Workwise, Josh Scott is an ultra-marathoner.
On a sunny, brisk spring morning, the arborist and owner of Beetlebung Tree Care walks around a spectacular 70-acre property on Squibnocket Pond with caretaker Tim Rich. Visually, they are quite a pair. Tim is tall, maybe six-six with a long, lumbering stride while Josh has the wiry build and nimble movements of a runner. He takes about one and a half steps for every one Tim takes. Togther they move along a long, winding path, discussing brush cutting that needs to be done. Every few feet Josh pauses, inspecting an oak tree for gall wasps, noticing a healthy highbush blueberry, admiring a shadbush. As he moves, his engagement with the land appears to energize him, adding spring to his step and speed to his speech.
But not everything he sees pleases him. He and Tim lament the invasive multiflora rose and shake their heads at autumn olive and phragmites, wondering what the latter might do to the Island wetlands if not controlled.
As they talk, it becomes clear that a big part of Josh’s job is about fostering a certain kind of nature while keeping another at bay.
But this is springtime on the Vineyard and Josh and his crew of 20 have much work to do. There are gardens around the Island to maintain, one very large landscape construction project that needs completing before June, hundreds of trees to prune, irrigation systems to install and pests to manage using neem oil and other natural products. Among many other things, Josh Scott is a plant health care specialist.
And as if that workload was not enough, he is also expanding his family’s beef, pork and chicken business, building a new barn to house his company’s offices and equipment and spending occasional weekends helping his cousin Chris Fischer with his mother’s family’s Beetlebung Farm and his friend and neighbor Krishana Collins get Tea Lane Farm up and running.
Josh thanks Tim, says he’ll be in touch and hops into his black truck and heads to the next job. And another and another. He checks in on properties and his crews, driving from place to place, pointing out other properties he has worked on or is working on now. “I’ve been doing this since I was a kid. This all started with me mowing people’s lawns,” he says. “Then I went to college and I just knew I wanted to be outside, working with trees. Fortunately, UVM [the University of Vermont] has a great horticulture program. And so that was that.”
Driving past the Keith Farm, he says: “My grandfather [the late Ozzie Fischer] cleared that whole field on his hands and knees. He used to come to some of the sites with me. He just couldn’t believe the machinery, what we can do today. But mostly he gave me advice about the animals.”
For the past seven years, Josh and his wife Lindsey, with the recent help of full-time farm manager Conor Young, have been raising cows, lambs, pigs and chickens for meat. “It started with us wanting our kids to eat local chicken and meat. And now, well . . . ” he laughs. “It’s gotten a little bigger. Sometimes I wonder, Why do I have 10 cows? What am I going to do with 500 pounds of meat? Can I really sell it and use it all?”
His cows graze on a neighbor’s field. Two sows and 18 piglets live on a land bank property that abuts his own one-acre youth lot off South Road. He has 26 sheep grazing on another land bank field. And 25 chickens, 25 chicks, seven ducks, seven ducklings, four peacocks, two guinea hens and a rabbit named Fern wander around on the Scott property. His children, Tristan, age eight, and Charlotte, age six, also have a cockatiel named Nelly that “lives with the ducklings in the summer and destroys our house in the winter” and a Chinese dwarf hamster named Chalissa.
Josh pulls into his driveway, home for a quick lunch break. “It’s amazing how having a home let’s you branch out and do other things,” he says.
He and his wife Lindsey built their house 10 years ago. “I love my house, but it has been beaten up. I just put on blinders,” he says by way of apology as he ushers a guest beyond the happy menagerie of animals into an elegant, warm and friendly home. Tristan, home from school with a fever, is reading on a big leather couch in the kitchen. Lindsey, a former art teacher who directs children’s programming for the Martha’s Vineyard Film Festival’s Cinema Circus, which she created, is working at the dining room table. She greets Josh with a warm smile, tapping away at a computer.
“I knew Lindsey was the one the first time I set eyes on her. That was it for me. But she was between three boyfriends,” he says.
Tucking thick blond hair behind her ears, Lindsey tells the rest of the story. “Yeah, I was. He’d wooed me with food from the farm [Beetlebung Farm]. It was the fall and his mom had gone back to Vermont. So he brought the whole harvest to me in small amounts. His courtship was very nonverbal. He’d bring me a bag of carrots, scallops, dahlias — just hand them to me and leave.”
Josh confirms the accuracy of the account. “That’s true. It was my way of asking, when are you going to give me a turn?”
Lunch is scrambled eggs with corn tortillas and cheese. Josh chats with Tristan while he eats. Later he will say his children love farming as much as he does. “My kids both love getting out there and working. Especially when machetes are involved.” Reflecting on his own childhood, he says: “My parents lived a simple life. We had few material possessions. We had a small house —six of us living there — and we were so happy. Now life is so quick. Everything moves so fast.”
As if to illustrate the point, his phone dings. It is a text from his landscape designer Owen White. “Okay, time for our client meeting.”
He heads down to his neighbor’s barn that has housed his business for the last eight years. As he approaches the barn, he gestures to about a dozen trucks parked around the barn. “It was okay for us to be here when it was just a few of us, but now — this is too much.” After a brief meeting in the tiny office, Josh and Owen head to a nearby property where they have moved about 8,000 yards of fill, trees and rocks to reconfigure the landscape around a home that was cramped and waterlogged by earth, trees, rocks and brambles. The client is charmed by the work. “I just can’t believe this. It’s like one big magic trick,” the client says.â©They walk around the site discussing sod, lighting, shed placement. Owen takes the lead, with Josh jumping in and out of the conversation, all the while checking in with his crew working on the site. The weather has turned gray and windy. The client pulls his jacket up and heads off for a cup of tea. Josh and Owen seem impervious to the weather change.
On the way back to the office, they discuss the day ahead. Then they laugh. “At this time of year, it’s impossible to make plans, because they always change,” Josh says. But some things don’t change in Josh’s life. Farming is one. “I’m doing all this so that when I retire, I can just take care of animals. I love being with them,” he says. Much like his grandfather Ozzie. And very much like his daughter, who is passionate about all creatures.
Early evening arrives, and Josh and Charlotte walk over to the land bank property to visit their seven-week-old piglets. Charlotte runs ahead, tripping through woods, hops over an electric fence and dives into the pig house to cuddle with the piglets and their 400-pound mother, a sow named Anya. Josh pulls out a pitchfork and moves some hay around in the pen. Other than the occasional squeal from a piglet who has been squeezed a bit too hard by Charlotte and the sound of Anya’s nose rustling through her slop, it is quiet. A piglet escapes. Josh pauses to watch his daughter bring the piglet back to its mother. It’s the first time all day that he’s stood still.
Josh Scott by the Numbers
Profession: Owner Beetlebung Tree Care, an International Society of Arboriculture certified arborist.
Born: in Honolulu, Oahu, Hawaii.
Moved to Martha’s Vineyard: In second grade.
Grew up in: Hawaii, Chilmark, St. Peter, Minn., Albuquerque and Corrales, N.M.
Family: Wife Lindsey Scott, son Tristan, eight, daughter Charlotte, six.
Lives in: Chilmark.
Studied: Anthropology and horticulture, University of Vermont.
Hobbies: Surfing, kite boarding.
Dream job: Professional wind sailor.