With each new project at Island Grown Initiative (IGI)— whether it’s related to food education, access, or responsible production — the Vineyard agricultural community is moving further and further into the future of farming.
A number of recent efforts at IGI are expanding, and ongoing programs like the Community Lunch Program (CLP), Community Supported Agriculture (CSA), and the Mobile Market will be in full force during the busy summer months.
For the fifth summer in a row, IGI’s CLP will provide free lunches to Island families, starting on June 28 and running Monday through Friday, until August 13.
Lunches can be picked up at the West Tisbury School and the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School from 11:30 am to 12:30 pm.
As part of the program, lunches will also be dropped off to children who are attending summer school at the Edgartown, Tisbury, and Oak Bluffs schools, along with children enrolled in the Martha’s Vineyard Boys & Girls Club and the Martha’s Vineyard Community Services preschool program.
Each meal is made with as many locally grown ingredients as possible, and there are some tasty options to choose from, like healthy sandwiches, pizzas, and fresh produce from IGI and its partner growers.
The IGI Mobile Market will also resume its summer service starting July 6. The market is a truck stocked with reduced-price, fresh, locally grown produce and eggs. It also offers a selection of lightly processed, Island-made items, often using local ingredients. The market makes weekly deliveries as part of IGI’s mission to expand healthy food access for all Islanders, with a focus on people who participate in food assistance programs.
The market operates on weekdays from July through February, stopping at eight locations across the Island. Shopping hours are in the late afternoon and early evening — hours vary depending on the location.
The summer schedule can be viewed online at igimv.org/mobile-market.
Customers have the option to shop in person, or to preorder online (for pickup). Online orders must be completed by 5 pm on the day before pickup, and can be placed by visiting mobilemarketorders.square.site.
Shoppers can use cash, checks, credit cards, Pandemic EBT (P-EBT), SNAP/HIP, Farmer’s Market Nutrition Program Senior and WIC Coupons, and Mobile Market Coupons to purchase food.
There are also some exciting new developments at the Island Food Pantry, which joined forces with IGI during the pandemic in order to offer a comprehensive food support network to the community.
Kayte Morris, senior director of food equity programs for IGI, told The Times attendance numbers for families coming to the pantry have dropped from 2020, but attendance is still up between 30 and 60 percent over 2019. “Even before the pandemic, the pantry was seeing more families, and that continues to be true,” Morris said.
But now that the pantry has moved its home base to the Portuguese-American Club, it has more functional space to work on new initiatives. “We now have a facility that can help support all these endeavors. We are now stocking more healthy food than ever before, and buying more fresh produce from local farmers than we ever have,” Morris said, noting that none of this would be possible without their new location, and a new walk-in refrigerator.
Morris said she is working on developing more partnerships with Island growers, chefs, and food organizations. “This new facility has really enabled us to receive so much of the outpouring of support that has come our way since the beginning of the pandemic,” Morris said.
Through partnerships with organizations like the Martha’s Vineyard Fishermen’s Preservation Trust and Slough Farm, the pantry is regularly able to provide locally-produced and -prepared food to the Island.
Morris also said the pantry is always looking for new partnerships with local chefs who can come up with innovative recipes for healthy meals.
“The idea is to help the local economy while we are also providing nourishment and meals for those in need in the community. And it’s not just coming from Slough Farm — we have partnerships with all sorts of farms across the Island, like Morning Glory Farm and Beetlebung Farm,” Morris said.
According to Morris, over 13,000 meals were distributed through the pantry and IGI as part of their food equity programs, and although the pantry itself is busier in the wintertime, all the programs that bring meals directly to the people of Martha’s Vineyard are gearing up for the summer.
“This year, for the first time, we will be dropping off lunches at summer school as part of our [CLP]. One of the real goals here is food access — if kids are still in the schools, then we should be delivering food to them,” Morris said. Through the CLP, Morris anticipates around 300 meals per day being produced and distributed, in order to meet the needs of the community.
Currently, the greatest need for the food pantry is a year-round, commercial kitchen space for it to call its own. “So many of the IGI programs now are kitchen-based. There’s such a huge volume of food we are taking in, turning into meals, and sending back out to people,” Morris said.
On the farm end of things, IGI senior director of programs Noli Taylor said food professionals are implementing (and working to refine) a number of regenerative farming practices that will protect soil health and allow for bountiful growth long into the future.
“We are working on so many systems innovations at the farm, from figuring out what cover crop mixes to use to integrating the use of tarps instead of tillage, so you aren’t breaking up the soil structure during the time when fields are resting and when it’s time to plant,” Taylor said.
Cover crops are an important part of regenerative agriculture because they prevent erosion and protect soil quality, and Taylor said IGI is keeping cover crops planted for as much of the year as possible.
Taylor explained that IGI recently received a Community Inclusion Grant from the Island Disability Coalition that will go toward making the IGI Farm more accessible and inclusive for those of all physical and mental abilities. “This will be a really great thing, because IGI is all about increasing access to food education as well, so this will allow us to expand our programming at the farm.” Taylor said.
One new partnership with BiodiversityWorks and the Fink Family Foundation has brought in the help of Island ecologist Matt Pelikan, who is working on a biodiversity plan for the entire farm. (Pelikan also writes the “Wild Side” column for The Times.)
The first project will be to conduct a pollinator habitat assessment to determine what plants and pollinators already exist on the farm. Then Pelikan will work to create patches of strategically placed habitat that will attract more pollinators to the area. “Now we will be able to monitor the animals on the land as well, and see how they integrate with the plants we grow,” Taylor said.
She said partnerships with the land and with fellow food organizations on the Island are propelling IGI into the future of smart, sustainable agriculture. “We want to develop these connections that are beneficial for all, and create this kind of mutual flourishing on the Island that we can carry forward,” Taylor said.