In a series of profiles, The Times introduces the men and women who farm on Martha’s Vineyard. This interview was conducted in mid-June, as Mr. Woodruff, located off Old County Road in West Tisbury, was putting the last of his summer vegetables in the ground and preparing to plant his fall crops.
Tell me a little bit about your background in farming.
I started farming at a very young age. My family had a large backyard garden. In the early ’70s we started taking our surplus vegetables to the West Tisbury Farmers Market when it first opened. My next-door neighbor was Fred Fisher at Nip ’n’ Tuck Farm, so I spent a lot of time on their farm learning about agriculture. When I was 16, I started to market my own vegetables. I had my own delivery route — going to the Black Dog in Vineyard Haven and a few other restaurants around the Island.
I went off to school at UMass Stockbridge for a year and a half, and came back early because I was too excited about farming and wanted to dive right into it.
Is there a story behind the name Whippoorwill Farm?
Yes there is, actually; that’s a great question. Every spring in the olden days, the whippoorwills used to come back to nest in our neighborhood in West Tisbury, and it was kind of a ritual. In April they would start showing up and singing their song at 4 am and wake us up, and that was the start to my day: the call of the whippoorwill. Sadly there are very few whippoorwills left on the Island. They’re a ground-nesting bird that has been threatened by a lot of the animals that we have on the Island, like skunks and rats.
What are you growing right now?
We have a wide variety, about 30 kinds of vegetables. Right now we’re working hard to get the last of our summer-season crops in the ground, and we’re preparing to start planting our fall crops in the greenhouse, like broccoli, kale, cabbage, cauliflower. So we’re in the middle of those two things right now, both completing our summer planting schedule and beginning to think about fall.
People can buy your crops at both the Farmers Market and through CSA [community-supported agriculture], right?
Yes, and we’re doing some wholesale as well. We actually haven’t sold wholesale in quite a few years, but we’re just starting to get back into it with Cronig’s Market, Back Alley’s, and Fiddlehead sometimes. A couple of different locations.
We’re actually trying something new with our CSA this year. We’ve offered a debit-share-style CSA as a second option to our traditional share. The debit share works basically as an extra line of credit. You put a certain amount of dollar value down, and then we add 15 percent of additional value to that value, so if you bought $250 worth of vegetables, you’d get $287.50, I believe, in value. And you can use it at the Farmers Market on Wednesdays and Saturdays or our CSA pickups on Tuesdays and Fridays. So that’s a new option, and it gives people more flexibility for choosing what they want when they want it, as opposed to the traditional CSA where you take what we offer.
What are you working on today?
Every day we’re continuing to move irrigation to keep up with the water demands of the farm. Today we will be trellising the tomatoes; we’re harvesting some for tomorrow. It’s our first CSA pickup, so we’ll be picking some lettuce, some salad greens, things for tomorrow’s pickup.
Do you have a favorite crop to grow?
I love tomatoes. Tomatoes are my favorite thing to grow. They grow fast, they’re productive, they’re just amazing vegetables.
Do you have a favorite part of the growing process?
My favorite experience in farming is when the weather starts to shift, usually around this time, mid-June. The crops that you’ve had in the ground for several weeks, which usually grow pretty slowly at first, face a sudden shift as the days get longer and the nighttime temperatures start to increase. Things start to explode — they grow exponentially. Just watching that growth is really amazing to me.
Do you feel that you face any challenges specific to farming on Martha’s Vineyard?
Sometimes I think about what it’s like to grow on mainland Massachusetts. I have farmer friends on the mainland, and we compare notes, and one of the main challenges here is wildlife. There’s a lot more pressure here from different types of animals than I think that people on the mainland have — deer, rabbits, raccoons, that kind of thing. So that’s a big challenge, and we tend to get into these dry spells in the summer, where it doesn’t rain and the thundershowers will go north of here, and that’s always challenging as well. Our soil conditions aren’t quite as good as a lot of places in the commonwealth either.