Island Grown Schools, the Island Grown Initiative’s farm-to-school program, is set to bring more local produce into school meals and snacks in 2009, developing a connection between cafeterias and farms that helps create a year-round market for locally-grown foods and a source of off-season income for Island farmers.

Island Grown Schools already serves as a bridge to help connect food service staff from the Edgartown, Oak Bluffs, Tisbury and charter schools with farms near their schools. This connection brings fresh, nutritious, delicious food to Island students while supporting Vineyard family farmers.

The group is working with Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School, West Tisbury and Chilmark schools to bring Island-grown food to their students through snacks and special events. This winter, the group will be meeting with farmers and food service directors to help plan what farmers can grow specifically for the schools in the up-coming growing season.

In 2008, Island Grown Schools worked with dozens of teachers at all of the Island schools to help them connect their required curriculum to farm and garden-based learning. After a successful three-day training for 20 teachers during the summer of 2008, the group has plans for another summer intensive in 2009.

This winter, Melinda Rabbitt DeFeo, the school garden enrichment and curriculum coordinator for Island Grown Schools, is partnering with ACE, the adult education program, to offer a five-week course for Island educators who are interested in building lessons around food and agriculture. The course will take place from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. every Thursday from Jan. 15 to Feb. 12. The cost is $125. School teachers, home school instructors and family educators are all welcome to see online or call 508-693-1033, extension 240.

Last year, Island Grown Schools worked with school and community partners to install new school gardens at the West Tisbury School, the regional high school, and Oak Bluffs School, and to expand the garden at the charter school. These gardens are now being used by teachers and classes from a wide range of subject areas with great results. In the spring of 2009, Edgartown School, Chilmark School and Tisbury School will be installing their own gardens, so that every school on the Island will have a garden to use as a tool for hands-on learning about everything from soil to weather to water to history, right on their school grounds.

Volunteers are needed in every branch of the program. To get involved, plan to attend the next community meeting at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, March 10 at the Island Cohousing Common House in West Tisbury, off Stoney Hill/Chicama Vineyards Road, or e-mail Noli Taylor at