Island Grown Schools education coordinator Kaila Binney met Ellen Berube’s second-grade classroom at the front of the Oak Bluffs School on a sunny Monday afternoon. Ms. Binney was joined by Massachusetts State Representative Timothy Madden and legislative liaison Kaylea Moore, who were visiting the school as it celebrated Massachusetts Harvest for Students week.
Harvest for Students week is a statewide initiative spotlighting locally grown food in commonwealth schools.
Rep. Madden visited Island schools last year during Harvest for Students week, touring the West Tisbury cafeteria and garden, and snacking on Harvest of the Month cherry tomatoes with Tisbury students. This year Vineyard schools embarked on several new projects; the previous week the Oak Bluffs second-graders had planted special types of seeds.
Ms. Binney asked if anybody remembered what they were.
Michael Mello raised his hand and offered an answer. “They were wheat seeds and olive seeds, I think,” he said.
“Not olive,” Ms. Binney said. “But it does start with O.”
The group went outside to the end of a long row of raised garden beds. The last bed was empty, waiting to be filled with shoots from the oat and wheat plants the class had planted earlier, as part of Island Grown School’s heirloom seed preservation program.
Working with Vineyard seasonal resident Glenn Roberts, founder of the large Anson Mills grain mill in South Carolina, IGS is planting three types of heirloom grains at local schools. Even the preschools are participating in the project, Island Grown Schools coordinator Noli Taylor said. This fall turkey red winter wheat and old peel corn oat are being planted. In the spring Narragansett white flint corn, a grain once grown on the Island but no longer cultivated anywhere else in the world, will be planted. Later in the cycle, heirloom rice grains will enter the test gardens, utilizing a dry-planting method that is more environmentally friendly than the usual paddy method.
“The idea of using school gardens as testing grounds is very exciting,” Mrs. Taylor said. The ultimate goal is to plant heirloom grains on Island farms, she said. “It’s a missing piece of the agricultural puzzle here.”
Rep. Madden bent down with the second-graders as they transplanted small green shoots of wheat in a new bed.
“It’s such a great thing,” he said. “I had such a fun time last year . . . I’ll have to come back and check on my wheat.” During his last visit, Rep. Madden said, he was particularly impressed by the locally sourced food in the school cafeterias.
The second-graders finished their planting and watered the new beds using bright green watering cans. They placed two hand-colored signs in the dirt to denote where the oat and wheat had been planted. The grains would not be ready to harvest until next summer, Ms. Binney said.
“I need you all to take really good care of this garden bed,” she said. The second-graders nodded.