Despite being an island grounded in agriculture, Martha’s Vineyard had not run 4-H clubs for years. Judy Vollmer, a former Barnstable County 4-H Educator and former Foundation Trustee, helped the Vineyard resurrect its 4-H program before her retirement in 2019. Molly Vollmer, Judy’s daughter and current Plymouth County Educator, then took over maintaining the Vineyard’s enrollment records.
Then, enter the Martha’s Vineyard Agricultural Society, a nonprofit organization founded in 1859, which stepped in to take over the day-to-day management of the 4-H program, led by the Society’s 4-H and Program Coordinator Lucy Grinnan. The program has kept growing, and as of October 2023, seven 4-H clubs now operate on the Dukes County Island.
The clubs include Winging It, a bird-watching club run by the Sherrif’s Meadow Foundation. Another club, Paint What You See, introduces painting agrarian subjects to 8–12-year-olds. Its members have submitted paintings to the island’s Agricultural Fair.
Other 4-H clubs concentrate on cooking, photography, or livestock, and there is even a club run by the Martha’s Vineyard Museum that focuses on old-fashioned pursuits such as churning butter and making wool. “Having a variety of clubs can showcase that 4-H is a broad umbrella,” said Lucy.
The longest-running club, led by Slough Farm Executive Director Julie Scott, is the Slough Farm Super Silos. Julie first launched the club in fall 2018 as a Cloverbud club focused on farming, cooking, and art. Dormant during the height of COVID, the Super Silos returned in the Fall of 2022 as an animal science club. The ten members learn about sheep, goats, chickens, cows, pigs, and rabbits, with the Slough Farm Foundation owning the animals.
The club holds a farm animal “Meet and Greet” each June as a 4-H fundraiser. Club members have also staffed the hay bale maze at the island’s Harvest Festival. This year, Super Silos members showed animals at the Vineyard’s Agricultural Fair, some for the first time. “We make sure each child gets some time to focus on the animal they’re interested in,” Julie explained.
Leona, age 9 and a 4th grader, has cared for horses and weighed sheep as a member of the Super Silos. She also participated in the Agricultural Fair by feeding and watering the animals, and holding the rabbits, pigs, and lambs for fair visitors to see. “The horses are my favorite,” said Leona. “4-H has taught me about different animals and how to work in the garden.”
Meanwhile, Lucy and Julie are looking ahead. Lucy would like to see more crossover events between clubs and community service projects. They want to recruit more 4-H leaders to support more clubs.
Julie hopes to strengthen the connection that youth have with agriculture. “This is an agricultural place, and we want people to understand where their food comes from,” explained Julie. “I would love to see more 4-H clubs start up.”
Martha’s Vineyard offers a unique environment for youth to explore 4-H, according to both Lucy and Molly. “I don’t think people realize there are 40 farms on Martha’s Vineyard,” remarked Lucy. While the Vineyard is best known for summer vacationers, agriculture has a huge presence on the island, from the annual Agricultural Fair to each island school boasting its own garden. This makes the need for 4-H more crucial. “The Vineyard has a year-round population in need of programming,” said Molly.