On Saturday all over the world, people will be celebrating the benefits of locally grown, unprocessed food as part of Food Revolution Day, an educational outreach championed by British chef and food activist Jamie Oliver. Here on the Vineyard, Island Grown Schools, led by coordinator Noli Taylor, is a shining example of how a community can promote healthy eating and support local agriculture, too.
Started in 2007, Island Grown Schools now has gardens in every public school on the Vineyard, contributing to delicious, healthy meals in lunchrooms and providing the basis for a whole new educational curriculum. The program has been selected by the state to test a pilot project called Harvest of the Month, set to begin this fall.
Agriculture has always been an important part of the Vineyard economy, and we’re heartened to see — if not a revolution, then at least growing movement of bright, hardworking young people turning their energies to farming and food production.
Up-Island and down, roadside farm stands large and small have multiplied like so many native wildflowers, selling everything from eggs, honey and flowers to salad greens, beef, milk and cheese. The West Tisbury Farmers’ Market now runs from the first blush of summer in mid-June well into the late autumn months when frost hardens the fields and only the native year-round Islanders are left.
Krishana Collins, an established flower grower who was recently chosen to be the new long-term tenant at Tea Lane Farm in Chilmark, is typical of this generation.
An industrious young farmer who presented a sound business plan for the historic farm that sits at the junction of Middle Road and Tea Lane, Ms. Collins was one of several highly qualified applicants for the spot. And while growing lilies and zinnias in the misty hills of Chilmark may sound romantic, this is no luxury gentlewoman’s farm, and it will not be an easy venture for Ms. Collins. She must make extensive repairs to the old farmhouse on the property just to make it habitable. Old fields must be returned to a state of agricultural health; barns and fences need repair.
Like the fishermen, artists and other craftsmen who populate the Island, small farmers make a clear lifestyle choice, to live simply in beautiful surroundings free from pollutants and urban stresses, usually growing most of their own food. But with property values skyrocketing in the last two decades here, it has become nearly out of reach for most young farmers to make that choice. A small handful make enough money to support themselves, but the vast majority have other jobs off the farm to help make ends meet. Small farmers typically do not take exotic vacations or drive new cars, but they educate and raise their children in a balanced natural world.
The farm movement here is aided by a few key groups, such as the old and venerable Martha’s Vineyard Agricultural Society and also the newer, forward-thinking Island Grown Initiative, the umbrella organization for Island Grown Schools and five other programs. Unfettered by the large-committee bureaucracy so common with many nonprofits, Island Grown Initiative operates with a three-member board and a large network of volunteers. In five short years, this farm advocacy organization has assembled an impressive playlist of programs ranging from an unusual pollinator project that has attracted academic grant study money to a gleaning program that has collected thousands of pounds of fresh vegetables for distribution to schools, churches and senior centers. A long-running plan to build a small slaughterhouse to aid with the production of Island-raised beef, lamb and pork has seen steady progress and is expected to be the subject of more public discussion by next fall.
Finding ways to promote farming and keep land on the Vineyard in active agriculture is a large and complex assignment and won’t be easily solved. But as Noli Taylor and others have shown, small steps can add up to something like a revolution.