Throughout the school year, the Island Grown Schools Harvest of the Month program highlights a locally available crop at all seven of our K-12 schools and at six preschools, in school taste tests, on cafeteria lunch menus, and in partnership with Island grocery stores and restaurants.
During the summer, while IGS staff, parents, students and teachers volunteer to maintain our 13 school gardens, students from the regional high school are keeping the Harvest of the Month program alive.
Each summer IGS runs a program in collaboration with the Farm Institute called the Farm Project, a chance for local teens to be paid to do agriculture-related work during the summer months. The students study a curriculum about food security, nutrition, hunger and food policy, and most of their learning is done hands-on. They work with the Island Grown gleaning program, harvesting food that wouldn’t otherwise be picked from Island farms to deliver free to seniors and Islanders in need. They help with food distribution through the Serving Hands food assistance program. They do service projects at local family farms, help maintain the gardens at all seven K-12 schools, and starting this summer, they lead taste tests of our Harvest of the Month crop at Cronig’s Market.
On a hot late July morning, five Farm Project crew members set up a table at the front of Cronig’s Market in Vineyard Haven and stocked it with two different kinds of blueberries: conventionally grown from New Jersey, and locally grown from Peter Palches’s Oak Bluffs farm. They asked passing shoppers to take a blind taste of both and see if they could notice a difference. In-store taste tests were new for Cronig’s shoppers, and at first they were reluctant to participate. Finally a man walked up to the table to see what they were up to. He asked questions about the blueberries, and the kids were eager to talk about the Harvest of the Month program, the importance of local food, and the difference between conventionally grown and locally grown produce. The man was pleased, not only to hear their passion about the food system, but also because he was Peter Palches, the blueberry farmer himself! The kids were thrilled — it was like meeting a celebrity. They asked Peter to take a picture with them, and soon after Peter offered one of the Farm Project crew members, Kaila Newton, who was particularly excited about his crop, a job as a blueberry picker. “I am going right after work!” she said, delighted.
After Peter, things picked up at the taste test table. More and more shoppers stopped to experience the difference between sustainably produced local food and conventionally grown food from afar. The crew took a tally of preference — local versus conventional — and Peter’s locally grown blueberries won. Unanimously!
Swing by Cronig’s on August 14 between 9 and 12 to visit with the Farm Project crew and to try August’s Harvest of the Month crop, zucchini.
To learn more about Island Grown Schools or Harvest of the Month, or to download our featured recipes for each month, prepared by chef Robin Forte, please visit islandgrownschools.org.
Noli Taylor is executive director of Island Grown Schools, a program of the Island Grown Initiative. This column appears regularly in the Gazette.