This fall begins the second year of Island Grown Harvest of the Month, a program of Island Grown Schools that highlights a different locally available crop every month to encourage healthy, whole foods, seasonal eating in our schools and in the wider community. In September we honored corn as our first crop of the month of the school year, one of the most important crops in the agricultural history of our region and one of the most important crops in agriculture today.
The way we grow and prepare corn in our country has a profound impact on human health and the environment. Over 92 million acres of American farmland is now in corn production — over 85 per cent of which has been genetically engineered — and corn is everywhere in the American diet. Staggeringly, the average American eats more than 1,500 pounds of corn every year — that averages out to four pounds of corn a day. Every day! This provides rich curricular lessons for IGS educators to teach to students, around everything from health and nutrition to science to social studies curriculum.
One topic we are focusing on this month is biodiversity. Corn is one of many crops threatened by the industrial agricultural system, which focuses on a few high-yielding varieties at the expense the genetic heritage of the crop. In 1903 commercial seed houses sold over 300 varieties of sweet corn. Today they sell only 12 varieties. This threatens food security, as the vast monoculture fields of corn that blanket America’s farmland are more susceptible to being wiped out by single outbreaks of pests and disease. We have learned this lesson already — in the 1970s American farmers lost over $1 billion as their corn crop was wiped out by a lack of resistance to leaf blight.
Next spring Island Grown Schools will work with students across the Island to take a proactive step toward restoring corn biodiversity. With the support of Glenn Roberts from Anson Mills, a grain company based in South Carolina, we are planting four heritage grains in our 13 school gardens throughout the year: wheat and oats this fall, corn and rice next spring.
In the spring we will plant a variety of corn that used to grow throughout our region, but has since disappeared. Glenn was able to preserve the last store of seeds from an elderly farmer from Rhode Island who has since died, and will be giving that seed to our students to plant in Island gardens this school year. We are thrilled and honored to be able to engage in this crop preservation work with our students.
This year the Martha’s Vineyard YMCA is joining us as a new partner in Harvest of the Month. The Y café sourced locally grown food for the first time last month for the program, purchasing corn from Morning Glory Farm for corn chowder and corn and bean salads throughout September. Café manager Tara Nitardy tells me these were big sellers. They are now working with the Net Result to source locally-grown fish for October’s seafood month. Stop into the Y and ask for one of their Harvest of the Month specials, which Tara plans to have on the menu once a week throughout the year.
Seafood month celebrates the bounty of our Island waters during this season of the fishing derby. IGS educators will be offering local fish taste tests at all of our schools, while cafeteria directors highlight seafood in school meals.
Please check our website for featured recipes and sourcing ideas, and buy or harvest local seafood yourself from our Island ponds and beaches to enjoy this month.