Prudence, Simon, Daniel & the Family Farm
by Remy Tumin
Brothers Simon and Daniel Athearn come in from the fields and walk to the farm stand at Morning Glory Farm in Edgartown. It’s a September afternoon and their sister, Prudence Athearn Levy, joins them. She has left her nutrition counseling practice nearby and meets them at a picnic table out front. Sitting side by side at their family’s farm, it’s impossible to miss the family resemblance, tanned by long days in the sun with deep blue eyes and big smiles.
The three siblings are the next generation of farmers to take the helm at Morning Glory Farm, the Vineyard’s largest commercial operation. What began as a roadside farm stand started by their parents, Jim and Debbie Athearn, has blossomed into a thriving vegetable, meat and provisions stand, and a business model with roots in the spirit of generosity.
Jim and Debbie are still active in day-today operations, but over the last few years they’ve begun to transition the farm into their children’s and even grandchildren’s hands. From the beginning their mission has been to provide quality locally grown food to the Vineyard community, and as Simon, Daniel, and Prudence step into new leadership roles, they intend to keep it that way for years to come.
“I feel a tremendous responsibility to the farm and what people are expecting of it now,” Simon says. “We can say we want to change the farm in a certain way, but the amount of food going into the community and the amount of people we can employ might change.”
With the exception of a new crop or a different growing method here and there, and response to new demands, the goal remains the same.
“You can see things changing in the long run, but you have to be looking at the same end result,” Daniel says. More work with organics, soil fertility, crop rotation, protein, beans, and wheat may be some of those small changes in the future.
“There are always things you can do, like selling an egg sandwich in the morning,” Daniel says of his longtime dream with a smile. “We make bread, we have eggs, and we raise bacon.”
Responsibility has increased year after year. From working a few days a week in high school to now managing field work, kitchen, maintenance, machines, and crop transplanting, the siblings are up to the task. “I feel very hopeful and relieved that Dan is all in,” Simon says. “Now that we know the job together and we do the job together, I can see success with the two of us because we’re doing it now.”
Prudence, the eldest, recently moved back home from Colorado with her husband, Joshua Levy, to be closer to her farm roots. Together with their two sons, Kyle and Judah, they live in Prudence’s grandmother’s house a half mile away, and own a private nutrition counseling practice, Vineyard Nutrition. She hopes to put her dietician skills to use in the kitchen.
“Every time customers come in, they’d know [what they buy] has a seal of approval— the farm is producing it, a dietician has looked at it, and it’s feeding our Island community,” she offers.
“That’d be huge to contribute,” Simon says.
The three have come a long way from riding on the back of trucks, tracing lines in the dirt roads with sticks, and collecting as many oak leaves as possible to pretend the foliage was money.
“We were always riding on trucks,” Prudence says. As the first child, Prudence’s father was eager to get her in the tractor seat, and by the time she was 13 years old, she navigated around Norton Field in Katama like a natural.
But farm life was not always a given for them. After managing the farm stand for 10 years, Prudence went off to Colorado and became a registered dietician. Simon left for New Hampshire to pursue a culinary degree and later to Montana for business school. Daniel left for Maine to study aquaculture.
There was never any pressure to make Morning Glory Farm their life.
“Mom and Dad raised us so fully [as] to never expect us to have to take over the farm,” Prudence says. “It’s just with anything, if you tell someone they have to do this, they’re going to rebel. If you tell someone they can do anything they want, they come back to what you love and what you know.”
“My daughter is six months old and I clearly want her to enjoy the same things that I love,” says Simon, “but maybe it’s not for her. Maybe she’s a fashion designer, I don’t know.”
“That’s why you have to go for the third child, just to make sure one of them will be a farmer,” Daniel says, causing his brother and sister to erupt in laughter. His wife, Meg, is expecting their third child in early November.
It’s a lifestyle that all of the siblings are eager to pass on to their children, teaching them every day that farm life takes patience, dedication, and passion.
Simon and his wife, Robyn, live up the road in West Tisbury with their new baby girl, Rose, and Daniel holds down the fort up-Island in Chilmark with Meg and children, Clara and Zebadiah.
“Both of my kids still say they want to be farmers, and usually they’ll tack on ‘and a ballerina’ or whatever else they might be interested in,” Daniel says. “I’d like to think that my kids could come here and do exactly what I do in the same way.”
Both of Prudence’s children want to be farmers too.
“Farm life is an unbelievable environment to promote a strong work ethic, and that is one of the most amazing things I see in my kids,” she says.
“They know work doesn’t come easy… it can be enriching and it doesn’t have to be a drudge.”
The Athearns are encouraged by the changing culture surrounding sustainability and farms and find in it a natural teaching mechanism to pass on to the next generation. “There’s an appeal and a romantic notion to being a farmer these days in the pop culture that’s unique to right now,” says Daniel. “A lot of people are trying to educate their kids about food, but just raising your kids on the farm does that—I’m raising these pigs and then I’m going to buy a new pair of shoes.”
“Growing up on the farm, you truly see from the ground up where it all comes from,” Prudence says. “There’s no mystery about it…I loved that simplicity, and I think it’s shaped who I was my whole life.”
The Athearns have seen the benefits of their upbringing come full circle. Simon remembers their father reminding him and his siblings in elementary school “When we compare ourselves to our friends, don’t forget that we’re trades people, and we’re not going to have all that they have.”
“It was a light introduction to the landscape of our society and realizing that tradesmen were real workers of [our] town and that’s what my family did,” Simon says. “But when I see our kids get celebrated in the public as farmers’ children, it feels like something has changed.”