There’s a common misconception about the “off-season” on Martha’s Vineyard. Many visitors think we simply shut off a switch and the Island lays dormant throughout the winter months, only to awaken in the spring once talks of summer vacations return. Despite a welcomed quietness and a relatively slower change of pace, the winter season is still very productive on-Island. No program makes good use of the colder months better than Island Grown Initiative’s (IGI) Winter Community Supported Agriculture (CSA).
IGI’s winter CSA means that Island families can still look forward to farm-fresh produce, even when local farmstands have called it quits for the season, and access to local produce is limited to what’s available at Cronig’s or the indoor West Tisbury Farmers Market (which wraps up for the season mid-December). For those families lucky enough to score one of forty spots on the CSA, winter is just as nutritious and delicious as summer.
Members of the winter CSA are entitled to weekly allotments of mixed greens, herbs, and sometimes even a fresh pint of strawberries. CSA food distribution takes place at IGI’s massive Farm Hub, where members pick up their bounty, and where most of the winter produce originates. The Farm Hub is the headquarters for IGI’s growing operation which encompasses forty acres in Vineyard Haven. Tucked back off of an unassuming bumpy Island road, the magnificent property at Thimble Farm features a sprawling acre-sized hydroponic greenhouse that allows the magic of local, thoughtful food production to take place all year long.
The massive greenhouse was originally designed by a previous owner to grow tomatoes on the hydroponic system, but IGI uses it to produce a wide variety of food crops as well as fish. During the peak seasons of spring and fall, more than 4000 hydroponic plants are in the system. Tomatoes, arugula, peppers, and more are harvested for IGI’s free community lunch program, which served 3,000 meals this past summer alone. Its plethora of produce is also sold through the organization’s Mobile Market, a truck stocked with affordable, locally grown fruits and vegetables, available to everyone on Island in pursuit of fresh, local food.
During the winter months, however, the greenhouse is sectioned off and the staff of the Farm Hub focuses on growing cold-weather crops that can easily benefit from solar gain, including strawberries, lettuce, cucumbers, and salad greens, among others. IGI’s hydroponic system allows plants to grow in a water-based, nutrient-rich solution, and peat is used to allow the plants to constantly be in contact with the water below it. The water comes from four tanks of rainbow trout that are also farmed on the property (and occasionally included in the CSA allotment), and the water is efficiently repurposed for the hydroponic system. This means that even in the dead of winter there is always water running and new food being cultivated at the Farm Hub. It’s an impressive operation any day of the year and one we’re especially grateful for it now when other options are so limited.
In addition to the CSA, crops grown during the colder season are sold to the schools at deeply discounted prices, and to those in need through a partnership with the Vineyard Food Equity Network. For more about IGI’s winter CSA check out “The Green Green Fields of Winter” by Nicole Grace Mercier, and photos by yours truly, in the latest issue of Martha’s Vineyard Magazine. To sign up for the CSA email email@example.com or call 508-687-9062, space is limited.