When Jim and Debbie Athearn, founders of Morning Glory Farm, arrived at the West Tisbury Farmers’ Market in 1975 — the market’s second year in existence — they brought only a pile of sweet corn they had grown on a half-acre of land off Music street.

“I don’t even know if we had a person call the market manager” before showing up with a truckload of corn, Mr. Athearn recalled. The farmers’ market was the first place that Morning Glory ever sold produce. 

This Saturday morning, the farmers’ market returns for its 50th year, and a lot more than sweet corn is on offer. More than 50 vendors will be offering fresh produce, meats, dairy, flowers, breads, herbs, pastries, jams, jellies, lemonades, chocolates, and — of course — egg rolls to throngs of basket-carriers at the Agricultural Hall.

Ethan Buchanan-Valenti, who manages the market, expects thousands of visitors to attend each week. 

Bob Daniels, who died in April, was foundational for the farmers' market. — Tim Johnson

“I need someone with a drone to just start counting,” he joked.

The farmers’ market origins began at the Grange Hall, but moved to the Agricultural Society grounds during Covid. The bigger space worked and it has continued there ever since, expanding the tradition of giving Island farmers a chance to sell produce and goods alongside vendors offering breakfast, lunch and pantry provisions.

Suzanne Fenn and her husband Bucky Burrows have worked the market for 37 years, serving fresh lemonade, limeade, orange juice and a signature “citrus cooler” to the sweating crowds. 

“You watch children grow up, you watch them grow up and have children, and then you sell their children lemonade,” Ms. Fenn said. “And it’s a really satisfying feeling to see people’s lives and how they change.”

With 50 years come 50 years of reminiscences. When they first arrived at the market, Ms. Fenn and Mr. Burrows had just moved to the Vineyard from Alaska, where they had run a lemonade stand in the summer. The market, they heard, was scant on vendors, so they thought they would keep their venture going. 

In those days, the market was a come-as-you-are affair. 

“Everyone had a pretty simple operation,” Ms. Fenn said. “You had maybe a table, and I don’t even remember if we had an umbrella, maybe an umbrella and a table. At that time we only sold lemonade, and then as time went on we added limeade, and then we added oranges, and then we mixed them all together and called it a citrus cooler.” 

Mr. Athearn said that fellow farmer Bob Daniels inspired Morning Glory’s first foray into a crop other than sweet corn. 

Mr. Daniels “was selling this gorgeous salad bowl lettuce. So we grew salad-bowl lettuce and it’s been one of our main lettuces for years,” Mr. Athearn said. “I thought, boy, the more stuff you have, the more money you make.”

These were lessons that the farmers’ market has offered Island farmers over the years.

The Grange Hall hosted the farmers' market before the Covid pandemic. — Peter Simon

Mr. Daniels was instrumental in the creation of the farmers’ market, revitalizing it in 1974 for the first time since the Great Depression. 

“He forced the market into existence, basically, just by his insistence and his hard work,” Mr. Buchanan-Valenti said.

Mr. Daniels died in April at age of 99. In the run-up to this year’s opening, countless farmers and vendors recalled his pioneering work to put the market on solid footing — and his attendance, rain or shine, at just about every meeting of the market during its first 49 years. 

His tin-can flower business and “endless potatoes,” were verified market staples, Matthew Dix of North Tabor Farm said.

Mr. Buchanan-Valenti recalled that when he first began selling produce at the market, he was “scrambling around trying to, holler at customers...and trying to keep my supplies well stocked.” 

Meanwhile, Bob Daniels “would just sit at his booth and not try to sell anything . . . . And I would always have stuff left over and he would always leave empty handed.”

“My father probably went to all but one or two markets over the 50-year period,” Mr. Daniels’s daughter Lynne recalled. “He went rain or snow. It really didn’t matter.” The market’s patrons “had to be able to count on their farmers,” she said. 

In 2019, the Martha’s Vineyard Magazine dubbed Mr. Daniels “the godfather of the West Tisbury Farmers’ Market.”

Ms. Daniels said that she and her two siblings plan to carry on their fathers’ flower and potato legacy. 

Linda Alley at New Lane Sundries with her selection of jams. — Ray Ewing

“I think the reason why he made it to 99 was [that] he grew and ate his organic vegetables, and he was always doing something, keeping his mind and his limbs busy,” she said. 

Fifty years on, the market still offers new farmers lessons and old farmers a place to keep moving produce. Vendors will gather Wednesday and Saturday mornings from 9 a.m. to noon all summer long. Saturday markets continue through October.

This year, the market hopes to expand awareness of its food security resources, said Meg Athearn, who manages Morning Glory farm’s presence at the market and sits on the market’s governing committee.

The market accepts Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and Healthy Incentives Program (HIP) cards, Ms. Athearn said. Mr. Buchanan-Valenti and Ms. Athearn have also encouraged vendors to accept Women and Infant Care (WIC) and elder coupons, which can supplement young mothers and seniors’ produce spending.

At the farmers’ market manager’s stand, anyone on a food program can receive coupons that double their eligible produce spending, Ms. Athearn said. This “doubling dollars” program is backed by Sustainable Cape, a food security collective based on Cape Cod. 

Two new farms, Noepe Wellness and Sprouted Joy, will also join the market this year, Mr. Buchanan-Valenti said.

Some things never change, though, like the market’s insistence that the majority of its vendors are Island farms, said Jim Athearn. In accordance with the market’s longstanding bylaws, at least two-thirds of its vendors must be farmers growing produce or harvesting seafood here on the Island. 

The steady crowds the market draws also remains a fixture. 

“It seemed to always have a sufficient number of people, and then after a while, I don’t know if it’s 10 or 20 years, I began to think, this is really popular,” Mr. Athearn said. “Then another 10 or 20 years, man, this is pretty amazing.”

“Now it’s so eclectic, so diverse,” Mr. Dix said of the market. “The changes that have happened over the years have been good changes in that it is a much more diverse market now, food-wise, music-wise, growing-wise.”

And what will the coming decades bring?

“I wouldn’t say there’s any big changes or big things on the horizon for the farmers’ market,” Mr. Buchanan-Valenti said. “Except for, you know, another 50 years at least.”

The West Tisbury Farmers’ Market takes place on the Agricultural Society grounds on Saturdays and Wednesdays from 9 a.m. to noon.