friendly environment. My husband and I were in Martha’s Vineyard many years ago and had no idea how environmentally friendly it is. Now we can’t wait to go back. Thanks for such a great article.

    I look forward to more.
    Joyce

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