Island Grown Schools hosts regional meeting

Supporters from across the Cape and islands gathered in Sandwich Saturday to discuss farm to school programs. — Photo courtesy of Noli Taylor

On Saturday, more than 70 community members from across the region gathered at the YMCA’s Camp Burgess in Sandwich for the first meeting of the newly formed Cape and Islands Farm to School Network. The meeting was convened by Island Grown Schools, the farm to school program on Martha’s Vineyard.

Parents, farmers, school administrators, school cafeteria workers, representatives of the Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources and the Mass Farm to School program, and others came together to share lessons learned and to find ways to support efforts to bring school gardens, local food in school meals, farm field trips, and classroom learning about food and nutrition to the region’s schools, according to a press release.

“We’ve seen here on Martha’s Vineyard that farm to school programs can bring a community together to help raise healthy kids, support local farms and farm families, and keep our schools strong and vibrant,” Noli Taylor, Coordinator of Island Grown Schools, said. “By working together across the Cape and Islands, we can keep our individual programs growing and supported while helping strengthen our regional food system.”

Established in 2007 as a program of Island Grown Initiative, IGS has since built and supported school gardens at all seven Vineyard public schools and six pre-schools, helped move every school cafeteria to use local food regularly in school meals, started a glean-to-cafeteria program, and launched Massachusetts’s first Harvest of the Month program, featuring a new crop every month in school cafeterias, grocery stores, and restaurants.

In the past few years, farm to school efforts have begun in different communities across the Cape and Islands. After receiving requests for support from a number of school districts in the region, IGS decided to bring these disparate programs together in a regional network. The Saturday gathering was the first regional meeting for farm to school practitioners in the Cape and Islands.

“Exciting and innovative farm-to-school programs are taking root in communities across the Commonwealth,” said Greg Watson, Commissioner of the Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources. “Sharing experiences, like the efforts of Island Grown on Martha’s Vineyard, is important in supporting our farmers, as well as the health of our school children. The Department is excited to be a part of this significant discussion and contribute to a healthier food system for children, communities, and farmers.”