When Edible Vineyard made its debut a few years back, I admired the design and the photographs but after an issue or two I got the distinct impression that it was trying to sell me something.
It was. It was trying to sell me an upscale version of Martha’s Vineyard, close cousin to the “Theme Park Farming” I blogged about last month. “Our Food, Our Stories, Our Community” it says in the top right corner of the cover. Warning, warning, warning! When first-person singulars start speaking in “we,” they’re usually trying to put something over on me, you, and everybody who isn’t them.
It’s called “the illusion of inclusion.” Confronted with their exclusionary practices, the gatekeepers say “Mea culpa, mea culpa” and start admitting some of the previously excluded through the gates. Progress is being made, everyone’s happy (or at least willing to keep their minds open), the rattling of the bars diminishes.
Until it turns out that the inclusion is limited, and conditional. Access is still controlled by the gatekeepers; it’s just that they’re letting a few more outsiders through the gates. Often these erstwhile outsiders, knowing who’s buttering their bread, start tsk-tsking at their brothers and sisters on the outside: “We made it, so you can too — if only you try harder, if only you stop being a victim.”
The illusion of inclusion is a powerful strategy. It’s devilishly effective. Listen to five minutes’ worth of electoral campaign propaganda. The admeisters employ it because it works.
Edible Vineyard and other exponents of theme park farming (including the Island-Grown Initiative, which was started by the editor of Edible Vineyard) are selling us inclusion in a place that looks like, and indeed is called, Martha’s Vineyard. Farming! Living local! What could be more Vineyard than that?
The catch is that if you need to make a living on Martha’s Vineyard, farming is pretty much out of the question. So working people are de facto excluded by the illusion — and that includes many people who grew up here, whose parents grew up here, whose families have lived and worked here for generations. Would this ever be acknowledged in the pages of Edible Vineyard? I doubted it.
I was wrong.
I picked up the current issue of EV because its cover cracked me up:
If the secret to humor is surprise, here’s proof. What I expect from EV is page after page of nauseatingly healthy green stuff. I laughed out loud. I picked up the magazine. And I don’t even like doughnuts. (Laura Silber’s story about Pavlovas and especially Elizabeth Cecil’s photographs are the best food porn I’ve seen in a long time.)
What really grabbed me, though, was Emily Palmer’s “A Farmer Leaves the Land.” Emily Palmer is less than half my age. For the last several years she’s been a professional organic farmer. She’s done well, “managing more acreage, more sales, and more staff than ever before,” she writes. Her customers were happy. But she’s leaving farming, and she’s leaving farming because she’s done the math. To be sustainable, her farm needs to grow — but there’s nowhere to grow to. And she’s tired of being poor.
“Short of outright purchase of large property to the tune of millions of dollars,” she writes, “a mortgage that can never be repaid via farm income, new farmers on the Vineyard are not able to access property that has the potential to become a commercial working farm.”
She’s nailed it. Andrew Woodruff’s long-established community-supported agriculture (CSA) program at Thimble Farm was saved at the 11th hour by an influx of big money from very rich people. Earlier this year, experienced flower farmer Krishana Collins was awarded a long-term lease on the former Tea Lane Farm in Chilmark, now publicly owned. Another young farmer is able to lease 10 acres thanks to a promise requested by the late Craig Kingsbury and kept by his daughter Kristy. We’ll have enough farms to keep the theme park going, especially if a few millionaires show up who fancy farming, but sustainable? self-sufficient? I don’t think so.
At the beginning of her story, Ms. Palmer writes that she fears “we are often having the wrong conversation.” At the end she urges island residents to “look around at the skilled and committed young people who are trying and failing to become professional farmers, and start having the right conversation.”
Are there any people around to have this conversation with? Working Vineyarders who’ve been here a while can do the math: absent a rich uncle or a big tract of land and the wherewithal to pay taxes on it, they aren’t encouraging their kids to take up farming. And the inclusion illusionists aren’t all that interested in anyone who has to work for a living.