Living Local’s Meaty Side

The recent move by the Island Grown Initiative and the Martha’s Vineyard Agricultural Society to form a partnership to consider construction of a facility where Vineyard farmers can have their sheep, cattle and pigs safely, humanely and cleanly converted to cuts of meat for sale and home use is encouraging.

There are still many hurdles to clear in this venture, currently aimed at building a slaughterhouse on Agricultural Society property in West Tisbury. Zoning issues must be researched, public opinion must be fully aired, and a feasibility study under way by the Island Grown Initiative and due for completion in the fall must be carefully examined. Is the Agricultural Society property the best place to build such a facility? It is a central question.

Demand has been increasing for meat raised on Island farms naturally and without the use of hormones, chemicals and pesticides. Homegrown meat is not a new phenomenon on the Vineyard, where people have been raising their own food in their backyards for generations. A vegetable garden, a pig, a flock of chickens for eggs and meat, combined with fish and shellfish taken from local waters still provide the staple foods for untold numbers of Island households. In the 1970s when the Vineyard was populated by a new generation of back-to-the-landers who built their own houses and grew their own food, for a time there was a facility set up at the old Merry farm in West Tisbury where people could take their pigs to be slaughtered and turned into cuts of meat for home use. When that arrangement ended farmers began transporting their animals to USDA-approved farm slaughterhouse facilities in central and western Massachusetts.

This is the practice today, and a story in the Gazette last week chronicled one day in the life of a trip by the manager of the Farm Institute in Edgartown to the slaughterhouse at Adams Farm in Athol.

The slaughter of farm animals hardly makes for pretty pictures, but the question at hand is not whether animals should be killed for consumption but where and how this is done. The facility at Adams Farm, designed by Temple Grandin, who has been acclaimed for her special gifts in handling animals, is clean and humane and provides a model for a possible Island facility, albeit on a smaller scale.

With an active renaissance in small agriculture taking place on the Island alongside a national movement to eat food that has been locally and naturally grown, encouraging farmers to grow more meat could be good for the Island economy.

Already there are solid economic indicators: The Farm Institute launched a community supported agriculture (CSA) program selling meat last year and was hard-pressed to keep up with demand. And a mobile unit purchased by the Island Grown Initiative for processing farm-raised chickens has proved a great success — fresh, Island-grown chicken free from growth hormones is now sold at a variety of farm stand outlets on the Vineyard.

Vegetarians, vegans and animal rights activists will no doubt recoil at this discussion. But Island farms already raise animals, and it is reasonable to consider whether the cumbersome current process by which they are taken off-Island to be slaughtered isn’t worse than what is being proposed. The question we are focused on is how to enable Islanders who produce meat to do so in the freshest way, as humanely as possible. What you eat is a personal choice but there can be no doubt that eating well and sensibly with food that has been grown on a farm down the road is more conservation-minded and better for you — whether that food is fresh lettuce, sweet corn or bacon.

The slaughterhouse venture should proceed with a careful and thorough examination of all available options and plenty of open, public discussion.

Endlessly Changing Shoreline

It was a hard winter for weather on the Island and nowhere more so than on the south-facing cliffs and beaches, where erosion has taken a ferocious toll in some places. Lucy Vincent Beach in Chilmark is one, where the ocean has eaten away large chunks of shoreline, washing out paths and undermining the fragile coastal dune system that is a familiar haunt to thousands of summer beachgoers. But by far the most dramatic example is at Wasque Reservation on Chappaquiddick where hundreds of feet of shoreline have literally disappeared as the sea launches its assault on one corner of this small island that lies off the eastern end of Edgartown. The direct cause is the breach in the long barrier beach that once connected Chappy to Katama. Known familiarly as the Norton Point breach, the break occurred during a severe northeast storm four years ago. The erosion at Wasque is so severe that The Trustees of Reservations are evaluating whether the beach can even be open to the public this summer. The former parking lot for Wasque Beach is gone, along with the boardwalk that once led to the beach. A short distance to the west, at the eastern end of Katama Bay the changes are equally dramatic.

Erosion is a natural process, although the role of climate change in accelerating this process cannot be ignored, especially given the extreme weather events that have been documented here and around the country in recent months. The late Gregory Stone, a university professor in Louisiana and renowned expert on coastal issues, said: “We can’t hope to stop coastal erosion; it’s going to happen no matter what.” The late Henry Beetle Hough had a decidedly less prosaic view, when he wrote: “Only an Island has a shoreline that never ends and that is yet a present fact rather than a distant understanding.”