Few people or places on Marthas Vineyard can claim the long island history as that of the Athearn family. From the first generation coming over from England in 1650 to the current twelfth, it’s safe to say this is one family tree that is rooted deep in the island’s soil.
So who better to be the purveyors of the beloved Morning Glory Farm in Edgartown, an island institution since it was founded in 1975 by Jim and Debbie Athearn. Its name is a nod to the beautiful glow that the sun makes when it rises over the lush green and flowering fields and all of its bounty.
The farm raises vegetables and fruits on about 65 acres of land in Edgartown. There is also a flower farm in West Tisbury and a cattle operation in Chilmark. At the farm stand in Edgartown, they produce artisan breads, fruit pies and other baked goods, soups, salads, prepared foods and preserves. They also stock carefully selected groceries and condiments, the rule being that the quality must meet or exceed the high standards they set for their own crops and creations.
It is a true family affair with Jim and Debbie’s grown children now helping run a business that oversees a high season staff of over 100+. We had a chance to chat with their son Simon, the current chief of operations, about what makes the farm so unique and how the current climate has had its share of challenges.
Simon, who grew up playing with his cousins in these fields (and is now raising his own young children in his great great great grandfathers home), is passionate about agriculture for sure. But it is his compassion for his island family of customers that really stands out.
A board member of Island Food Pantry for 10 years, he and the farm have been committed to helping the restaurants and residents work through the challenges presented by the pandemic. From helping restaurants source their vegetables and produce when shortages were rampant, to welcoming back former staff members who found themselves in need of work, the sense of community is stronger than ever.
We asked Simon what were three big changes he had noticed since the COVID era took over, and he was very quick with his answers:
Labels – Customers are becoming more aware of where things come from – as Simon noted “Why are we buying apples from Chile when we can be buying apples from Massachusetts?” People are starting to demand more natural and locally grown ingredients; this not only benefits the farmers; fresh food quality is vastly superior to the shelf life additives that are necessary to keep imported produce from going bad.
Cooking – People are enjoying being in the kitchen again and it’s making them be more selective with their shopping and trying out new recipes. Being with family around the table has become a tradition again and it’s bringing about a newfound sense of togetherness that has long been forgotten in the age of technology and social media distractions.
Flowers – This was the one that Simon was most surprised by. Sales of fresh cut flowers (all arranged by his wife Robyn) have been through the roof. Why? “Because people are seeking and craving simple beauty. Nothing fulfills that more than a freshly cut bouquet of flowers”.
The farm also offers a very generous Community Supported Agriculture program. CSA is a production and marketing model where a farmer offers a certain number of “shares” for sale to the public. Typically the share consists of a box of vegetables, but other farm products may be included. Interested consumers purchase a share (aka a “membership” or a “subscription”) and in return receive a box (bag, basket) of seasonal produce each week throughout the farming season (in Morning Glory’s case, 38 weeks).
When asked what he loved so much about his life on the farm, Simon replied with a twinkle, “The concept of farming is simple – it’s Rinse and Repeat”. We talked for a while about food insecurity, the joys of working closely with family, his tricks to making an artichoke think it’s down south to get it to grow faster, all while we stood in the store’s front yard that was decorated to look like a pumpkin patch.
The yearly display was made even more festive to give the local kids and families something to remember, since their popular yearly Pumpkin Festival had to be cancelled. It’s just another example of the generosity the farm continues to extend to it’s neighbors.
With a bag full of farm goodies in our hands, we left feeling a fullness that no food could ever provide. This farm, the family and the work they are doing is the true bounty of this community. And they will continue to serve them whenever and however they can. Rinse and Repeat.