Saving Flat Point Farm
Spread along the cove-studded shore of the Tisbury Great Pond, Flat Point Farm in West Tisbury is one of the Island’s quiet treasures: a working farm, held for generations by the Fischer family who raise sheep and hay. Well-known to many on the Island, the Fischers are the very symbol of the traditional Island farming family: hardworking, far from wealthy but happily rich in spirit from living close to the land and the way of life that accompanies it. The family is now working on a plan to keep their land as a working farm forever — no easy task in this day and age when property values have skyrocketed obscenely on the Vineyard in the last decade. And the Island’s forebears would no doubt be horrified to see the development of recent years with so many waterfront mansions, their chemically fertilized, evergreen lawns running right to the water’s edge.
These mansions are contributing greatly to the nitrogen overload that is now threatening the great ponds of the Vineyard, and they are the antithesis of the Fischer farm, where the meadow grass is native, the hay fields are edged in wildflowers and grazing animals are fenced well back from the pond’s edge.
Nevertheless, the Fischers’ quiet estate plan — which is not a formal subdivision but a division of land within the bounds of family holdings — has sparked fresh debate about the effect of farms on ponds, as Vineyard water quality planners and shellfish biologists struggle to stem the growing problem of nitrogen pollution in the ponds.
Such debate is useful, especially if it leads to the development of sensible regulations and guidelines to protect the water quality of the ponds and their still-clean beds of oysters, clams and scallops.
But the Martha’s Vineyard Commission, which meets next week to vote on the plan for Flat Point Farm, would be wrong to single out the Fischer farm to be used as some kind of example in curtailing nitrogen in the Tisbury Great Pond. More discussion and analysis is clearly needed before the tangled problem of nitrogen pollution in the ponds can be sorted out coherently. And in the end if anything is to be targeted for severe nitrogen reduction and limits, it should be houses, not farms. After all, the farms have been on the Island for hundreds of years and the ponds have remained clean. Common sense dictates the clearest understanding of the source of most of the nitrogen pollution in ponds: it is septic systems and high-nitrogen lawn fertilizers.
On top of all that, farming is a way of life the Island wants to encourage, and return to. Residential development, on the other hand, is a way of life that should be curbed or eliminated altogether. The Vineyard has reached its threshold for sustainable development; few could argue otherwise.
The Flat Point Farm estate plan is laudable and may point the way for the future. It deserves the full support of the commission.