Island Grown Schools coordinator Kaila Binney is especially excited about January.
“I have this crazy idea,” she said. “I want to get conch in the schools. It’s the biggest export on the Vineyard and nobody eats it.”
Ms. Binney, along with IGS director Noli Taylor, is launching a new program called Harvest of the Month designed to introduce Vineyard students to a new locally-grown crop each month.
“It’s a perfect place to start,” Ms. Binney continued. “If school children grew up eating it, we can change the market and begin sustaining ourselves on conch, even if it takes several generations.”
Actually, IGS has already begun its new program and is introducing tomatoes as the crop for September. Baked apples might be in store for October, beets in November and kale chips (stocking stuffers anyone?) for December.
The pilot program aims first to raise awareness in the schools about access to Vineyard-grown food and then have that knowledge head out into the community. Instead of just lugging textbooks and homework in their backpacks, students will take home recipes and nutritional information, many of which will also be available at Cronig’s Market and State Road Restaurant.
With help from Island wholesale delivery service Produce Connection and sponsorship from the state’s Mass in Motion program, IGS will work with eight different farms across the Island to bring their food to Vineyard school cafeterias. The produce is not strictly limited to Vineyard-grown products, although sourced as much as possible from farms and school gardens, and will include regionally-sourced Massachusetts produce.
Vineyard Harvest of the Month is modeled on programs in California and Oregon and is the first of its kind in Massachusetts. The Massachusetts Farm to School Network, under the auspices of the state department of agriculture, is looking to the Vineyard as a pilot program.
“It’s the premiere farm-to school program in the state and maybe even the country,” Massachusetts network director Kelly Erwin said of Island Grown Schools. When you can create a more holistic program where it’s in the classroom and the garden and the cafeterias, you’re much more likely to effect lifelong changes in students’ eating habits. We are hoping we will be able to do a harvest of the month [next year] but as is often true, Island Grown Schools leads the way.”