IGS: Life lessons from the ground up
Noli Taylor is a woman with a mission. Ms. Taylor, the volunteer coordinator for Island Grown Initiative (IGI), wants to see more local produce offered in Island schools, not only to improve the nutritional content of kids' meals and to support local farmers, but also to educate a new generation of farmers who will carry on the Vineyard agricultural tradition.
The Island Grown Schools (IGS) project is the brainchild of a group of farmers, educators, and grocers led by IGI's Executive Director, Ali Berlow. Their initial goal was to help local farmers grow more food and be able to afford to grow it year-round. Supplying food to schools seemed a natural fit.
Photos courtesy of IGS
"The momentum began building right away," says Ms. Taylor. "I'm surprised how much we have accomplished in one year."
IGS has three major components: bringing agricultural and garden-based learning to the classroom, teaching hands-on skills via school gardens and farm visits, and connecting local farmers with food service personnel in the schools.
The program has developed school gardens in Oak Bluffs, West Tisbury, and the Martha's Vineyard Regional High School. By the end of this school year, there will be gardens planted at all Island schools.
It's not a new idea. During World War I, the United States School Garden Army was started to increase fruit and vegetable consumption, improve overall health, and to help support the economy and the war effort. At that time, schoolchildren grew 40 percent of all the fruits and vegetables consumed in the country - a fact that wouldn't surprise Ms. Taylor, who wrote the manual of safe handling guidelines used by over 160 public schools in Massachusetts that purchase locally grown food. "Kids love and connect with agriculture so quickly," she says. "Every subject and grade level can be taught through an agricultural lens."
Maggie Chianese teaches a multi-age class at the West Tisbury School and uses the program in every subject she teaches. In language arts, her students wrote about field trips to the farms. They used their math lessons - measurement, temperature, and time - when making cheese at Mermaid Farm. They studied the job of a dairy farmer in social studies. In art they made posters and they created a slide slow on farming through the seasons for technology class.
Andrew Berry teaches U.S. History to 9th- and 11th-graders at the Martha's Vineyard Regional High School. Mr. Berry focuses on how the food supply has been shaped by our history. "We look at the fundamental question of what happened to the family farm and what happened to Jefferson's agrarian ideal," he says. "There is a lot to understand."
On a recent trip to the Edgartown School, the IGS program was in evidence throughout the cafeteria. "Ten Good Reasons to Eat Locally Grown Food" and "Locally Grown Food Available Here" posters were hung near the door, and menu boards noted which foods were locally grown.