Not all is quiet on Martha’s Vineyard: IGI’s Farm Hub keeps much alive through the dead of winter

There’s a common misconception about the “off-season” on Martha’s Vineyard. Many visitors think we simply shut off a switch and the Island lays dormant throughout the winter months, only to awaken in the spring once talks of summer vacations return. Despite a welcomed quietness and a relatively slower change of pace, the winter season is still very productive on-Island. No program makes good use of the colder months better than Island Grown Initiative’s (IGI) Winter Community Supported Agriculture (CSA).

IGI’s winter CSA means that Island families can still look forward to farm fresh produce, even when local farm stands have called it quits for the season, and access to local produce is limited to what’s available at Cronig’s or the indoor West Tisbury Farmers Market (which wraps up for the season mid December). For those families lucky enough to score one of forty spots on the CSA, winter is just as nutritious and delicious as summer.

Members of the winter CSA are entitled to weekly allotments of mixed greens, herbs and sometimes even a fresh pint of strawberries. CSA food distribution takes place at IGI’s massive Farm Hub, where members pick up their bounty, and where most of the winter produce originates. The Farm Hub is the headquarters for IGI’s growing operation which encompasses forty acres in Vineyard Haven. Tucked back off of an unassuming bumpy Island road, the magnificent property at Thimble Farm features a sprawling acre-sized hydroponic greenhouse that allows the magic of local, thoughtful food production to take place all year long.

The massive greenhouse was originally designed by a previous owner to grow tomatoes on the hydroponic system, but IGI uses it to produce a wide variety of food crops as well as fish. During the peak seasons of spring and fall more than 4000 hydroponic plants are in the system. Tomatoes, arugula, peppers and more are harvested for IGI’s free community lunch program, which served 3,000 meals this past summer alone. Its plethora of produce is also sold through the organization’s Mobile Market, a truck stocked with affordable, locally grown fruits and vegetables, available to everyone on-Island in pursuit of fresh, local food.

During the winter months however, the greenhouse is sectioned off and the staff of the Farm Hub focuses on growing cold weather crops that can easily benefit from solar gain, including strawberries, lettuce, cucumbers and salad greens, among others. IGI’s hydroponic system allows plants to grow in a water based, nutrient-rich solution, and peat is used to allow the plants to constantly be in contact with the water below it. The water comes from four tanks of rainbow trout that are also farmed on the property (and occasionally included in the CSA allotment), and the water is efficiently repurposed for the hydroponic system. This means that even in the dead of winter there is always water running and new food being cultivated at the Farm Hub. It’s an impressive operation any day of the year and one we’re especially grateful for it now when other options are so limited.

In addition to the CSA, crops grown during the colder season are sold to the schools at deeply discounted prices, and to those in need through a partnership with the Vineyard Food Equity Network. For more about IGI’s winter CSA check out “The Green Green Fields of Winter” by Nicole Grace Mercier, and photos by yours truly, in the latest issue of Martha’s Vineyard Magazine. To sign up for the CSA email office@igimv.org or call 508-687-9062, space is limited.

In search of the perfect holiday gift? Have a look through your photos

Holidays are fast approaching and we’ve been contemplating the best gift ideas for family and friends. Proper gift giving requires thoughtfulness and planning, but finding the right gift for all of those special someones can get overwhelming. Want a tried and true approach to gift giving? Start by picking up your favorite device and scrolling through your photo library, it’s a treasure trove of unwrapped presents.

Today we live in a world where everyone takes photos, sometimes capturing dozens a day. A selfie here, a candid there, often for instant gratification in the form of a social media post, or for sharing in real time with friends, and then forgotten. Even more photos stay sitting on hard drives or in camera rolls never to be seen or utilized. For posterity perhaps? Only if the future knows where to find them.

Remember developing a roll of film and flipping through each print excitedly, reliving the moment portrayed in each one? Chances are you’d run home to frame a few for yourself or others, tack one up on the refrigerator or get to work on a photo album or scrapbook. With today’s dependence on digital photography it can seem like a novelty to even make a print, giving extra impact to that physical object. Just try to walk by a beautiful framed photo of your child or grandchild without smiling or experiencing a moment of pure happiness.

This holiday treat your loved ones to a cherished photo gift and watch them light up with joy and appreciation. It’s a feeling they’ll get experience again and again every time they see it–making for the ultimate gift that keeps on giving.

Need some ideas? Check out this list of our favorite photo products that we have available to our clients all year long.

  • Holiday Cards We can custom design holiday cards right in our West Tisbury studio, tailored to your specifications. Choose two to three favorite photos from 2018, and a favorite holiday greeting, and we’ll put together a compelling card that anyone would love to receive.
  • Bound Book or album Simply put everyone loves a well produced photo album, but people rarely get around to assembling one. It’s easy to skim and can be shared on your coffee table or passed around at family events. Weddings, family portrait sessions, and baby’s first year photos are especially well suited for albums, and can be easily flipped through for a trip down memory lane.
  • Wooden Box Print your favorite photo on the lid of a wooden box and the recipient will be reminded of a special moment every time they open it. Take it one step further and fill the box with a sentimental item that correlates to the photo.

  • Large Prints and Wall Displays Everyone appreciates a large print in a nice frame that can be admired at their home or office. Photos can also be printed on canvas, metal and acrylic, or choose a selection of photos and create several pieces for a collage wall or cluster display.

  • Calendar Share twelve separate memories in one with a desk or wall calendar. Photo calendars are a beloved classic and get good use. Plus it doesn’t limit you to having to choose just one photo and the pages can be saved and repurposed after each month has passed.

  • Magnets This is an affordable and easy option you can gift everyone in your family, and you know they’ll get prominently displayed.

  • Ornaments Create an ornament or gift tag with your favorite photo and attach it to a wedding, birthday, or holiday gift.

  • Phone Cases Let’s face it, we’re always holding our phones so this gift would get a lot of exposure, and it’s an easy way to identify your phone.

  • Coasters Personalized photo coasters are both versatile and practical. Who could cry at spilled milk when one of your favorite photos is staring back at you?

Interested in placing a holiday order? Let us know. Orders typically take two weeks but can be rushed in time for Christmas if received before December 17.

If you really want to shine this year give the gift of a family portrait session or baby’s first year session–the experience and the lasting memories make for the ultimate photo gift. Contact us for details and quotes.

Happy gift giving!

Living the life with influencer CeCe Olisa

We had a whirlwind of a summer, full of exciting shoots and memorable moments we’ll be thinking about again and again. One of our most inspiring and enjoyable shoots was with lifestyle blogger, entrepreneur, creative consultant, and all around great girl CeCe Olisa during her summer stay on Martha’s Vineyard.

And boy did she have fun! We photographed her enjoying ice cream in front of Scoops with her girlfriends, and snapped her along the hydrangea lined streets of Edgartown.

CeCe was a gorgeous subject to capture all over town, and a pleasure to work with. She’s built a career on making others feel more comfortable about their bodies and her confidence and charisma are something to admire–not to mention it makes her oh, so photogenic!

We accompanied her to aerial yoga at the Yoga Barn (what a workout!), out for morning coffee and a stroll along a beautiful north shore beach, making for a perfect summer day on Martha’s Vineyard. Be sure to check out her blog to read all about her time here, and follow along with her other adventures.

P.S. We just heard that she’s giving a TEDx Talk at Fresno State later this month and we can’t wait to see the video!

More about CeCe

CeCe has been named one of the “Top 10 New York Fashion Bloggers” by WhoWhatWear and a “person who proves you can be fit at any size” by MTV.com, CeCe Olisa is a Lifestyle Blogger and Co-Founder of theCURVYcon, a convention celebrating body positivity and plus size fashion during New York Fashion Week. CeCe creates wildly popular plus size workout videos on her YouTube channel and encourages women to workout because they love their bodies, not because they hate their bodies. CeCe Olisa has appeared on the Rachael Ray Show, The Wendy Williams Show, CNN, Cosmopolitan, Marie Claire, Refinery29 and more. She adheres to her motto, “Don’t wait on your weight to live the life you want.”

Give it up for the gleaners, the dedicated volunteers picking for progress

October is School Gleaning Month and we’re celebrating just how great and impactful the gleaning program is here on Martha’s Vineyard. So far this year over 200 volunteers have lent their time to Island Grown Initiative’s (IGI) gleaning program, an impressive number and one that reflects a 50% increase since January. With the help of those four hundred plus hands 21,500 pounds of produce have already been recovered already in 2018, putting the program on track to meet (or exceed) last year’s record-breaking harvest–now that’s something to celebrate!

Gleaning is an incredibly useful and sustainable practice that can help offset hunger here on-Island and around the world. Gleaning provides a solution to both hunger and crop waste. Nationwide, 40% of the food that is grown is never eaten, yet one in six Americans suffer from food insecurity. Let that statistic just sink in for a minute. Almost half of all the food we grow is completely wasted and almost 17% of Americans do not have reliable access to a sufficient quantity of affordable, nutritious food. Crazy, huh? And yes, we here on Martha’s Vineyard are affected by that too.

 

Luckily, our team at Island Grown Initiative (IGI) is doing something about it–and they’re doing a lot. In 2009, IGI began a gleaning program to capture crop waste and unsaleable produce from local farms, and there’s dozens of them. Since the program’s inception IGI has rescued 166,000 pounds of produce and counting. Now let that statistic sink in. That’s 166,000 pounds of food that otherwise would have been left to spoil or be tilled over. That otherwise would’ve been wasted and unused, on an Island where food equity is a very real issue.

We can all understand that food waste and hunger go hand in hand. While food scraps and unspoiled produce is being thrown into the trash and hauled to landfills, many families remain desperate for access to fresh food. By gleaning our local farms we are decreasing both hunger and crop waste, and sharing the delicious and nutritious bounty of our friends’ and neighbors’ land. More food gets used, more people get fed, it’s a win-win.

So how does IGI do it? With a lot of help and a lot of hands, and they’re always looking for more. Local gleaners work with farmers to capture excess quality produce that may be a little over ripened, or not as beautiful as what you see in the market. It might be the tail end of the season when farmers need to start making space for the next season’s crop, so “out with the old” it goes. Through the gleaning program that extra food is farmed, picked, and otherwise captured, and delivered for free to those in need, including our elders and children, our schools, and social service agencies like Serving Hands and the Island Food Pantry. No food left behind, and more mouths that can be fed.

The gleaning program requires a lot of work and a lot of time from dedicated volunteers. IGI is always in need of volunteers to help them recover their goal of 30,000 pounds of food his year, and about 1,000 hours of seasonal volunteer time are needed to keep the program viable. The commitment can be as big or as small as you make it. If you only have an hour here and there that time can still make a difference. Whether you come once a week or once a year they’d love to have you, and we’re pretty confident you’ll be happy you did. Many of IGI’s current volunteers have been doing the work for years because of the satisfaction they get for helping their neighbors and the joy of being with others who are doing the same.

Interested in volunteering yet? Click here to sign up to glean. Participating farms include The Allen Farm, Ghost Island Farm, Morning Glory Farm, North Tabor Farm, The Good Farm, Slip Away Farm, Quanaimes Gardens and Whippoorwill Farm.

Food for thought: Giving thanks for IGI’s Community Lunch Program

Summer memories are typically made at the beach, on vacation with friends, at barbeques, or out on the water. This summer, one of my lasting memories will be from my visit to the Boys & Girls Club of Martha’s Vineyard. Last week I had the opportunity to stop by the Club during lunchtime.

There, I witnessed over seventy five campers happily feasting on a locally sourced meal of Morning Glory Farm kale, corn and bbq pulled pork, beans, rice, and ‘power balls’! It was not a special occasion or an end of summer celebration. It was just another day at camp, and just another lunch, but it was special.

Their plentiful plates were provided by Island Grown School’s Community Lunch program, which has been serving the Boys & Girls Club campers all summer–in addition to serving regular lunches at the Oak Bluffs Library, the West Tisbury Library, the Family Center, and the Public Schools English Language Learner Summer Program. That’s a lot of lunches, and a lot of work.

As Board President of Island Grown Initiative I care a lot about food equity within my community, and to see this program in action was incredibly inspiring. Originally the program was designed to help children that receive subsidized school lunches during the year be ensured food throughout the summer.

The program has expanded to help guarantee that the greater community could experience healthy, seasonal, whole-foods based meals, while supporting our local and regional farmers, of which we’re fortunate to have so many! The program has successfully filled the void while school’s out of session this summer, and hundreds of additional mouths have been fed because of it.

From July 7 to August 17 a dedicated team of staff and volunteers has been pumping out locally sourced meals to the Island’s children, elderly, and anyone else who’s wanted to enjoy good, free food. It’s the second year IGI has been able to provide these healthy, delicious lunches during the summer, free, and for all ages. That’s good, clean, free food, available to anyone that needs it five days a week–that’s powerful stuff.

This year the program served even more kids, to accommodate the increasing number of schoolchildren on free or reduced priced meal plans. According to Noli Taylor, community food education director for IGI, more than 40 percent of the student population on Martha’s Vineyard are provided with subsidized lunch, a number that has increased steadily over the years. Despite the affluence of many visitors and residents on Martha’s Vineyard, there are also many families here struggling to provide adequate meals for their children.

With the Community Lunch Program parents could be assured their kids had access to a good meal all week, while elders had an opportunity to get out, get fed, and socialize. Through IGI’s work with the Food Equity Network they realized it wasn’t just the little ones who could benefit from a meal with friends–after all, isn’t it something we all look forward to? Lunches included fresh produce from the Island Grown gleaning program, a la carte offerings, and food that was culturally appropriate, like traditional Brazilian cuisine.

Jean Zdankowski, chef from the Oak Bluffs School, busily prepared the lunches day in and day out this summer, utilizing the culinary arts kitchen at the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School.

Thanks to an incredible crew of dedicated volunteers, which numbered over 100 throughout the season, the program was a major feat of coordination and a relentless commitment. The volunteers I met were beaming with pride and happy to be be a part of the program, not to mention thrilled to be sharing a lot of laughs with the kids.

While summer winds down so will the program, and back to school the children will go. There they’ll be treated to even more meals provided in part by the work of IGI and Island Grown Schools (IGS). The food service directors in each of the Island’s schools work hard to produce school lunches throughout the year, in partnership with IGS and local farms, to offer delicious, nutritious, healthy meals. These programs serve as a constant reminder of the commitment of our community to ensure we have healthy kids eating healthy food–paving the way for a healthier future for Martha’s Vineyard.