For the last five years a quiet revolution has been under way in Vineyard schools. It’s taking place in the lunchrooms, where leafy green salads, roasted pumpkin seeds and tacos stuffed with brightly colored peppers from local farms are replacing the more traditional canned corn, tater tots and government surplus fare.
It’s taking place in the school yards, where lush gardens and neatly-turned piles of dark compost can now be found alongside the playgrounds that are trampled by hundreds of young feet at recess every day.
And it’s taking place in the classrooms where these sustainable food and growing projects are being incorporated into learning curriculums. “The idea is to teach the next generation about food and farming, and to give them the skills to make healthy eating choices,” said Noli Taylor, the director of Island Grown Schools.
Begun in 2007, Island Grown Schools is one of six programs run by the Island Grown Initiative, a low-key nonprofit formed in 2005 to promote more local food and sustainable agriculture on the Vineyard. Simple in organizational structure, IGI operates with a three-member board and an extensive network of volunteers. Its director is Sara McKay; Steve Bernier and Randi Baird are the other two board members.
And if Island Grown Schools is any indication, the work has begun to make a difference.
Mrs. Taylor keeps careful track of the statistics for her program. IGS now includes 11 schools and 2,300 students; there are 11 school gardens, three greenhouses and four after-school programs. To date IGS has sponsored 1,300 classroom sessions and 190 field trips, and 12,000 pounds of vegetables have been gleaned from local farms that were provided free to the schools. Five Island farms now sell directly to the schools, Mrs. Taylor said.
And this coming week, as pea shoots and baby kale begins to sprout in the school gardens, Island Grown Schools is looking to make its revolution a little less quiet by joining another revolution — Jaime Oliver’s Food Revolution Day. The renowned British chef who has turned his quest to bring healthy food into school lunchrooms into an international cause, has declared May 19 a day of action intended to put a spotlight on worldwide obesity rates. Around the world school events, dinner parties and farmers’ market tours will raise money for The Jamie Oliver Foundation school food projects in the United Kingdom, Australia and United States.
Island Grown Schools has decided to make it a weeklong event dedicated to expanding the IGS presence on social networks. Vineyard restaurants and food groups will help promote IGS through their Facebook pages, and for every new Facebook friend IGS earns, the sponsors will donate one seedling to a school garden. Participants include 7a Foods, Edible Vineyard, Heather Gardens, Right Fork Diner, State Road Restaurant, and the Scottish Bakehouse. Mrs. Taylor said the goal is to collect 500 seedlings — and Facebook friends — by the end of the week.
“Jamie Oliver has done so much about school food issues and work with foundations who do programs like ours,” Mrs. Taylor said. “It’s so fun to be a part of that.”
On May 19, Mr. Oliver’s Food Revolution Day, the West Tisbury School will host a community garden work day and Melinda DeFeo, the Edgartown School IGS coordinator, will speak about the program at the Martha’s Vineyard Center for Living.
Mrs. Taylor said she hopes the work IGS is doing can be adapted in other school programs.
“We’re seeing that kids are responding to the programs and willing to change their eating habits; that’s what gives me encouragement we can help other communities,” she said.
For more information about Island Grown Schools or to become a Facebook friend, visit their Web site at islandgrown.org.