Living locally is old news on Martha’s Vineyard.

“That was the only way to go,” Chilmarker David Flanders said this week. Mr. Flanders has Vineyard roots which extend back generations and are deeply tied to the land. “The whole thing was always like that to be very honest,” he continued. “It’s an old-time solution.” This weekend a two-day celebration of the local, the sustainable and the renewable is putting that old Island tradition back into the spotlight.

Living Local Harvest Fest kicks off tonight with a panel discussion and will continue on tomorrow with workshops, demonstrations and activities all designed to showcase and reinforce the importance of local living to the Vineyard community. “It’s just so germane to everything that’s happening,” said John Abrams, founder of South Mountain Company and moderator of tonight’s panel discussion among local Islanders at the Chilmark Community Center. “Our economy is a house of cards and is so dependent on oil, and now we’re seeing it revealed to be so. So really, this is a chance to celebrate all those things that we can control while we’re witnessing all these other things that we cannot,” Mr. Abrams continued. “Our food, our energy, other necessities. Every bit of it that we do stabilizes us economically and makes us less prone to all those uncertainties that are out there in the world.”

cartoon of Morning Glory Farmstand
Roy Imhoff

“Friday night is all about, what does living local mean and why should we be interested in living locally,” said Kate Warner, founder and former director of the Vineyard Energy Project. The evening begins with a video presentation of lectures from environmental author David Korten. Ms. Warner explained organizers originally wanted to invite Mr. Korten to fly out to speak but ultimately decided against it. “Flying him out from the West Coast to speak for 20 minutes seemed antithetical to our message,” she said. The evening will continue with the panel discussion and community dialogue over dessert. Events will end in time for guests to catch the beginning of the presidential debates on the big screen at the Chilmark library.

Things resume tomorrow at 9 a.m. at the Agricultural Hall in West Tisbury. A full program includes hay rides, workshops with local fishermen and farmers, kid-friendly activities, the annual antique power show and more. “Saturday is all about how do we do it here. What can I do? What can we do as an Island?” Ms. Warner said.

The festival is a collaboration between four Vineyard nonprofit organizations which, in their own ways, promote and protect Island sustainability: the Vineyard Energy Project, the Island Grown Initiative, the Agricultural Society and the Vineyard Conservation Society. ”It’s such a great collaboration,” said Mr. Abrams. “All of these organizations have slightly different missions, but they are all along the same arc and, in working together, they are hitting all the various angles and merging them because really, this [event] is really a confluence of energy, food, conservation, restoration and local economy.”

Schedule of Events

The two-day festival combines separate events hosted over the years, including the springtime Vineyard Energy Project sustainability day, the Agricultural Society fall Harvest Festival, and the Living Local Festival begun last year. “We saw such a connection between energy and food in particular. As energy prices rise, so do food costs rise,” Ms. Warner said about the motivation to create one umbrella event. “All of a sudden, living local starts to be more appealing.”

The program of events is packed and so are the grounds. The West Tisbury Farmers’ Market will be there for the day, and solar and electric cars will be on display in the front circle. In three outside tents, workshops, panels and demonstrations will take place all day. Offerings include a primer on composting, baking cookies in a solar oven and a talk on Island fisheries. Local experts will talk on topics ranging from poultry and farming to oysters and food preservation.

“We’re really looking at our homegrown talent, who’s doing what to talk about the issues on our Island,” said Ali Berlow, executive director of the Island Grown Initiative.

Inside the hall, vendors and local organizations will set up booths with exhibits, information and suggestions for living more sustainably. “Some are things we can do ourselves, and some are things we can do as an Island,” Ms. Warner said. Also on the schedule is the annual antique power show, an event traditionally held by the Agricultural Society to showcase historical, antique farm machinery.

The event will allow Island farmers and growers to market their fall harvest. “We [originally] started the harvest festival to showcase the capability of Island farmers to put food on the table,” Mr. Athearn said. This year will be no different. For sale will be burgers made from Island-raised meat, local squash and kale soups, and Vineyard green salads. There will be burritos made with Island pork and topped with fresh, local salsa. Cider from West Tisbury apples and pie from Morning Glory pumpkins will round out the sweets table.

The hall closes tomorrow at 3 p.m. but will reopen at 6 p.m. for a community potluck. Guests are encouraged to bring a dish featuring a local ingredient, a place setting and dancing shoes. Musical acts include homegrown talents Willy Mason, Ballywho, Alex Karalekas, Joe Keenan and others.

Practicing their own message, organizers have set a goal to make the event waste-free. “Everything will be recycled or composted. We are trying to do carry in, carry out — if you bring trash in, bring it home — to raise awareness,” said Signe Benjamin of the Vineyard Conservation Society. Bottled water will not be for sale, but cups will, which guests can refill at the Agricultural Hall water fountain. All vendors are required to use corn-based biodegradable containers, napkins, cups and cutlery. “Once you get the message across, people are more aware,” Ms. Benjamin said. “This is what you do if you want to be waste free.”


The goal for Saturday is to provide good family fun while at the same time teaching the tools necessary for living locally on into the future. “There are ways to become active, whether by starting a compost in your own kitchen, or adding a solar roof, or joining an organization,” said Ms. Berlow. “We’re our own experts, you know?”

Mr. Athearn agreed. “There are many people living here, including those involved with the Island Plan studies and farmers in general, who believe that independence and relying on our own resources is the sound way to live,” he said. “In modern times, we’ve come to depend on our modern economy, but a healthy local economy where we trade among each other for manufactured goods, food and employment is a better way to enter the future. It is more sustainable, healthy and more satisfying.”