On one of the calm, unseasonably warm early December days we had last month, my husband Isaac took our three-year-old son Emmett and me scalloping in Menemsha Pond for the first time. With each dump of the drag on the culling board we were amazed by what we found — tiny sea robins and flounder that Emmett put in a bucket on the deck, jellyfish, eel grass, and an incredible bounty of bay scallops with their beautiful fan-shaped shells. The shells opened and shut, opened and shut, making a quiet snapping sound as we sorted through them, picking out the biggest ones to keep and sweeping the rest back into the water.
As Emmett helped steer the boat back toward West Basin, I thought of what a special connection this scalloping trip represented for him. Emmett is the 17th generation in Isaac’s mother’s family to be born on the Vineyard (as best we can figure it), and throughout the generations this family has been harvesting food from the ponds and the sea around the Island. When we think about local food in our community — what it means today and what it has meant throughout Island history — it is impossible to overlook the long and storied fishing tradition still very much alive on Martha’s Vineyard.
At Island Grown Schools, we have spent much of our first five years as a program helping to bring Island-grown vegetables and fruit to school cafeterias. This year we are also focusing on bringing more Island-produced meat, dairy, and, starting this month, seafood into school meals, classroom taste tests, and family cooking workshops. January is seafood month in our Harvest of the Month program, a chance to grow the connection between the Island’s fishing heritage and the youngest generations of Vineyarders.
Throughout the month, cafeteria directors and their staff will use locally and regionally harvested seafood in lunch items. With help from the good folks at the Net Result, and a grant from the state Department of Agricultural Resources, we have been able to give each school fresh flounder, caught in the waters off of New Bedford, which cafeteria staff will use in a range of delicious dishes for the more than 1,300 people who eat lunch in Island schools each day.
Slow Food Martha’s Vineyard provided us with great recipes and information about using edible seaweed, and IGS coordinators will hold taste tests of seaweed in classrooms and cafeterias. Coordinators are also teaching about early American and Wampanoag seafood recipes and fishing history. Island fishermen and representatives from the Martha’s Vineyard Shellfish Group are coming into classrooms to talk with students about what they do, demonstrate shellfish shucking and share their thoughts on the history and future of fishing on Martha’s Vineyard.
Chris Fischer’s delicious baked clam recipe, our featured recipe this month, is available on our website (islandgrown.org/schools). Please join us in celebrating seafood during the month of January by buying local and regional seafood, trying edible seaweed or becoming part of the long and living tradition of fishing on Martha’s Vineyard by harvesting these things yourself.
Noli Taylor is executive director of Island Grown Schools, a program of the Island Grown Initiative. This column appears monthly in the Gazette throughout the duration of the Harvest of the Month program. For more information, go to islandgrown.org/schools.