K: Kathie Ianacelli
A: Ari Snider
N: Narration (Ari Snider)
Monhegan Island Farm
N: Two years ago, on a misty day in June, I got on the ferry to Monhegan, a small island about ten miles off the coast of Maine.
Monhegan has a little town that clings to the leeward side of the island, uphill from the harbor and sheltered somewhat from the constant ocean wind. All the roads are single dirt lanes and there are no cars on the island, save for a few old trucks that the lobstermen use to move their traps around. Less than a hundred people live here year round, but during the summer thousands of tourists come out to visit, giving the place a relaxed hustle and bustle. There’s a a general store, a library, two hotels, and, tucked away on the outskirts of town, a small farm.
K: We’re walking by a very large stand of rhubarb. And I’ll open this door to the greenhouse, and you can see our tomato production in here.
N: Kathie Ianacelli started the farm project about nine years ago. When I went out to visit, the summer harvest was in full swing.
K: Lettuce, cauliflower, peppers…
N: Like most things on Monhegan, the farm is small and tidy — a few rows of vegetables packed in around a greenhouse. But they were clearly making the most of their small plot. The leafy greens were spilling into the walkway and the tomato plants hung heavy under the weight of ripe fruit.
K: Herb patches in front of the greenhouse. It’s like you can go to school to learn how to manage plants. You can also spend a lot of time with them. And if you’re watching them carefully, they tell you whether they’re happy or not. Whether they’re in the right spot.
N: To get out of the wind, Kathie and I sat in old wooden boatshed that functions as a gift shop during the summer, selling crafts and artwork made by island residents. Kathie has lived on Monhegan for a long time.
K: Some people say islands are lawless and sometimes people say that there are laws that are definitely laid down but they’re certainly not written down. There are certain kinds of ethics. I mean as long as you’re not too greedy, and as long as you are willing to work, you’re a good person. I just felt that was part of things. And I found out later, when there was a tragedy, people came forward and helped out. If there was a fire to put out, everyone would show up. If you need help, it’s there. I think it was the first time I saw that kind of generosity.
N: In Maine’s small island communities, a lot of people cobble together a living by working different seasonal jobs. On Monhegan, the co-owner of the brewery is a lobsterman and the librarian moonlights as a singer songwriter. The song you’re hearing now is actually from her album Memory Town.
A: Where does the food go, that you make? Or that you produce.
K: Oh ok. What we grow, our food goes to the farmers market on Tuesday, a CSA on Friday.
N: Islanders who sign up for a CSA – basically a weekly supply of vegetables – don’t need to worry about picking up their share every week. The farm workers will deliver the produce to people’s homes, or even directly into the refrigerator if no one is around.
I guess it’s little things like this that draw so many visitors to Monhegan. Besides the fact that it’s beautiful out there in the summer, you also get the sense that the word community still means something. Ten miles off shore, out there in the ocean, you really do have to rely on your neighbors.
I don’t mean to sugarcoat it, though. The winters are long and cold, and in the off season there aren’t a lot of ways to make money besides lobstering. And then in the summer a lot of island residents have to work multiple jobs to make up for the slow winters. It’s not easy.
K: I was focused on feeding us, but I was surprised by what happened the first year at the farmers market. What a hub of sort of social exchange, it was, the farmers market. People coming standing waiting for the farmers market to open, talking about the vegetables, what is this vegetable, how do you cook it, somebody would give a recipe, another person would say well my mother did it this way, of a lot of human connections made at that farmers market.
N: I stayed on Monhegan for three days. I interviewed a few more people and played a lot of cribbage with a friend who grew up out there. But it was only a visit, and to me Monhegan exists in a perpetual summertime. I’ve never been out there in the winter and have a hard time imagining the dock covered in snow. And even though it was two years ago, I still picture the farm in a timeless state of abundance.
K: I’m still very actively involved in it. But as I get older I’m less able physically to handle the heavier work and I feel that somebody’s gonna have to take my place, pretty soon. I’ll still come around and transplant, give my opinions, haha, but um I’m happy to be working with younger people. That was another thing that I was amazed at was how interested young people were in what we were doing. It gave me hope for the future of the world, really.
N: That’s Kathie Ianacelli, on Monhegan island. Music by Mia Boynton, used with permission.