Island Grown executive director to step down

Rebecca Haag has had a long career in community-based work.

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Island Grown Initiative executive director Rebecca Haag announced that she will be retiring in the spring - MV Times

Island Grown Initiative has announced that its longtime executive director, Rebecca Haag, will be retiring this spring. Haag has been at the helm of the Island organization since 2016.

In that time, Island Grown Initiative officials say, they have quadrupled in size.

“During her tenure, IGI’s growth has succeeded because of her commitment to strong Island-wide partnerships, an engaged board, dedicated staff, and generous support from our donors. Rebecca helped build an infrastructure that will allow us to carry on our meaningful work,” IGI board chair Gail Arnold said in a recent statement.

The nonprofit, which was founded in 2006, focuses on bridging the gap in local food insecurity and providing Island-sourced produce to Vineyard residents and businesses. Along with its multiple community-oriented programs geared toward sustainable local farming and promoting regenerative agriculture and biodiversity, IGI, through its summer lunches, farmers market, and year-round Food Pantry, serves thousands of individuals on an annual basis. In the past year alone, the pantry served more than 5,000 individuals. 

Through collaborations with numerous other Island entities, including churches and councils on aging, and under Haag’s leadership, IGI’s Food Equity Network has been able to identify gaps in the system and provide assistance to the underserved and those facing food insecurity. The organization has continuously, and successfully, grown to meet the needs of the Island’s ever-changing population, from providing midday meals to schoolchildren over the summer to enhancing food assistance to the Vineyard’s elderly. 

Most recently, the nonprofit secured a new, permanent home for its Food Pantry in Oak Bluffs — a larger building, better equipped to handle the demand for the pantry’s services, which now stands at roughly 20 percent of the Island’s population. IGI is also readying for its proposed staff housing, which is expected to be up and running this spring.

Perhaps most importantly, the organization has been successful in engaging the Island’s younger community members in food advocacy — something that Haag points to as one of the IGI achievements she’s most proud of. 

“If you’re going to teach kids about good eating, healthy food, and where food comes from, we wanted to make sure everybody on the Island had access to that food,” Haag told The Times this week.

Through IGI’s school programs and work with the Island’s youth, “we’re creating the next generation of food advocates,” she said. 

“Watching these kids get down into the dirt, pull up a carrot, and realize this is where carrots come from,” Haag continued, “you see kids who are now really aware of what they eat, and the need to eat good food, and they know how to grow it.” 

Prior to her position at Island Grown Initiative, Haag worked as a business consultant, and had always been encouraged to be involved in community-based work. This led her to her next role, as the executive director of the AIDS Action Committee in Massachusetts, where Haag worked with lawmakers to draft strategies for setting goals of lowering the AIDS infection rate. Her efforts helped reduce new infections by 50 percent, ultimately saving around $2 billion in the state’s healthcare costs. 

“And that’s because we focused on supporting people in order not to get HIV,” Haag said, adding that her time at IGI isn’t too different from her decadelong work as a health advocate: “We want to feed people good, healthy, nutritious food so that they don’t become diabetic, so they don’t have heart disease,” Haag said. “The work we’re doing now on the Island [is] to promote healthy eating and healthy living.” 

“It has been an honor to lead IGI and work with a committed and talented team to strengthen and build our programs,” Haag added. “My hope is that we have established a path toward a more equitable and sustainable food system on the Island.”

Though she says she’s ready to pass the torch, Haag assures that she’ll still be around — but now as a volunteer. 

“I will continue to do my community work, I feel [it’s] one of the reasons I took this job,” she says. “But I think it’s time for that next generation of leaders.”

Haag also feels that the organization couldn’t be in better hands. “We have the strongest management team that I’ve had in my whole tenure,” she said. “It’s a great team.”

IGI co-founder and senior program director Noli Taylor and managing director Michelle Gittlen will be working closely with the IGI board as the organization launches a search for Haag’s replacement.

1 COMMENT

  1. Rebecca, my hat is off to you for your commitment, focus and enduring passion to do something great that supports the community and unites many groups, people and organizations. Your end of term goals are also great leaving the organization in good order. What an accomplishment you have to be proud of. Thank you very much! Jim Feiner

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