The first people on Martha's Vineyard were Indians of the Wampanoag tribe. The ancestors of Wampanoag people have lived for at least 10,000 years at Aquinnah (Gay Head) and throughout the island, pursuing a traditional economy based on fishing and agriculture. While specific evidence is lacking, the general history of the Vineyard makes it safe to say that the site of the farm was used at least intermittently by ancestors of today's Wampanoags.

The modern history of Martha's Vineyard begins with the arrival of a single English ship in 1602, commanded by Bartholomew Gosnold, who built the first colonial settlement in New England on Cuttyhunk, a small island just across Vineyard Sound. The Indians called the island Noepe, meaning "land amid the streams" - a reference to the two distinct and often conflicting tidal currents the native people saw at work around the Island. Gosnold named it "Martha's Vineyard", probably after his infant daughter and because the Island was covered by wild grapes.

During the time of the Revolution there was enough livestock on the island that the British took 10,000 head of sheep for their needs. The islanders protested but never got their sheep back. During the Civil War, many people left the island and sheep farming stopped. Most of the island in those days was pasture land. Forests cover much of the land on the island now. Around 1858, a gentleman farmer named Johnson Whiting wanted to improve agriculture on the island. Scientific farming was becoming more a part of American life. At this time the Martha's Vineyard Agricultural Society began. An agricultural fair which still runs today was born from the forming of the Society. Dairy farming became popular on the island after World War 2. Dairy farmers, with the leadership of Benjamin Cohan, formed a co-operative dairy and shipped their milk to a central plant in Edgartown. At that time, a large herd would have been 15 head or more, while the smaller herds numbered 2 or 3 head. By the 60's, the co-operative dairy closed its doors.

Historically, Edgartown's 1.25-mile Mattakeset Herring Creek has played an important role as a fishery resource and as a means to relieve the Edgartown Great Pond of overflow. In the spring of 1890, Islanders opened a new, manmade sluiceway, and the herring industry thrived. In 1928, the barrier beach between Edgartown Great Pond and the Atlantic was opened, flushing and lowering the pond. The herring fishery ended almost overnight. One of the most ambitious herring run restoration projects has been taking place in Katama. After years of planning, in 1999 town officials and volunteers began work to improve the overall health of Edgartown Great Pond by restoring the once thriving Mattakeset and Crackatuxet herring runs that once connected the pond to Katama Bay and Crackatuxet Pond.

While recent development and an increase in property values have taken a toll on island farming activities, many wonderful farms continue on the island with people like James Athern making commercial success at his Morning Glory Farm. Other active farms on the Island include Blackwater Farm, Seaside Daylily Farm, Middle Road Farm, the Native Earth Teaching Farm, Nip 'n' Tuck Farm and the Thompson Farm.

 







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