Head to the Chilmark farmer's market on Martha's Vineyard in summertime and autumn and you'll see the familiar local farm-to-table organic sites.... bales of corn, raspberry lemonade, homemade fruit pies, jams, fresh vegetables of every colour.... and then there's the turquoise hearse filled with tomatoes. Year after year, in the magical time loop of this island, you'll find Rusty of Ghost Island Farm growing some of the most beautiful vegetables on the island, and for sure the most spectacular display of tomato diversity you'll find, and on a tomato crazed island, that's saying a lot. And Rusty certainly stands out with his hair standing on end like he had just been electrified, beaming behind his technicoloured tomatoes, riding around the island in his signature turquoise hearse filled with vegetables, Rusty's Ghost Island Farm is the product of his talent for growing beautiful, all organic and entirely spray-free vegetables (they pick the bugs off by hand) and his love of horror movies, Halloween, and the comedic side of gore. I met Rusty at the farm to find out more about the story behind Ghost Island and his favourite plant-based recipes.
Where did the name Ghost Island come from?
I love halloween. It's more of a sense of humour than anything else, and since I was a kid I was alway celebrating it. I had a big family, and we all celebrated Halloween and watched a lot of horror movies so it doesn't faze me. Halloween was about having a sense of humour and things didn't scare me much.
Your favourite vegetable to grow?
I have 100 varieties of tomatoes. I buy the seeds from tomato growers. I don't use my own seeds because I want the species to be true to what they are. And because we're growing 100 varieties in the same place, the chances of cross pollinating are a lot higher than if you just have one kind. If it's an F1 seed and I tried to use those, it wouldn't revert back to its ancestors and it wouldn't be pure.
How organic are you?
We don't spray with any kind of chemicals at all. Which is even unusually for certified organic. We try to keep the bugs off the plants because they'll destroy it. We cover some vegetables for a period and then uncover. And we also hand pick off the bugs....
Where did you get the hearse?
This came from a car dealership in Connecticut that just sells to funeral homes and because of the colour, everyone wants black hearses these days, so I got a really good deal on it! I'd never driven a car so nice. Nice leather seats, I'm driving in style!
What did they say when you told them it was to transport vegetables?
I dont even think they knew that. I should actually send them a photo of it filled with vegetables with the whole crew around it.
I've had the name Ghost Island forever. When I was working at Whipporwill Farm, it was my side name, a funny name, so just recently when we opened up this place up 5 or 6 years ago, I took a satellite photo of the island, flipped it upside and put a head on it, so it's a ghost.
So what I tell people, because I have to make up a joke, is that this is the way the island looked 10,000 years ago before the erosion.
And people buy it?
How did you get into the farming world?
I saw a sign in the paper that Whipporwill was hiring and that's how it started. So I did that years and years until I started this place.
I had an original hearse, a black one, which I had for years, but people gave me a hard time with that. But now with this, everyone wants a picture with it.
What's your favourite vegetable to cook with?
I don't really cook tomatoes. I like them raw! in juice drinks. I just eat a lot of tomatoes!
Always tomato, celery, parsley + different green (kale, spinach). But other than that, I'm not really much of a cook. Im out in the fields and always testing a tasting vegetables. So I eat a lot of raw food that way, during all the taste tests!
Rusty's Gory Tomato Juice Recipe
Tomato Health Facts (1)