Rep. Tim Madden joins Island Grown Schools harvest celebration

West Tisbury School principal Michael Halt, Island Grown Schools program coordinator Noli Taylor, superintendent of schools James Weiss, State Representative Tim Madden, and cafeteria director Jenny Devivo dish it up in the school's newly renovated kitchen. — Photo by Ralph Stewart

Everything was coming up tomatoes at the Tisbury and West Tisbury schools Wednesday, with the launch of the new Island Grown Harvest of the Month Program by Island Grown Schools (IGS). The kick-off event included a visit to the two schools by State Representative Tim Madden and a ribbon-cutting ceremony to open the West Tisbury’s new kitchen. The celebration was planned in conjunction with the statewide celebration, “Mass Harvest for Students Week,” during which schools feature locally grown foods in their meal programs.

The Harvest of the Month Program will highlight a locally available crop each month of the school year in school cafeterias, restaurants, and grocery stores, IGS program coordinator Noli Taylor explained. The IGS program is a component of the nonprofit Island Grown Initiative, which promotes locally grown food.

Ms. Taylor said that although similar harvest of the month programs are already successful in California and Oregon, Martha’s Vineyard is the first school system in Massachusetts to start one.

Representative Madden made his first stop at Tisbury School, where IGS held a taste test where students and visitors sampled locally grown cherry tomatoes, this month’s featured crop. The visit was a trip down memory lane for legislative aide Nell Coogan, who said the school cafeteria looks much the same as it did when she attended Tisbury School. Cafeteria director Linda Rose and her staff featured locally grown foods on their lunch menu, as they have throughout the Mass Harvest for Students Week.

At West Tisbury School, Superintendent of Schools James Weiss and school business administrator Amy Tierney waited for Representative Madden’s arrival, along with Up-Island Regional School Committee chairman Dan Cabot and West Tisbury IGS coordinator Nicole Cabot.

Ms. Tierney was responsible for overseeing and bringing the kitchen renovation project to fruition in just a few short months over the summer, in coordination with a group of volunteer contractors and parents.

When Rep. Madden and Ms. Coogan arrived, Principal Michael Halt took everyone to the school’s garden for a tour. “The garden is where our interaction with the Island Grown Schools started, and now the salad bar in our cafeteria features produce that’s grown here,” he noted.

Kindergarten teacher Teri Mello, who oversees the garden, and her students joined the visitors. As she pointed out its features, her students eagerly leaped to the task of gathering ripe tomatoes and a few green beans that escaped being consumed on the spot. A tally of the harvest displayed on a board inside notes that to date, the garden has yielded 17 pounds of green beans, among other vegetables that include squash and sweet potatoes, as well as herbs.

On the way back to the cafeteria from the garden, Ms. Taylor told The Times that the MV Gleaning Program, which gathers leftover crops on Island farms after harvest, has resulted in West Tisbury School receiving about $3,000 worth of free food already this year.

For the grand finale, cafeteria director Jenny Devivo and kitchen crew volunteer Jay Napior of Radius Construction joined together in cutting a colorful ribbon strung across the kitchen’s new serving windows. “They said it would never happen,” Ms. Devivo declared, as students and visitors applauded.

Mr. Halt gave credit to Ms. Taylor. “This is a model of how grassroots involvement can move a school forward,” he said. “Five years ago, Noli had a vision, and today we stand in front of what we considered one of our most important goals.”

During the UIRSD school committee’s budget discussions last fall, Ms. Taylor and other IGS leaders, along with a group of up-Island parents, spearheaded a push to renovate West Tisbury School’s kitchen and to start up an independent lunch program. Their goal was to move away from a long-standing corporate food service contract and expand the kitchen in order to prepare fresh, cooked-from-scratch meals with local ingredients on site for both the West Tisbury and Chilmark Schools. The school committee supported their efforts with funding, which was supplemented with work and materials donated by the work crew and many members of the community and local businesses.

Representative Madden commended the West Tisbury community for their hard work, and Ms. Taylor, in particular. “You’re terrific and you know it, and you should ‘waller’ in this wonderful spot,” he told her.

Ms. Devivo and her assistant, Mercedes Ferreira, served up a delicious lunch that included cheese or pepperoni pizza topped with sauce made with Morning Glory Farm tomatoes and basil and garlic from the school garden, served with greens from Beetlebung Farm.

Other visitors that attended the celebration included some of the volunteer builders, electricians and plumbers on the project — Jay Napior of Radius Construction, David Sprague of Nelson Mechanical, Steve Gallagher of Gallagher Electric, Owen Willis and Dan Ennis.

Mr. Sprague’s son, second-grader Myles Sprague, told The Times he also volunteered in the project by helping his dad clean the kitchen.