Julie Sierputoski pulled her pickup truck into the parking lot behind the Oak Bluffs School. It was Labor Day, school had not started yet and Ms. Sierputoski’s truck was the only one in the parking lot.

Down came the tailgate and off the truck came tomatoes, cabbage, yogurt and string beans.

Julie Sierputowski green beans
Beans mean better nutrition for growing bodies. — Ivy Ashe

“What about these, will your kids eat these?” Ms. Sierputoski said, holding up a lemon cucumber.

“You know me, I’ll take whatever I can get,” replied school chef Leah Miranda.

“If your kids like them, there’s more,” said Ms. Sierputoski.

“They’ll love them,” Ms. Miranda said.

This was no black market exchange, although the handling of heirloom vegetables could be considered a delicate situation. Ms. Sierputoski is offering a new service to connect farmers and schools through Produce Connection, her one-woman truck and delivery service.

pickup truck farm greenhouse farmer
Garden bed to greenhouse to truck bed to cafeteria. — Ivy Ashe

For almost a year Ms. Sierputoski has been providing wholesale deliveries to Cronig’s Market, Island restaurants and private chefs, and this year marks the first time she will bring the farm to school cafeterias, free of charge.

Ms. Sierputoski and Ms. Miranda unloaded the truck, carrying the produce into a large walk-in cooler inside the school, their rubber flip-flops sticking to the cold floor. There were tomatoes from Whippoorwill Farm, yogurt from Mermaid Farm and Dairy, and string beans, cabbage and the lemon cucumbers from the Farm Institute in Edgartown.

Whippoorwill Farm tomatoes await pickup. — Ivy Ashe

In the days to come, lettuce and cherry tomatoes from Beetlebung Farm, greens from Blackwater Farm, and more lettuce and tomatoes from Morning Glory Farm will be picked up and delivered to all the Vineyard schools.

The farms have committed to planting crops specifically for the schools, Ms. Sierputoski said (although she will deliver for any farmer who’s interested). And this is not just a fall harvest delivery service — Ms. Sierputoski will work throughout the winter delivering salad greens from greenhouses and other winter crops.

For Ms. Sierputoski, this is also not a money-making venture; her goal is to see 20 to 25 per cent of school lunch food come from local sources.

“It’s a Robin Hood philosophy,” she said back in her truck. “It feels like it’s the right thing to do. We’re very grateful to the farmers who want to grow for the schools. I’m the vegetable schlepper, the credit goes to the farmers.”

School chefs will see which vegetables are more popular than others and report back to Ms. Sierputoski. She is especially excited about the West Tisbury School, where students will have their first salad bar experience this year.

“It’s so satisfying and rewarding for the kids to return to the salad bar for seconds and thirds,” she said. “It’s every parent’s dream. There are aspects of it, too, when it feels like you’re giving kids access to produce that some of them don’t have,” she added.

The idea behind Produce Connection came from Ms. Sierputoski’s own children — her son is a salad lover and a West Tisbury School student — and she wanted to make sure he got his favorite greens in for lunch.

Between her desire for her and other Vineyard children to eat healthy food in school and a keen sense for organization and sourcing from her days as a sailor in the Caribbean and Europe, Produce Connection seemed like a natural fit, she said.

“When you’re on a boat and go to shore you have to make it count,” she said. “I’m good at putting things together.”

Ms. Sierputoski makes the most of her trips that take her from one end of the Island to the other on most days. On the day she was dropping off at the Oak Bluffs School, she began at Cronig’s picking up ice, then it was off to Beetlebung Farm, down Middle Road to Mermaid Farm, a quick stop at Whippoorwill Farm for the tomatoes and then down to the Farm Institute. She makes several stops for iced tea refills to get her through the day.

The produce she delivers either goes straight to the salad bars or is processed into things like tomato sauce from imperfect or slightly overripe tomatoes. Ms. Sierputoski, Ms. Miranda and others volunteered their time over the summer to prep the vegetables.

“It’s a labor of love type of mission,” she said. “It’s extremely rare in public schools to have fresh produce. I think it’s pretty unique to have it picked today and eaten the next.”


For more information on Produce Connection or to coordinate a delivery, e-mail produceconnectionmv@gmail.com.