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The Treasure Hunt: Mapping the Island’s Farmers

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posted by Susie Middleton

It’s sort of like speed dating: I’m getting to know the farmers on Martha’s Vineyard rather quickly. Maybe a little more quickly than they’d like.  Okay, you might call it stalking. But hey, I’m on deadline. I’ve got a map to update.

I usually drive down the long bumpy dirt road that leads to their farm, get out of my car, and slam the door loudly. I walk around in the general vicinity of the nearest barn, and I, um, talk to the animals. Sheep, cows, barn cats, baby goats, doesn’t matter—I say hello, give a pat.  Not surprisingly, someone eventually appears. And then I introduce myself and quickly hold up this lovely green map of island farms that Island Grown Initiative (IGI), a local non-profit, put together three years ago.

The map is the star of a brochure that explains the benefits of local eating.  My job is to make sure the information from this first edition of the map is still up to date and to find new growers who are ready to market their fresh eggs or pastured poultry or organic greens. IGI will print a revised version of the map this summer.

I lucked into this assignment by meeting Ali Berlow, the Executive Director of IGI, one cold morning at the Black Dog Café. It was early, and I think we were both startled to see another 40-ish woman with long grey hair and pointy-toed cowboy boots. We started talking about food, and next thing I knew, Ali was loaning me her kitchen, and I was offering to help IGI.  I asked for a small task to fit my schedule. Updating the map was Ali’s brilliant idea, a win-win for both of us.

For me, working on the map has been like a treasure hunt. One day I’ll meet a herd of llamas, another day I’m helping a 13-year-old collect blue and green eggs from his Araucana hens. Better still, I feel like I’m part of a great match-making service; I think of the map as a tangible invitation for cooks and farmers to connect.  Every time I see it prominently displayed in our local grocery, I feel like it’s saying, “Susie, meet Deb. Deb, Susie likes to cook.  Susie, Deb grows the most amazing potatoes. You should try some.”  I picked up a map the week I got here and followed it to my first-ever farm-fresh egg purchase at Blackwater Farm. Now I buy my eggs at a different farm every week.

So if you’re part of a newly organized group of locavores, consider a map of your local farms as a great starting place. IGI got their first map printed only months after they formed.  It’s an achievable short-term goal. All it takes is a few lucky volunteers.

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