Island Spotlight: Simon Athearn of Morning Glory Farm

This week we sat down with our neighbor Simon Athearn of Morning Glory Farm to talk about his family’s legacy on the island, what’s happening at Morning Glory Farm, and his memories of being a kid in Katama. 

Tell us about Morning Glory Farm and its history

Morning Glory Farm’s name comes from the fulfilling feeling of setting out to the day as the sun is rising with a full days promise ahead of you. The farm was started by my parents Jim and Debbie Athearn in 1975.  They started as a dairy farm and we kept milk cows through my youth.  My parents started to realize that they were making more income off a single day a the West Tisbury Farmers Market than a week’s milk sales; so they started to transition to vegetables and in 1978 they put up the roadside stand near the current location along the West Tisbury road.  The community has been so supportive and has encouraged us to keep going each year.  My Brother Daniel and our wives Robyn and Meeghan and our parents in addition to our skilled and tireless crew continue to work together every day to produce all we can for the island. 

Your family has a storied history on the island, tell us a bit about that connection to the island

My namesake, Simon Athearn came as a servant boy in 1650 from England and settled in the Southern plains known then as Tissa.  He is most famously known for very actively campaigning against a feudal system in the new world and rigorously advocated for an individualist system where every person could set their own destiny and the rejection of Thomas Mayhew as governor for life. This early patriotism and incessant protesting to the new government was continued by his son Jabez.  

The venerable historian Charles Banks, in The History of Martha’s Vineyard (1911), begins his biographical sketch of Simon Athearn thus: “Nothing less than a separate chapter would enable the author to give an adequate portrayal of the strenuous life and fruitful career of this unique character among the early settlers of the Vineyard….Amid the settings of a most peaceful and bucolic life he managed to stir up more contrary breezes than any man of his time, and was a continual thorn in the flesh of the ruling family on the island.”  

It is wonderful for me to be the fourth generation in the same farmhouse walking distance from nearly every generation’s tombstone in the West Tisbury Graveyard.  The feeling that we are all the same characters each taking a turn on stage but essentially making the same play every time is truly comforting to me, it guides me to feel the longevity of time and the preciousness of now. 

A man carrying a burlap bag on his shoulder
A pickup truck full of fresh vegetables from Morning Glory Farm
The front of Morning Glory Farm
Produce from Morning Glory Farm, including tomatoes, kale and peppers
The Morning Glory Farm stand, loaded up with fresh vegetables and flowers

Tell us a bit about what you know or remember about the Winnetu’s predecessors and the history of the corner of the island we share with Morning Glory Farm

As a kid I remember delivering vegetables to the Dunes with my parents, we liked going there because we could play on the little playground while Mom and Dad talked with the chef. The South East corner of the island down there has had such a unique history.  When I was a kid my father helped milk cows for Steve Potter at Seaside dairy (known as Katama Farm, Farm institute now) and occasionally we would knock around the farm while he worked. And again as a young teen a classmate at Edgartown school’s parents were running it as Katama Farm and put in the ice creamery which made visits there much more enticing.  Even the Navy did some farming out there on the fertile Katama soils to support the base at the airport. I also remember walking along the herring creek in front of the Dunes as a kid harvesting Elderberries for jelly making with my family, they grow quite well along the banks.  My grandmother passed along a deed to a very tiny plot of land near the Right Fork parking lot near the old Priscilla pearl factory. That was a land speculators effort at making a second cottage city out there, we can’t say where the plot is exactly as the land has changed and eroded so much.  What an interesting idea to picture a cottage city out there instead of the plains and scrub we all know now.  As an Edgartown kid, I was lucky to be able to run about on my bicycle all over town and had many great adventures in that area.   

What is Morning Glory Farm looking forward to in the coming year?

Every season begins with so much promise and expectations, in my head the rows are all straight and weed-free, there is just enough rain and sunshine etc. The Pandemic was a very interesting exercise for us, thinking of quickly redesigning our crop mix for a smaller field crew and changing buying habits.  We launched a CSA this year and has be so much fun, we are really enjoying handing out the weekly shares with all the goodness coming off the farm.  We planted more popcorn and dry beans this year, continuing my attempt to add stable farm products year-round and to grow a vegetable based protein.  We have launched a new shopping website with curbside pickup and are trying to launch a delivery system to go with it.  I planted 53 varieties of pumpkins and winter squashes and I’ve excited to try some of the new ones.  The heirloom winter squashes are burgeoning, as seed companies look to bring more flavor back into the squashes. 

How has COVID affected Morning Glory Farm?

It has been a challenge, but as we got moving we kept figuring it out, the town has been very helpful.  We were not able to stay at home as we have crops to sow and harvest, greenhouses full of tiny starts, and animals that all needed daily care.  In the early season, the family had to take on more responsibilities and do all the jobs normally done by newly arriving staff.  It felt like important work to go get the crops in and to keep the food coming in as the grocery stores and national food infrastructure struggled.  It was time for us as local farmers to be there for our community, I hope this experience helps to deepen the value of active farmland in every community.  

What’s a homegrown taste of Martha’s Vineyard that you can’t live without?

I will miss my touchdown tempura this summer with the Fair canceled.  My very favorite taste of summer has to be eating sweet corn raw in the field every morning.  My sister and I are avid wild blueberries pickers and it just not July without a baked blueberry buckle (a coffee cake). I love to get a couple of stuffed quahogs from the Homeport and sitting on the jetty.  Or gathering crabs from the great pond to boil with homegrown potatoes and corn, dump it on newspaper on the picnic table and a heavy sprinkle of old bay, that feels like summer to me.

Thanks to Simon for speaking with us about his experience with the farm, the island, and Katama. Check them out at www.morninggloryfarm.com for more about their CSA program and other offerings!

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