The Permanent Endowment for Martha’s Vineyard awarded Island Grown Initiative (IGI) the 37th Creative Living Award at a presentation Monday evening at the Farm Hub at Thimble Farm.
The award is inspired and funded by Ruth J. Bogan, who had a “deep love for the Island, and an appreciation for creativity and ingenuity,” according to Permanent Endowment executive director Emily Bramhall — the first to address the group gathered at the farm’s 3,200-square-foot aquaponics and hydroponics greenhouse. From Bogan’s generosity, the endowment now has 54 distinct funds and a value of more than $12 million, according to Bramhall.
“Ruth had great energy and unerring generosity,” Bramhall said. “She was always learning, and often teaching herself new subjects. She was a strong supporter of the natural world and the organizations that protected it here on the Island. She loved gardening, indoors and out … she could fix anything, and believed anyone could solve a problem if they put their mind to it.”
The Creative Living Award was established in 1983 to recognize an organization or members of the community that embody Bogan’s spirit and can-do attitude. “So you can see there’s a really good matchup here,” Bramhall said.
IGI is known for its community food education programs, food equity and recovery outreach, and the Farm Hub, where tours were offered just before the program started Monday. “IGI has shown creativity and tenacity from the very start,” Bramhall said. “They have taken what could be considered a fairly simple idea — healthy food for all — and expanded on it in countless ways … They are ever-creative and innovative, and like Ruth Bogan, they meet every challenge with courage and intelligence.”
Several members of the community took the podium and spoke on behalf of IGI’s widespread impact. Liz Packer, one of IGI’s original members, touched on that first dinner in 2005 where she, founding executive director Ali Berlow, and other stakeholders sat around a table to talk about the Island’s food system.
“This evening led to a wild ride,” Packer said. “An organically dynamic, authentic, and informal board formed.” Hot pink T shirts and farm maps made it official. Packer concluded, “Island Grown is like a garden. Every season the plot grows larger and more diverse.”
Adriana Ignacio, a board member for the Permanent Endowment and a member of the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah), talked about the impact IGI’s mobile market had on the up-Island tribal community.
“I asked my [niece] what she liked most about the market. She said, ‘No.1, it comes to me. No. 2, it’s quality food,’” Ignacio said. “If you were in Aquinnah at 5:30 on Mondays, you’d get there.”
Heather Quinn, the director of early childhood programs at M.V. Community Services, reflected on IGI’s tangible impact on toddlers and preschoolers through planting and gardening education.
“[Our programs] are visited weekly by [IGI] preschool coordinator Ava Castro,” Quinn said. “Her arrival is anticipated with such enthusiasm. Wednesdays are known as Ava Day … thanks to Ava, pea shoots are almost as popular as pizza.”
Tisbury School teacher Anne Williamson later added that her third grade class also has a “Ms. Olivia Day,” in recognition of IGI program coordinator Oliva Rabbit’s weekly visits to the classroom.
West Tisbury library director Beth Kramer took a moment to revel in the beauty of the Farm Hub, which was dusted golden in the 5 o’clock light. “This place blows me away,” she said, before diving into free community lunch offerings at the Island’s libraries.
“The library has served free meals during breaks in the school year for as long as I’ve been there,” Kramer said. “The food we’ve served since collaborating with IGI is unbelievable.”
Island libraries served 3,200 meals across five sites in its first year, and 5,500 meals across six sites in 2019. Kramer concluded, “Thanks for making it so cool to care, opening all of our eyes, and giving us the tools to create change with our own hands.”
State Rep. Dylan Fernandes presented a citation from the state to IGI’s Randi Baird, president of the board of directors, Noli Taylor, community food education director, and Rebecca Haag, executive director. “I present a lot of these citations throughout the district, but I rarely get to give them out to people I’ve come to know so well and that I’m proud to call friends,” Fernandes said.
Haag thanked the staff for being “the heart and soul” of the organization. She thanked the board of directors for being IGI’s “greatest cheerleaders.” She thanked volunteers, donors, and Island partners like the Martha’s Vineyard Hospital, the Island Food Pantry, Camp Jabberwocky, and members of the food equity network. And finally, she thanked the Permanent Endowment Fund.
“You encourage us all to get things done,” Haag said.