Pilot Parcels Program

Read a recap of 2012's Pilot Parcels-

A Year of Explorations


The Farm Institute invited Vineyard farmers of all kinds—from experienced to start-ups-- to apply to use a one-acre plot of Katama farmland to experiment with new crops or new processes that contribute to the Island’s growing sustainable local food efforts.  Five Pilot Parcels were  made available for the project.

The purpose of Pilot Parcels is to expand ideas about crops that can be grown and marketed successfully on the Island and to share these ideas with other farmers and people interested in developing value-added products. Possible ideas could be but are not restricted to:

  • Grains or other crops that could be used as an island source of feed for the growing population of poultry and pigs.
  • Crops that could be used for Island value-added products, such as hops, oils, or grains for baked goods.
  • Crops to address ethnic or dietary niches not currently being met
  • New methods for growing a crop that would increase productivity and/or cut down on labor needs

The Farm Institute will provide:

  • A 10-month lease on a one- acre plot of Katama farmland with access to water at no cost.
  • An up-to-date soil test.
  • Rough disking for seed bed.
  • $500 to spend on seed, soil preparation, equipment rentals or other supplies.
  • Educational events and consultation based on both general enterprise management and specific crops in the incubator community.
  • Press releases and other public information support to help with crop distribution.

The five participants need to provide:

  • Labor
  • Adherence to lease agreement covering issues such as weed control, methods of soil enhancement
  • Documentation of project progress, problems, costs and outcomes
  • Participation in educational and other incubator community events offered through the program. 

For successful projects, there may be the option for developing new and/or expanded leases.


The Participants 

Ground has been prepared, deer fence is installed and five people have been selected to try innovative crops or growing methods on one-acre parcels at The Farm Institute in Edgartown. With funding from the Northeast Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education program, a branch of the U.S.D.A., the five farmers will have access to water, a small stipend for seeds or equipment, and support from Farm Institute staff and each other.  The purpose of the project is to provide a low-risk way to try new products for Vineyard markets, or ways to make growing more efficient and profitable.

The projects are varied. 

  • Alex Rentumis and his partner Katrina Nevin will be planting an oilseed crop, probably sunflowers, for use in bio-diesel fuels and for human consumption.  He is interested in finding out whether the soil and climate at Katama will support a crop that can be harvested and pressed for a clean fresh oil. 
  • Dan and Anna Merhalski  will be experimenting with the financial sustainability of a small-scale market garden as a possible way to encourage more food production on limited acres. They plan to try quinoa, barley and hops, along with heirloom tomatoes and other vegetables. They plan to bring in some beehives as well. 
  • Patrick Brown will explore ways to remineralize Island soils with pond fines, glacial gravel powders and other materials, and observing the nutritional output from these efforts.  Read Pat Brown's report summary here.
  • Teri Praskach will be growing flowers and herbs using cover crops between the rows. The cover crops will be tilled in at two to three week intervals and the effects on weed control and soil health will be measured.  Read Teri's report summary here.
  • Lily Walter will be using her plot to compare no till, reduced till and conventional tillage methods in productivity for a vegetable garden.  Read Lily's report summary here.


One of the requirements for the Pilot Parcels farmers is good record keeping so the experiments can be reasonably evaluated. Garden manager Rebecca Sanders is in charge of the Pilot Parcels Project, and is bringing her soil science background in to support the farmers.  

“There was no shortage of good ideas when it came to digging into the local dirt!” Sanders reports. “We have a great group of participants with really diverse interests. I love that some are aiming to increase the level of soil fertility.  Who knows? Maybe next summer we'll be rototilling local minerals into our reduced-till-cover-cropped gardens with homegrown biodiesel with Island hops refreshment on the side!” 

The Pilot Parcels project is part of NESARE’s Sustainable Community grants program.  Funding for the work reported here was provided by the USDA Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program.

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