Tomorrow, students at the Edgartown School will have a choice at lunchtime: chicken salad sandwich or peanut butter and jelly. And on Thursday, they will have another choice: tossed green salad or a salad of mozzarella cheese and tomato.
Chicken or peanut butter, tossed or tomato salad, may not seem like a weighty decision, but for Edgartown students the choice will also be an opportunity to choose locally-grown, fresh food over a meal made from imported ingredients.
“We’re bringing our own herbs in,” said Gina deBettencourt, food service director at the Edgartown School. “So we do a tomato mozzarella dish and the basil goes into that. We’re doing a corn salad with fresh dill and in our chicken salad, we’re using thyme. And then parsley goes on everything.”
The fresh herbs at the Edgartown School are a first step in a developing program to bring local food and better agricultural and nutritional education into Vineyard schools.
Last December, under the guidance of the Island Grown Initiative, a group of parents, teachers, administrators and farmers began meeting monthly to discuss everything from school lunch to lessons on farming. They decided to name the group Island Grown Schools and by the time school let out in June, the group had made notable progress. They planned and planted a school garden in West Tisbury and held a winter benefit dinner which featured an all-local menu conceived and cooked by students in the high school culinary arts department. The event raised more than $1,500, money which culinary arts director Jack O’Malley hoped to spend on a Community Supported Agriculture share for his students.
In July, the Oak Bluffs School, in partnership with the YMCA, began a 16-row school garden next to the school playground. YMCA campers began working the garden this summer and since the start of school last Thursday, students in Oak Bluffs have had salads made from their own greens and tomatoes, a side dish of backyard eggplant and soups seasoned with their garden herbs. “It’s tied to a bigger issue for us,” said Oak Bluffs principal Laury Binney who introduced the new garden to the students during an all-school opening assembly last Thursday. “It’s something that serves many purposes and the caring of a garden is something we want everybody to participate in. It’s a responsibility,” he said. “The eggplants came out last week and they were beautiful,” he continued. “We put them on the counter so the kids could see the fruits of their labor.”
But the program is about more than just lunch. “Island Grown has three main parts,” explained program coordinator Noli Hoye. “The first is the local food part, actually getting more locally grown food into the schools.” Local food benefits the students nutritionally and also provides a boost to local farmers, Ms. Hoye said. Starting this year, Island elementary schools will partner with local farms to bring in-season, fresh produce to their cafeterias. “It is an opportunity. There could be a year-round market which would provide enough demand to make four-season growing make sense for local farmers,” Ms. Hoye said.
The second part is about giving Island students hands-on experience in school gardens and on field trips to local farms. “We want to reestablish the food connection between kids and our food system that has really been lost in the last generation or two,” said Ms. Hoye. “When students participate in growing food, they’re willing to try just about anything and it introduces them to more healthy eating habits.”
The third piece is curriculum. “Bringing these lessons into the classroom,” Ms. Hoye said. “That is where it really all comes together.” Last month, the Island Grown Initiative hosted a three-day workshop for Island educators interested in incorporating food, farm and school garden-based programs into their classes. The workshop was filled to capacity with 21 teachers from every Island public school but Chilmark. Interested Cape Cod teachers filled a wait list. Participants included administrators, food service workers and teachers in special education, math and history.
“I was very excited by the three-day workshop. It brought together a wide variety of people from the different schools and we were all interested in connecting the students, through the curriculum, back to the earth,” said Dianne Norton, a teacher at the high school and an owner of Norton Farm in Vineyard Haven. As part of the workshop, each teacher developed a lesson plan to bring into the classroom this year. A sixth grade science teacher at the Martha’s Vineyard Public Charter School created a unit on how to garden year-round. An Oak Bluffs middle school teacher planned with a West Tisbury kindergarten teacher to bring composting bins into their classrooms. Once students deposit their food waste into the bins, they will be able to watch as worms turn the waste into dirt, which will then be used in the school gardens.
Mrs. Norton, along with four other teachers from the high school who attended the workshop, have begun working with principal Stephen Nixon and teachers in the horticulture department to plan a school garden at the high school. Although it is not yet in place, Mrs. Norton already has her lesson plan ready. “One of the things I’m doing, because I teach some [English as a second language] classes, is to try and have either a plot or a section of the garden for each of the parts of the world that are represented within our school population. Right now I teach all Brazilian students and there are specific crops that we are growing on the Island right now that could go into that,” she said. This summer Norton Farm, along with Morning Glory and Whippoorwill farms, began growing a select few native Brazilian crops in their Island fields. The program is experimental and the first of its kind in the country.
“The goal was to help teachers see ways to link their curriculum into farm and garden activities,” Ms. Hoye said. “They are all so busy teaching to the MCAS and this showed that farm and garden-based learning isn’t something extra, but a tool they can use to teach what they need to teach anyway,” she added. Ms. Hoye said the workshop will become an annual event.
Ms. Hoye just finished writing guidelines for the national farm to school program. The guidelines will help nearly 9,000 participating schools across the country serve produce they have grown in their school gardens. “It’s very exciting to be part of this national movement of teachers and students and schools which are starting to bring agriculture back to their school grounds,” Ms. Hoye said. Next week, she will meet with Edgartown School principal John Stevens to plan their school garden. In November, two regulators from the state Department of Education will come to the Vineyard to speak with Island boards of health and school administrators on the rules and regulations for buying produce from local farmers. Another local benefit dinner will take place this winter featuring an Island grown meal from the culinary arts students under the guidance of Scottish Bakehouse chef Danielle Dominick.
Island Grown Schools will host its first meeting of the school year on Oct. 7. Time and place are still to be determined. New members are welcome and encouraged to attend. For details, contact Ms. Hoye at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Last week, Vineyard Haven farmer Heidi Feldman told Farm and Field she had an unusually bad shiitake mushroom crop this summer. She has since phoned to say the positive power of the press lifted her summer curse. Ms. Feldman harvested between 12 and 14 pounds of mushrooms over the weekend.
The Bay State Farmed Shellfish Shindig is this Saturday at the Boston Beer Company Brewery in Jamaica Plain. The festival will showcase mollusks from across the state, including oysters from Katama Bay, and discuss sustainable aquaculture. Admission is $10. For details, see massaqua.org.
The Living Local Harvest Fest, a free two-day event focused on Claiming our Island Future, kicks off Sept. 26 with a community forum at the Chilmark Community Center. Acclaimed author David Korten will begin the evening, which will continue with a panel discussion featuring Jim Athearn, Trip Barnes, Emily Lindsey, Tom Osmers and Kate Warner. John Abrams will moderate and community dialogue and dessert will follow. On Saturday, the festival will continue with workshops, panels, exhibits from local organizations and vendors, kids’ activities and food from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the West Tisbury Agricultural Hall. The farmers’ market and the annual antique power show will also take place on the fair grounds. That evening, the annual Harvest Fest celebration will begin at 6 p.m. with a potluck dinner and continue on until 10 p.m. with home-grown music. This is a first-of-its kind collaboration that includes the Vineyard Energy Project, the Vineyard Conservation Society, Island Grown Initiative and the Martha’s Vineyard Agricultural Society. For details, visit vineyardvoice.org.
This column is meant to reflect all aspects of agricultural activity and farm life on the Vineyard. To reach Julia Rappaport, please call 508-627-4311, extension 120, or e-mail her at email@example.com.