The Farm Institute's Pilot Parcels Project

Project Overview

Project Type: Sustainable Community Innovation
Funds awarded in 2012: $14,520.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2013
Region: Northeast
State: Massachusetts
Project Leader:
Jonathan Previant
The Farm Institute

Annual Reports


  • Agronomic: canola, flax, hops, rapeseed, safflower, sunflower
  • Additional Plants: herbs, ornamentals
  • Animals: bees


  • Crop Production: conservation tillage
  • Education and Training: demonstration, on-farm/ranch research, participatory research, workshop
  • Energy: bioenergy and biofuels
  • Farm Business Management: feasibility study
  • Soil Management: soil analysis, nutrient mineralization, soil quality/health
  • Sustainable Communities: new business opportunities

    Proposal abstract:

    The Farm Institute Pilot Parcels project will facilitate innovative projects to address critical enterprise questions for Martha’s Vineyard farmers in an area of extremely limited access to land and high production costs. The Farm Institute (TFI) is a 200-acre working farm on the Vineyard’s Katama plains. With only 900 acres of the Island’s 47,000 acres in food production, the demand for locally grown products is strong and expanding. However, there are great challenges to farmers trying to advance the goal of food self-sufficiency identified in a recent island-wide planning report. The Farm Institute’s Pilot Parcel Project will invite farmers from all backgrounds and experience to apply to use one-acre plots at TFI for either innovative crop production or innovative practices that address challenges to viable farming. The project would provide a low-risk environment for answering participant’s enterprise questions, such as: Is it feasible to grow our own hops for beer? Could I raise my own grain for locally grown chickens? The Farm Institute will ask its own questions about whether the Pilot Parcel project is a sustainable use of the Katama farm and whether partnerships could be developed to expand successful projects. Two educational events will be arranged based on the needed expertise identified by participating farmers. Careful documentation of process and outcomes for each parcel will be shared through the TFI website and other media outlets, as well as through a final publication distributed both in print and on the web.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    What will your methods be? The Farm Institute’s Pilot Parcels program will provide a structured process for recruiting project participants, scheduling planning and consultation sessions for identified participants, identifying implementation needs, monitoring progress, and measuring results. The blending of farming and educational methodologies is at the core of TFI's mission and operations. In addition to the 1000 children and youth who take part in TFI summer programs, TFI provides a setting for a variety of hands-on adult education programs. Often supported by grants, these sessions range from cooking classes, to classes on growing mushrooms, and currently, a grant-supported series organized through the Martha’s Vineyard Adult Continuing Education to build a solar greenhouse attached to TFI’s main building. Year-round, but especially during the growing season, TFI simultaneously provides a setting for activities that range from visitors bringing a child for a look at a new calf or to purchase farm products, to adult workshops, community gleaning programs or community farm chores. The Pilot Parcel program will not only fit into these activities, but also provide an additional educational tool. The following steps will be followed in implementing the project: On notification of award: Send out invitations, via Facebook and website, press releases to the Martha’s Vineyard Times and The Vineyard Gazette. (See Att2 for invitation and draft application) By March 1: Carry out tours and on site interviews with potential participants By March 15: Select participants, using criteria identified in invitation.?Identify expertise and consultation needed by participants related to specific crops, or enterprise management and marketing. By March 15: Orient participants to farm policies and procedures. Develop lease agreements with specifications on soil care, prohibitions against pesticides and what fertilizers will be allowed. Identify tools and equipment that will be shared and what will need to be rented or purchased. By March 15: Identify and assign plots to assure compatibility of neighboring crops and efficient use of equipment and water. By April 15: Conduct first participant workshop or consultations, based on topics identified by participant needs. Invite community to appropriate events. April-September: Monitor planting and maintenance, providing support where needed. Include Pilot Parcels in summer visitor and summer camp tours. By September 15: Conduct second workshop or consultation, topics to be identified by participants. By October 15: Monitor clean up and planting of any cover crops agreed to in lease. By December 1: Obtain final reports from participants. Evaluate both general project success and the success of individual participants for continuing activities and expansion. By January 1: Develop, print and mail comprehensive final report, materials for website and press releases. How will you measure results? The goals of the Pilot Parcels project are?: 1. To provide the opportunity for farmers to assess the sustainability of innovative crops or processes in an area of restricted access to farmland;? 2. To assess whether the project provides ideas for more productive use of the Katama farmland to help meet the Island’s goals of food self-sufficiency; ?3. To assess whether TFI can support the continuing and/or expanding of this Pilot Parcels project. Measurable goals will be as follows: 1. At least 7 farmers will apply for the 5 plots: This will indicate a sufficient level of farmer interest in the project. 2. At least two of the Pilot Parcel projects will break even financially, not counting the unpaid labor of the participant and NOT including the $500 stipend in either the income or as a deduction from expenses. 3. Support provided by TFI and the consultation and expertise provided will be rated positively with at least a 4.0 average rating across questions at the end of the evalution form. TFI staff, Board and the Edgartown Conservation Commission will review the participant results. They will also assess the effect of the project on TFI operations: 1. How much staff time did it actually take to support the Pilot Parcels? ?2. Did participants follow the lease and take care of the parcels using sustainable practices?? 3. Were there project results that could benefit TFI and provide partnership expansion opportunities? How will the results make your community more sustainable? The word “sustainable” has a variety of meanings, but has come to be the accepted adjective for positive approaches to energy production, environmental management, agriculture and food production. The economic component of sustainability -- the ability to keep going -- is sometimes left out of this discussion, but not by people making a living in agriculture. “Sustainable agriculture is nice,” said a young Missouri farmer in an NPR interview. “But if you can’t make a living, you’re not sustainable.” Fortunately four years ago, the Martha’s Vineyard Commission, an elected group that deals with issues of island- wide importance, addressed the broad issues of community sustainability in its Island wide assessment and community goal setting. The issue of increasing food self-sufficiency and agriculture as an employment option were both addressed directly in the plan, and in a detailed follow up technical report. Strategies for doing this included increasing food production, including the ability to identify food crops that grow well, and exploring the possibility of expanding grain, oilseed and vegetable production. Food self-sufficiency goals focused on the year-round Vineyard population, and focused on both increasing productivity and shifting the food grown from those with high market value, to an Island Food basket of items that both grow well on the Vineyard and are part of a healthy diet. The Farm Institute has one of the largest pieces of land in agricultural production on the island, and as a publicly owned property, has an important responsibility to respond to island goals for sustainability. The Pilot Parcels project will contribute important information, and products, to this effort. How will you package and disseminate your results? The Farm Institute has an active website and Facebook page, as well as varied lists for sending email blasts. In addition, TFI has strong ties to both the Martha’s Vineyard Gazette and the Martha’s Vineyard Times, the year round weekly newspapers on the Vineyard. TFI will make use of these resources for updates and press releases as the project progresses, as well as for the final report. The final results of the project---including a summary of individual projects, as well as TFIs self-assessment in regards to the future of Pilot Parcels---will be produced as an illustrated 4 to 6 page report that will be available in pdf format as well as printed in small quantities. Print versions will be made available to the following: 1.The 25-40 Island farmers ?2.The board of the MV Agricultural Society ?3.The board of Island Grown Initiative ?4.Members of the Martha’s Vineyard Commission ?5.Members of the Edgartown Conservation Commission

    Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.