Down Lambert’s Cove Road, spooned up against the parking lot of Cottle’s, is a driveway that leads over a creek and up a hill to a big horse barn: Blackwater Farm, run by longtime Vineyard farmer Debby Farber. I first made my way there during my inaugural winter on the Vineyard, ridiculously earnest and excited about extending my new immersion into the culture of local eating through the winter months. Tucked inside the barn I found an old refrigerator where I bought my first local eggs – and a freezer stuffed with meat. I’ll never forget cooking the first short ribs I bought from Debby, though I cringe when I think, now that I too am a farmer, how I bothered Debby with questions every time I saw her at the farm. (She was always in the middle of a chore. Of course. Because she’s a farmer. But she was kind to me.)

Susie Middleton

These days, Debby has moved the fridge to her small farm stand near the driveway and added an extra freezer, and she is well-stocked with all manner of beef and pork cuts, as well as occasional chickens from the Good Farm.

In fact, while Blackwater Farm was one of just a few options for meat that winter, now the landscape has changed quite a bit, and opportunities for buying local meat in the winter on the Vineyard have multiplied tenfold. But you’ll be happy to know that one thing hasn’t changed: I’m still bothering other farmers. Just recently I drove up to Allen Farm to talk to Clarissa Allen. (Honestly, I think the best part about shopping for local meat is visiting the farms: where else in the world can you gaze from South Road across the cottony sheep-speckled pasture to the swishy gray-blue ocean beyond while going for your groceries?) I bought two lamb shanks from Clarissa – who was running between six different things – and confirmed that she will have lamb all winter in her freezer. She advises to call ahead to check on what’s in stock.

The reason I bought shanks is that not only are shanks, soup bones, and shoulder chops less expensive than steaks and loins, but they lend themselves beautifully to the long, slow-cooked braises and stews that comfort us in winter. Plus, they can stretch a vegetable or bean dish into a meal for more than a night or two. To get you started, I’ve included a recipe for braised lamb shanks, a recipe that can just as easily be used to braise short ribs or a small pork butt. It’s a simple method based on classic French techniques. After sautéing aromatic vegetables and searing the meat, you add flavorful liquids and pop the pot in the oven for a long, slow simmer. The result is fork-tender meat and a delicious “gravy.”

When shopping for local meat, don’t forget about sausages. Most farms that sell meat sell sausage, and a little bit of sausage can go a long way toward turning veggies and grains into supper. The Grey Barn and Farm has a huge stock of pork and beef sausages (as well as every other possible cut you could imagine in their big freezers) and Allen Farm has lamb sausage as well. By the time you are reading this, Beetlebung Farm will probably have opened its new retail store across from Up-Island Cronig’s in West Tisbury, stocked (no pun intended) with frozen lamb, pork, and beef. If not, you can call the farm and they’ll deliver it to you.

Blackwater is just one of many farms that now offers local meat all winter long.
Susie Middleton

For other meat options over the winter, visit the FARM Institute (they have a prepay “Meat Money” program) or the farm stands at Mermaid Farm and Native Earth Teaching Farm. The Good Farm and Cleveland Farm will keep selling (frozen) chickens and pork through the winter as long as supplies last.

If you (like me) are eating more vegetables than meat these days, between now and Christmas is also time to make a Saturday visit to the winter farmers’ market at the Agricultural Hall in West Tisbury to stock up on turnips, carrots, and beets, which keep for several weeks, sometimes months, in the fridge. And winter squash, too. If you’ve got a cool, dark spot in your house, well-cured squash will last until late spring. For veggies after the market ends, keep an eye on Rusty Gordon’s Ghost Island Farm stand on State Road, which might open on the weekends to sell greens from the hoop houses. Or sign up for Island Grown Initiative’s Thimble Farm winter CSA.

Not only is eating local in the winter a tasty way to go, but it helps support farmers during a time when they have to begin spending on seeds, tools, and equipment for the coming season.

The following recipe was published along with this article, Braised Shanks, Ribs, or Shoulder Chops, Hunters’ Style.

The following recipe was publised along with this article, Mini Savory Bread Puddings with Tuscan Kale, Bacon, & Cheddar. - See more at: