Some Transitions, New Faces as Farms Stand Ready for the Growing Season

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By MARK ALAN LOVEWELL

Vineyard farmers are primed for the growing season. The soil is properly watered and now it is time for some serious sunshine.

May was a cool and overcast month, but there certainly was enough rain to get the season going. It has often been said the Vineyard goes straight from winter to summer: not so this year. It remains cool, and the farmers are waiting for the soil to warm.

"We didn't get a lot of rain in early May," said Dianne Norton, who with her husband, Jamie, runs Bayes Norton Farm. She is the farm manager. "Now, the rain we got will help a lot. It will help the peas get plump," she said.

The big news at Norton Farm isn't in the field. Jim Norton, who ran the farm with his wife, Sonya, for so many years, has stepped aside to allow his daughter in law and son to run the farm. Mr. Norton said he will spend most of his time out in the fields managing tomatoes. The transition has been gradual. "I always thought that if I spend more time on the tomatoes they would benefit. Now that I have nothing else to do to distract me, I have no excuse," Mr. Norton said.

Bayes Norton Farm is centrally located, with seven acres in cultivation right off the Edgartown-Vineyard Haven Road. Any activity on the farm is visible to those who drive the road often. Mrs. Norton has been busy on and off the field. She has a new son, Jonathan S., born on May 5. Jonathan has a brother, Dougie, three and a half years old.

"This is my first year," she said. "It is a great season. Our peas will be ready early. The sugar snap peas will be ready in a week to 10 days. It will take a bit longer on the regular peas. We should open a little early this year; we are hoping for June 10."

Mrs. Norton said: "We have a lot of arugula and rhubarb. We are doing more early crops."

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For the first time they are raising Hakurei turnips, which are a salad turnip. "We are trying spinach and other different plants," she said.

The farm is embarking on a gradual shift to certified organic, which will take three years. They've got an expert in organic farming, Derek Christianson, 25, from the Boston area.

Not too far down the street is Elisha Smith, at the Smith Farm. The 81-year-old farmer is a lot happier this season than he has been for several years. Golf balls are no longer falling from the sky. Mr. Smith resides next door to what used to be the Wind Farm Golf Range. The golf range proprietors started their enterprise in 1998 and tried to keep the golf balls off Mr. Smith's property by erecting nets 70 feet high. Still, the balls fell.

"It didn't bother the chickens," Mr. Smith said this week. "But it bothered me."

Mr. Smith's family has tilled the soil on this farm going back to the 1600s. Mr. Smith is the seventh generation of Smiths to be named Elisha. "It was first farmed by John Smith from 1620 to 1630," Mr. Smith said. Today there are cows, chickens, geese and even a handsome male peacock wandering about the barn.

Without golf balls falling from the sky, Mr. Smith resumes his farming work. "I still find the balls in the field," he said.

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This will be a good season when it comes to farm help. His great-grandson, five-year-old Alex Flynn, is going to help with chores. Alex said he doesn't much care for the gathering of eggs, but he does enjoy outdoor work. "He especially likes to drive the tractor," Mr. Smith said. (He was quick to explain that the boy sits on his great-grandfather's lap and steers.)

Mr. Flynn calls his great-grandfather "Papa."

Of the weather, Mr. Smith said: "It has been too cold and too wet. But you can't beat the weather. It is always against you."

Mr. Smith said: "You have to be a weather prophet to keep ahead."

The rainfall totals at the National Weather Service cooperative station in Edgartown show that May was actually drier than April. Rainfall in May was 2.50 inches; April saw 5.33 inches. There were at least 15 days in May and 15 days in April that produced some measurable amount of rainfall.

Arnie Fischer Jr. of Flat Point Farm in West Tisbury said of the rain this week: "I love it.

"The hay looks good. I was concerned about a lack of rain in May. But it was a needless concern. I think the hay crop will be good this year," Mr. Fischer said.

The farm has three calves. "We are expecting two more," Mr. Fischer said. "We got mostly Hereford and one old cow that has Angus blood," he said. The total count is 11. They are being raised for beef.

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There are 30 lambs, the progeny of a new Dorset ram and a grade ewe.

"We have a couple of male peacocks for anyone who needs them. The problem I have is that everyone wants peacock females; the female chicks just don't survive," he said.

This spring the farm acquired a dozen guinea hens. "They eat ticks and are nice to have around," he said. The guinea hens came from Alan Gowell of Edgartown.

Farther up-Island in Chilmark, Clarissa Allen of Allen Farm Sheep and Wool Co. said they are offering Island lamb for those interested in a tasty local meal. The animals were butchered off-Island and then brought back to the farm for sale. They have 70 Corriedale sheep out in the fields. There are a variety of chickens wandering in the yard and pastured poultry walking about in a movable cage.