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Island Grown Schools

The first seed swap was organized by the new Martha’s Vineyard Community Seed Library.

From left, Claire Lafave of Island Grown Schools, Rebecca Sanders of the FARM Institute and Emily Palena of Island Grown Schools attend the first seed swap. – Photo by Ken Wentworth

Last Saturday, Jan. 31, a group of home gardeners, seed savers, and high school students came together at the West Tisbury library, carrying envelopes, Tupperware containers, and boxes filled with seeds. They were there to participate in the first seed swap organized by the new Martha’s Vineyard Community Seed Library, a collaborative project of Island Grown Schools, the FARM Institute, and the West Tisbury library.

People brought and shared seeds in the first seed swap organized by the new Martha’s Vineyard Community Seed Library. — Photo by Astrid Tilton
People brought and shared seeds in the first seed swap organized by the new Martha’s Vineyard Community Seed Library. — Photo by Astrid Tilton

“Seed swaps are wonderful community events, held across the world, to bring together farmers and gardeners to share seeds and the stories that go along with them,” says Noli Taylor, Island Grown Schools program leader. “Swaps are fun and community-building, and give us a chance to think ahead to spring on the cold days of winter.”

Students from the Island Grown Schools’ Farm Project, a year-round paid apprenticeship program for high school students, led a demonstration for participants in germination testing, or how to test the quality of seeds from past years to make sure they are still viable. They also helped test seeds from the growing seed collection in the new Seed Library cabinet, housed at the West Tisbury library.

“We plan on hosting seed swaps every winter for the Seed Library,” says Rebecca Sanders of the FARM Institute. “It’s another way we can engage the community in seed saving, while continuing to build a locally adapted collection of seeds for the library.”

For more information on the Seed Library and other upcoming seed-related events, please contact Noli Taylor at noli@islandgrown.org.

Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School (MVRHS), Island Grown Schools (IGS), and Vineyard Nutrition have teamed up to offer a series of nutrition workshops for high school students in January. The workshops, led by Josh Levy of Vineyard Nutrition, will focus on both sports nutrition and helping graduating seniors prepare for eating well at college, according to a press release.

“At IGS, we are able to bring school garden based learning to children across the Island from the time they are in preschool,” Noli Taylor, Island Grown Schools program leader said.  “At the high school level, we want to empower students to take what they’ve learned in the gardens and classrooms and translate it into action, making healthy food choices for themselves and seeing themselves as active participants in the community food system.”

The sports nutrition workshops will teach athletes what and when to eat and drink to excel at their practices and games. “The athletes train very hard,” Mr. Levy said. “We know proper nutrition can help them get the most out of their workouts and do their best during their competitions.”

Workshops for graduating seniors will be held in June and will focus on how to eat healthy in college. “College is the first time these students will be able to eat whatever they want at whatever time of day or night,” said Mr. Levy. “Especially growing up on the Island, with limited access to fast food, the transition can be challenging. We want to make sure they have the tools to eat healthfully and do well in college.”

For more information contact Claire Lafave at claire@islandgrown.org.

Courtesy of Island Grown Schools

In these colder months we turn to the pantry for our cooking inspiration: jars full of rice, barley, wheat berries, oats, and more. Whole grains are a great staple to use in baking bread, making hearty salads, and for warm breakfasts of porridge on a chilly day. When you eat unprocessed whole grains you are getting protein, minerals, and fiber that are converted into energy to sustain you through the day.

In 2013, Island Grown Schools began growing heritage grains with students in school gardens. We grew Turkey Red winter wheat, Duborskian-South River rice and two corns grown by native peoples in our region, Narragansett White Flint and King Phillip. Though we grew only small plots of these grains, this fall students were able to dry, shell, and grind corn into tortillas, and harvest rice and wheat stalks for seed to use next growing season. Students used their rice harvest in math class, and at one school they discovered that from just 15 plants they were able to harvest 2,580 seeds.

There are many ways to incorporate whole grains into your cooking. When baking, experiment with using up to half whole wheat flour in your favorite bread and cookie recipes. Prepare large amounts of whole grains such as quinoa and rice to heat up and enjoy throughout the week. Make a quick meal by mixing cooked wheat berries, quinoa, or rice with seasonal roasted vegetables, olive oil, and balsamic vinegar.

This January, choose whole grains in your kitchen, and harness all of the nutrition and flavor these mighty seeds have to offer. Try this:

Barley and Roasted Beet Salad from Harvest of the Month chef Robin Forte


2 cups barley, cooked
1 lb. red beets, peeled, cubed, and roasted until tender
4 Tbs. red wine vinegar
2 Tbs. honey
½ tsp. allspice
Salt and pepper to taste
4 Tbs. olive oil
Chopped parsley for garnish

Roast beets in aluminum foil until tender, about 20 to 45 minutes depending on size. Combine all the ingredients, and top with fresh parsley.

Emily Armstrong is the preschool coordinator for Island Grown Schools. IGS works with children ages 2 through 18 to empower them to make healthy eating choices, learn to grow food, and connect with local farms. For more information, visit islandgrownschools.org.

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Recently, IGS has devoted more time to exploring ways that our community can address seed biodiversity issues. Sunday's potluck is a brainstorming session for all. — Photo by Elizabeth Cecil

Island Grown Schools (IGS) will host leaders in the field of seed conservation, and interested community members, for a potluck and “Seed School” starting Sunday.

With interest in local food production increasing every year along with accelerated concerns about genetically modified foods and threats to our food supply due to droughts and other adverse conditions, a lot of the focus on sustainability has turned towards seeds and seed diversity.

Recognizing the importance of maintaining a rich variety of seeds and preserving species especially adapted to the Island’s conditions, IGS has devoted more time and effort recently to exploring ways that those in the Martha’s Vineyard community can address biodiversity issues.

The Seed Summit kicks off with a community potluck dinner. “We hope many people will come and help us envision what sort of community seed initiative we should focus on here on Martha’s Vineyard,” said Emily Duncker, IGS’s Preschool Coordinator and Program Administrator.

Educators from a Tucson-based seed conservation organization called Native Seeds/SEARCH will lead the workshops and also be on hand to aid in the “visionary” process at the potluck.

According to the Native Seeds/SEARCH website, “With the unsustainable practices of industrial farming on the rise and our precious crop diversity disappearing, a new paradigm of seed growing, saving, and sharing is necessary. We envision a vast network of thousands of small, bioregional seed companies and community-owned seed collections replacing the disempowering and ecologically destructive industrial system. By taking ownership over our seeds once again and rejoining the ritual of seed saving, we are replenishing our dwindling seed diversity, building up beneficial crop adaptations, and strengthening food security where we live. This is the way to true sustainability — and to healthier, better-tasting food!”

The nonprofit organization brings an initiative they call Seed School to communities around the nation. IGS has secured a group of Native Seeds educators to host a condensed version of their weeklong Seed School to the Island. The three-day series has limited space and is sold out, but the potluck dinner is free and open to all.

Ms. Duncker hopes to attract people from many sectors of community to the potluck in order to get a dialogue started. “The idea is to brainstorm around seeds and find out what’s most important to the community and find ways we can all work together to create a resilient seed system.”

Some of the ideas that Ms. Duncker would like to explore are seed coops, the practice of seed saving, and the possibility of maintaining seed banks at local libraries.

Seed saving is an initiative based on ancient practices going back more than 10,000 years. Instead of purchasing new seeds every year, Ms. Duncker explained the advantages of collecting seeds and reintroducing plants year after year: “When you plant something in a certain environment the plant is now adapted to a specific soil and climate. Information in its genetic code its adapted to growing in that area. Next season you get even better kale or better tomatoes.”

More and more communities are now introducing publicly accessible seed banks. Local seeds saved from existing plants, along with excess seeds that people have left over from seed purchases, can be “checked out” from libraries. Ms. Duncker said that there is interest in a similar program here, and she has already spoken to people at the West Tisbury Library.

Starting last year, IGS started exploring seed issues and ways to raise public awareness. “Island Grown Schools is committed to working with students and families to encourage healthy eating, learn to grow food, and connect with local farms,” Ms. Duncker said.

Last summer, the organization forged a relationship with Glenn Roberts from Anson Mills, a company dedicated to the conservation of unique grain varieties. He donated a number of heirloom grain seeds. “We started planting the grains in the fall,” Ms. Duncker said. “That morphed into general interest in seeds in the community.”

In November, IGS arranged for a visit from Gary Nabhan, a nature writer, food and farming activist, and pioneer in the local food movement and seed saving community. Mr. Nabhan helped found Native Seeds/Search, an organization dedicated to protecting and saving varieties that are becoming extinct. “He talked to us about the importance of biodiversity and creating strong local food systems,” Ms. Duncker said. “People have seeds that they’ve saved for generations that are specific to their family or region. These varieties could potentially be lost forever. Gary’s mission is to go around the world collecting seeds with the goal of increasing our biodiversity.”

IGS also co-sponsored (with Slow Food M.V.) a visit by documentarian JD McClelland, who is working on a project to highlight communities across the country committed to growing and processing locally adapted heirloom grains.

“The seed project and grain project are related in that they are both initiatives to promote locally supported, sustainable agriculture,” Ms. Duncker said. “As we face any food crisis caused by climate change, loss of biodiversity, and increased degradation of agricultural land, we will have to work together in our communities to create an alternative system.

“We hope people will come to the Sunday night potluck to connect about important seed issues in our community and identify a collaborative project.”

Seed Summit Potluck, Sunday, April 27, 4:30–8 pm, West Tisbury Library. Free. Seed Summit continues April 28–30, but is sold out. For more information, visit islandgrownschools.org.