On our summer-centric, tourism fueled Island, we have lost a little something of the traditional, agrarian rhythms of New England.

It is easy to forget, for instance, that even though the annual Agricultural Fair is just a week a way, that the most bountiful harvest of the season used to take place in autumn.

Back when the fair was first inaugurated, in November of 1858, Island culture was less divorced from those rhythms. Henry L. Whiting, one of the founders of the Agricultural Society, wrote to the Gazette praising the hearty display of autumnal bounty at that first fair, paying special attention to the year’s sweet potato harvest.

“Those taking the premium,” he wrote of the winning veggies, “raised by Mr. David Mayhew of Tisbury, were very handsome potatoes.”

It was not the first time Mr. Whiting wrote about the crop. Just the year before, he penned a letter to the Gazette extoling the virtues of this sugary tuber.

“I do not hesitate to say,” he wrote, “that I believe our soil is suitable, and our climate and season sufficiently warm and long, to bring the sweet potato to a very fair degree of perfection.”

Mr. Whiting himself claimed to have raised 16 bushels of the crop on a small plot of land. It would be easy for an Island farmer, he opined, to “supply himself with an abundance of this excellent vegetable.”

Mr. Whiting was not wholly exaggerating when he sang the praises of Island sweet potatoes. In 2013, the Gazette reported, environmental activist and film producer Laurie David was able to grow 1,600 pounds of the crop at her Chilmark home, which she donated to local schools.

Yet, despite its high yield potential, the sweet potato has never caught on as one of the marquee Vineyard crops. The reason, theorized Oakleaf Landscape manager Roxanne Kapitan, might have something to do with the crop’s seasonality.

Ms. Kapitan has spent decades as a farmer and gardener on-Island, gaining a good sense of what grows well and, just as important, what grows when. In her job planning the gardens of summertime Island residents, she said, sweet potatoes simply don’t mesh well with the vacationers’ goals.

“Our clients typically leave in August and sweet potatoes here in our zone are ready in September,” she said. “What are you going to do with all those sweet potatoes?”

The same logic applies to farmers and market gardeners: why grow a crop known for its prolific yield, if it will ripen when fewer people are around to buy it?

And while farmers may use a variety of strategies to bend the growing season to human whims, those efforts don’t pay off for the sweet potato. Limited greenhouse space is better allocated to high value crops like tomatoes.

Even if a grower was determined to shoot for an early sweet potato crop, Ms. Kapitan said, they might be hard pressed to get access to plant slips, the little sweet potato sprouts used to grow new plants.

“You cannot get sweep potato slips even shipped here before June,” she said, adding that her own efforts at growing the crop early were met with limited success.

Still, the sweet potato’s limited marketability in the seasonal Island economy is not an indictment of the plant, and indeed some Island farms pull in a steady sweet potato harvest. The tuber is also a favorite of small Island growers aiming to boost their self-sufficiency, renowned for its ability to generate plentiful calories out of limited acreage.  

In 1940, the Gazette ran another editorial, reflecting on the last near-century of Island agriculture since Mr. Whiting penned his original letter.

“The production of many things, such as the sweet potato, was dropped simply because Vineyarders had other matters engaging their attention,” it reads. “But with the changing times which again make us take stock of our resources, some of these old ventures ought to be taken up again.”