Living local and slow food are all the rage these days with stories on the front page of The New York Times practically every day, or so it seems. Old-time Islanders must be smiling at this new trendiness because of course they have known about living local for a long time. A vegetable garden and a flock of chickens in the back yard, maybe a pig too, a fishing rod, a clam rake and a dip net for scallops — these have long been the staples of Island life. Some Islanders add a bow and arrow or shotgun for hunting deer and ducks. The late Philip Craig romanticized this life in his popular mystery series, but there is a reason why it is so romantic — here comes J.W. Jackson, an Island man who can fish and cook and shoot straight and knows how to treat a woman. What’s not to love?
In truth, self sufficiency is a thing long born of necessity on an Island where people are accustomed to isolation and inconvenience. Ferries may not run in a severe storm; grocery stores may run low on milk and lettuce; this is a fact of life on an Island and most people accept it.
But it is also true that the Vineyard is not so isolated anymore. With the growth in population in the last two decades, the Island has softened and traded some of its rural New England hardiness for more suburban values. The mainland has moved a little closer.
For many Islanders the pace of life has also changed and quickened as the cost of living, always higher here, has skyrocketed. More hours must be put in at work in order to make money to pay the mortgage and college tuition, to put gas in the car and pay for winter heating and electric bills. There is not as much time to be home tending the backyard garden, feeding the hens, casting for blues on some favorite stretch of shoreline or splitting wood for the fireplace. The necessities of life must be paid for first and they are quite expensive these days.
And that’s why it is more important than ever to encourage the resurgence in small farms and community supported agriculture ventures on the Vineyard. It’s good for the economy, because the money stays here, and it’s good for the land and for our general health. Island grown and living local are better, no matter how you do it.
Just ask the old-timers.