First and second graders at the Tisbury School were quick to describe their reaction as they tasted freshly-picked orange cherry tomatoes Wednesday afternoon.
“It’s really spicy,” said one young boy before spitting out his tomato.
“That was really brave of you for trying,” responded Elle Lash, the Tisbury School coordinator for Island Grown Schools.
“Can we have one more tomato?” asked another.
Sponsored by Island Grown Schools, the tomato tasting was part of a day to celebrate the new Harvest of the Month program in Island schools. State Rep. Tim Madden visited the Tisbury and West Tisbury schools to celebrate the pilot, the first of its kind in the state, and also usher in a new generation of eaters at the West Tisbury School’s new cafeteria.
For Harvest of the Month, school cafeterias on the Vineyard are finding ways to highlight a different vegetable or fruit each month. September is tomato month.
“The orange ones are the best,” Mr. Madden said as he sat down at one of the long lunch tables with first and second graders. “Even if you don’t think you like tomatoes, you can’t not like those,” he said.
Mr. Madden also reacted enthusiastically to the Island Grown Schools program “I’m blown away,” he said. “It’s beyond impressive. You have great farms on the Island . . . and the kids are all proud of their [school] gardens.”
At the Tisbury School kitchen, cafeteria director Linda Rose made homemade tomato sauce and provided a vast spread at the salad bar.
“We use fresh vegetables all the time,” she said, pointing to a sign next to the salad bar with a long list of Island farms where the produce came from. “They like what they eat, so you have to figure out ways to mix it up.”
Island Grown Schools director Noli Taylor applauded Ms. Rose and her staff for their creativity.
“The Tisbury School kitchen ladies have worked extremely hard to make this work,” she said.
As a rush of eager eaters entered the lunchroom, some took their sample cups without hesitation. Others peered into the white Dixie cups, daring to venture into uncharted territory.
Mr. Madden then joined Vineyard schools superintendent Dr. James H. Weiss and other school officials at the West Tisbury School to celebrate the opening of the new lunchroom. This month marks the first time the school has prepared food on the premises for West Tisbury and Chilmark schools.
But first there was a trip to the school garden with students from Teri Mello’s kindergarten class.
“Most kids really like to eat the green beans,” she said. “Can you guys go pick some tomatoes and I’ll let you get some green beans?”
The beans were motivation enough and the children let out shrills of excitement.
“Is this ready?” one said, holding up a freshly-picked pepper.
“Look at this one,” another said, holding up a perfect, ripe yellow tomato.
Looking out over the garden, Mr. Weiss had warm words of praise for Mrs. Taylor.
“It’s unbelievable what has happened in the past five years,” he said. “Your work [with Island Grown Schools] has taken off in phenomenal ways.”
At a ribbon-cutting ceremony, West Tisbury School principal Michael Halt echoed the praise.
“Five years ago Noli had a vision . . . for better food, better education and better experiences for everyone,” he said.
As a former restaurant manager and self-professed food lover, Mr. Madden addressed the room full of students, staff and volunteers.
“There’s nothing more proud than a new kitchen and fresh produce in it,” he said. “And what better place to do it.”