Island Grown Initiative (IGI) is involved in incredible work on the Island. Since 2006 they have worked to increase local food production, reduce food waste, promote climate-friendly farming techniques, and expand access to healthy, affordable food throughout the community. In 2021, farmers, fishermen, home gardeners, and volunteers alike harvested a total of 48,358 pounds of local food for community donations. In other words, IGI ended the year with 342,123 servings for the Island community. They are all about food — growing, gleaning, cooking, distributing, and providing free food for those in need.
IGI works to strengthen the local food system. One of their innovative programs, the Community Garden, embraces this objective, and began operating in 2012. Education director Emily Armstrong explained that IGI always had the intention of creating a community space like this.
The property that is now home to the Community Garden was up for sale in 2012, and there was uncertainty around what was going to happen to the land. Armstrong explained that people came together to purchase the land, and gifted it to IGI. This allowed IGI to accomplish its goal of creating an inclusive, welcoming space for folks to learn how to garden, have their own garden space, and share their knowledge with others.
Through the narrow pathways between plots are an abundance of flowers, squash, cabbage, beans, watermelon, and more. A peaceful oasis nestled within the Vineyard’s busy streets, the IGI Community Garden provides a perfect place for Islanders to grow what they wish and share gardening tips, tricks, and plants — there is even a stand where anyone can place free plants for their fellow gardeners to use.
The process involved in becoming part of the garden starts with an email to Armstrong. She explained that they have a waitlist for people who want to start their own plots. She will put people who send in an email on the waitlist and get in touch with them around January of each year, after determining how many plots to open up. There is high demand in the community for plots, which increased even more during the pandemic.
“There has been a huge increase in people that have gardens since the pandemic. People have gotten into it as a hobby, and hopefully people will continue with it. Our goal is to provide space for people to garden to have a community where people feel supported in learning how to garden,” Armstrong said. She explained that this is a yearlong process. She is always thinking about the future, to see where she is going to open up new plots, explaining that she “opened up five new plots this year, and will have a similar number for next year.”
Most of the garden plots are 10 feet by 20 feet, with tools, water access, and support all provided. Armstrong explained that when a new gardener starts a plot, she likes to show them the space to make sure they understand what it looks like, help them prepare their plots, and have conversations about what it is they might like to grow. There is a big focus on support and learning. Every gardener in the Community Garden is growing for themselves, so IGI “lets them grow whatever they want. We just want to make sure that they will be able to keep up with their plot, because we do have that waitlist, and I want to make sure that I am being fair to letting people in the garden,” Armstrong noted.
There are many benefits that the Community Garden provides for the gardeners and the Island, but Armstrong states that after the gardeners begin growing, “then the magic really happens, because everyone starts to chat with each other and share tips and share plants and share their knowledge. And that to me, is the heart of the Community Garden.” Collaboration like this translates into IGI’s mission as well.
There is a larger focus on community-branded events and programs at IGI relative to their mission surrounding a regenerative, equitable food system. Armstrong explained that being able to grow your own food is important for self-sufficiency efforts, yet the act of growing looks different for each individual. Each person has a different capacity — whether that be a few plants on a front porch or a backyard with no sunlight — and the Community Garden provides a great amount of space for self-sufficient gardening and food growth.
A challenge that these gardeners face is understanding the time commitment that goes into creating and maintaining their plots. “It is a labor of love,” Armstrong says. The garden season begins around March and lasts through November, so it is important that people understand this responsibility, Armstrong explains. Armstrong has her own plot — where she grows butternut squash to last her all year long — but also has the responsibility of ensuring that she keeps on top of weeds in every other plot. “If someone doesn’t come to their plot, then I just have to make sure that nothing goes to seed,” she stated.
Armstrong says that she thinks “the community garden here is a really special place. There is so much sharing, everyone is really welcoming.
“You are in a beautiful, natural place with butterflies and dragonflies flying around, and there is just this really wonderful, welcoming group of members within the Community Garden.”
The IGI Community Garden provides a perfect setting for community members to collaborate, plant, and grow, all the while focusing on regenerative growing practices and protecting our Island’s climate and community.