Blog Category: Editorial

Bringing the farm, and the sea, to school

If you ever have the opportunity to eat at the West Tisbury school for lunch you won’t be disappointed. The impressive food program, led by rockstar chef Jenny Devivo is quite the operation. And Jenny, well she’s the cherry on top.

Since 2011, the head chef and cafeteria director for the up-Island regional school district (West Tisbury School and Chilmark School), has made it her mission to source local food for the schools’ daily lunches. Part of Jenny’s dedication is fostering real relationships with local food purveyors, farmers, and fishermen; which enables her to enrich the developing palettes of Martha’s Vineyard with her farm-to-cafeteria-table menus.

Each Friday Jenny’s approach is more fish-to-table with her local “Catch of the Day” program, the first of its kind in the country. Since 2016, the program has been providing students with locally sourced and sustainably harvested fish through Menemsha Fish House and Boston-based regional seafood purveyor Red’s BestOur friends at Island Grown Schools are highlighting seafood as their Harvest of the Month for April, so it’s only fitting we spotlight Jenny’s incredible work that brings the bounty of our local waters directly to our Island’s most selective eaters.

Getting kids to eat fish sounds like a challenge but Jenny’s got it down. “Fish Friday is as popular as pizza day,” she states proudly. Not only do the students take the bait, literally, but they’re educated on the sourcing too. Red’s Best uses traceability software with quick-response (QR) codes on the packaging that Jenny can scan and track. With that information she can tell the school community who caught their fish, off what boat it came, and how and where it was caught. That’s just about as local, sustainable and transparent as you can get.

The first time we visited the West Tisbury kitchen Jenny was serving Roasted Pollack with Lemon, Capers and Butter. Other Friday favorites include her popular fish chowder made with locally sourced sustainable white fish like hake, cod, and haddock. The day we visited she was serving Fish Cakes and a special tasting treat of Blue Moon Oysters, harvested by fisherman Scott Castro from Katama Bay. These fresh bivalve mollusks were baked in the oven and then served on the half shell with turmeric butter…yummm! She’s also been known to serve up Paella, Mediterranean Fish Stew, Fish Tacos, Teriyaki Salmon, Baked Fish with Butter Cracker Crumb, and a Fish Sandwich.

Any day of the week you can find Jenny and her assistant chefs Maura Martin and Nisa Webster buzzing around the West Tisbury School kitchen preparing fresh, local lunch for up to 550 children and staff each day. That reflects an almost 100% participation rate in the program, up from close to 40% when she first took over the kitchen several years ago.

It all started in 2011, when the up-Island regional school district voted to opt out of using the corporate school lunch provider they had contracted, and hired Jenny instead. She, along with many supporters including Noli Taylor of Island Grown Initiative (IGI), helped salvage materials from the old Edgartown school, including the prep table, the roll-down window, the steam tables, even the sinks. The greater Island community helped her renovate the kitchen in two months, and she got to work. The mission was to cook healthier food and sourcing from as many local resources as possible. It’s safe to say it was the right choice, and there’s no looking back. “It’s been hard but rewarding,” says Jenny.

Children are offered a hot lunch option daily (think herb roasted chicken or local pollock and haddock chowder) as well as a daily offering of salad bar and egg, chicken or tuna salad sandwich and fresh vegetables. The ever-changing salad bar is a lavish offering all its own, with fresh local produce, and scratched cooked, freshly prepared salads that as Jenny says “push the boundaries of flavor.” You might find an apple fennel salad or beet hummus, along with several local grain options, and teachers and students alike load up their plates.

So how does she do it? By 9am each morning she has the orders in for the West Tisbury and Chilmark schools, which allows her to eliminate food waste as much as possible, and know what she’s up against for the day. Any food not consumed is either reused the following day or composted by IGI along with the help of the students, and it’s something they take seriously. “I’ll see kids fish things out of the garbage that should have been composted or call each other out for not doing it properly.” Clearly her methods are working.

Jenny prides herself on making approachable food that inspires the students to try new things, while setting limits on selections to encourage them to venture outside of their comfort zone. “If we eliminate 17 choices for lunch, the cost goes down, and it allows us to introduce the kids to new flavors.” Of course living on an island with access to fresh local food helps, and she readily takes advantage of it. In addition to locally caught seafood, Jenny is able to source meat and produce from Beetlebung Farm, The Good Farm, The Grey Barn, Morning Glory Farm, Thimble Farm, Cleveland Farm and Whippoorwill, and she genuinely appreciates everyone’s contributions to her kitchen.

According to Jenny it’s a community program that encourages participation, and sharing. She’s come to see how it has helped kids to take pride in the presentation of their food, and to know where it comes from. “When we’re in here cooking all day and they can smell it in the halls, it’s a sensory experience. They already feel connected to it, and it boosts enrollment.” And the kids aren’t only eating it, they’re cooking it too. “We have kids that ask to help us prepare food and we bring them back there and put them to work.”

Jenny’s efforts have not gone unnoticed. It’s obvious that the students and faculty love her and the rest of the country is taking note too. These days when she’s not in the kitchen she travels throughout New England consulting other schools on how to implement similar programs. “It’s all about getting the kids to eat real food… The options are endless when it comes to feeding kids.”

The Most Eggscellent Month of the Year

When’s the last time you’ve stopped to hail the almighty egg? These nutritious and delicious capsules of goodness are Island Grown School’s (IGS) Harvest of the Month for March and they’re personally one of my favorites. I start each day with a farm fresh egg that has been laid by my very own chickens. Here on Martha’s Vineyard keeping chickens is almost as common as keeping a dog or cat as a pet. It’s a way of life and one I’m grateful for–the difference in quality between a store bought egg and a local egg is exceptional.

First off a store bought egg might be months old! It’s pretty alarming but true. Eggs can have a long shelf life and may still be safe to eat but it’s not too appetizing to think about how long ago they were laid. Farm fresh eggs on the other hand are usually only days old when sold to you, meaning their more nutritious, as they lose some of their value as time passes by.

When it comes to food shopping some items are created equal, but eggs are one of those foods that’s worth paying extra for. Locally grown farm eggs can cost about $6 a dozen, but at about 50 cents per egg they are one of the most affordable sources of Island grown food, not to mention one of the most protein rich.

In fact eggs have 6 grams of high-quality protein, making them a protein packed breakfast that can help sustain your mental and physical energy throughout the day.  Unlike other breakfast foods like cereal or yogurt, eggs only contain one ingredient – “eggs.” They don’t contain sugar or carbs either. That means you can eat a well-rounded breakfast during the week without feeling too round yourself..

On top of the benefits that protein and choline provide, eggs are also packed with omega 3 fatty acids, vitamin a, riboflavin, vitamin B12, phosphorus and selenium. Eggs are considered a ‘complete’ source of protein as they contain all nine essential amino acids; the ones we can’t synthesize in our bodies and must get from our diet.

Remember not to skip the yolk! Over the years many people have shied away from eating egg yolks for fear of their high cholesterol. We now know that the cholesterol found in food has much less of an effect on our blood cholesterol than the amount of saturated fat we eat–so embrace the yolk!

Egg yolks also contain choline, which promotes normal cell activity, liver function and the transportation of nutrients throughout the body. It’s also key in the development of infant’s memory functions, so moms shouldn’t miss out on its vital nourishments when pregnant or breastfeeding. You’ll find that the yolk of a farm fresh egg is typically richer in color and taste while store bought egg yolks are usually a medium yellow. Not only do farm egg yolks have a deeper color, their yolk is creamier and doesn’t break as easily when cooked. 

Hungry for eggs yet? If you’re on Martha’s Vineyard you can buy fresh pasture-raised eggs from your local farm stand or at Cronig’s Market and the Scottish Bakery. In season you can also find eggs at one of our local farms including the Farm Institute, Morning Glory Farm, Black Water Farm, Ghost Island Farm, The Grey Barn, Mermaid Farm, North Tabor Farm and more. Check out this interactive map of local farms on Martha’s Vineyard and their offerings.

If you’re in need of some recipe inspiration read below for some tasty recipes from some of couple of our talented local chefs and friends. Remember, you don’t need to  limit your eggs to just breakfast, eggs make a great lunch or dinner option as well. 

Try this Shakshuka recipe from local chef Jamie Hamlin of V. Jaime Hamlin Catering and Party Design. She recommends it as a great for brunch option.  

 

*Makes 4 generous portions

Ingredients:

1/2 tsp cumin seeds( NOT powdered cumin)

1/4 cup olive oil

2 sliced onions

2 red peppers, sliced into strips

2 yellow peppers, sliced into strips

4 tsp sugar

2  fresh bay leaves

1 can crushed tomatoes

1/2 tsp saffron threads (reconstitute in a little hot water first)

pinch of cayenne

2 tbsp chopped parsley & 2 tbsp chopped cilantro (save some for garnish)

Salt & Pepper to taste

1 or so cups of water ( to keep the consistency saucy)

8 eggs (organic are best)

 

Method:

In a large frying pan dry toast the cumin seeds until fragrant, 1–2 minutes.

Add olive oil and onions, saute 5 minutes or so.

Add both red & yellow pepper strips, sugar and chopped herbs, saute another 5 minutes.

Add  tomatoes, cayenne, saffron, salt and pepper.

Cook all together for 5–8 minutes adding water to keep the consistency “saucy” and remove bay leaves before adding eggs. Taste for seasoning.

 

Make 8 indentations in the sauce – break the eggs into them, cover and cook on simmer for 10 minutes or so or until the eggs are just set. Sprinkle with cilantro to serve.

 

Have fun with this Spinach, Mushroom and Onion Frittata from private chef Gavin Smith of Food Minded Fellow. He recommends eating it for any meal of the day (or even a late night snack). He loves frittatas for their versatility, plus they can be prepared for immediate consumption the days before for an easy meal on the go.

 

Ingredients:

8-10 Large farm fresh eggs

1/2 cup red bell pepper (julienned)

1/2 cup onion (julienned)

1/2 cup mushrooms (sliced)

2-3 cups raw spinach

3 Tablespoons whole milk

1/2 Cup cheddar sliced thin or grated

1 tbsp olive oil

Pinch salt

 

Method:

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F).

Beat eggs and milk together.

Add dd oil to a large deep skillet.

Soften onions and red pepper over medium heat, 2 minutes.

Add mushrooms and stir until softened.

Add spinach and salt and stir until spinach is wilted.

Pour egg and milk mixture over all ingredients evenly (do not mix or stir).

Evenly distribute cheese over the top of the egg mixture.

Place in the oven and cook until edges of the frittata start to brown, 10–12 minutes.

 

Let cool slightly then cut and serve.

 

Hungry for more? Check out this simple Avocado Egg Salad recipe from IGS’s chef Gabrielle Chronister.

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.

What’s hot this summer: Can’t miss happenings on Martha’s Vineyard

It’s finally here! The season we’ve all been waiting for, well most of us anyway. Some Islanders actually get discouraged this time of year but I absolutely love it. I wait all year for summer and thrive off of the faster tempo of the Island. There’s an energy in the air that you can’t find anywhere else. On top of that loving feeling, I get to reconnect with summer friends and get outside in the beautiful weather and take advantage of this dynamic place. There’s nothing more electric than a Vineyard summer.

Each year I’m bombarded with news of the latest parties, events and activities. I want to do it all but time is precious, so I’ve drilled down my summer bucket list of the absolute can’t-miss things to do on Martha’s Vineyard this summer. Prepare yourself for fresh food, unique Island experiences and a whole lot of time outdoors–fingers crossed for a season of perfect days.

Maker’s Table series from Farm. Field. Sea. Take your pick from a variety of “dynamic dining adventures” that highlight the Island’s best resources and the talents of local chefs, farmers, shellfish cultivators, fishers, educators, authors, musicians, and visual artists during this summer’s Maker’s Table series, a new initiative from Farm. Field. Sea. Known for offering the summer’s most unique and authentic Island experiences Farm. Field. Sea. has organized several pop-up events that are thoughtfully curated around delicious food and inspiring activities at secret locations around the Island.


Kayak and Stand Up Paddle Board adventures. I love all things water and try to get my exercise outdoors whenever I can, after all I’ve waited all year for this weather! A great outlet is Felix Neck Wildlife Sanctuary in Edgartown, where they offer self guided kayak and stand up paddleboard quest by day or moonrise kayak tours by night on Sengekontacket Pond. See nesting shorebirds feed and frolic, explore the salt marsh and search for pond wildlife, or witness the sun set, the stars twinkle, and the moon rise from the water. Check out their full line up of summer events.

Load up on local goodies and eat your veggies at the Farmer’s Market. Nothing beats a trip to the West Tisbury Farmer’s Market where you can pick up a variety of local produce and food products all in one place. Every Wednesday and Saturday from 9am–12pm our local farmers and food purveyors set up shop at the Grange Hall in West Tisbury to deliver you a true taste of the Vineyard, plus live music too! Be sure to bring reusable bags and try a little bit of everything.

Explore Polly Hill Arboretum. Polly Hill in West Tisbury is one of my favorite places because of its diverse landscape and gorgeous gardens– I often want to go there just to relax. I always learn about a new plant or species every time I go, it’s a living breathing museum. You’ll find rare trees and shrubs from around the world set among stone walls, meadows, and fields, including Polly’s famous North Tisbury azaleas, the national stewartia collection, camellias, hollies, rhododendrons, crabapples, conifers, magnolias, and many more. Pack a picnic and a good book and escape to a place of absolute serenity for the afternoon.

Oyster tours in Vineyard Sound. Experience the magic of our local briny bivalves first hand from the guys of Cottage City Oysters. Purveyors Dan and Greg Martino will introduce you to their nursery and you’ll see the harvest process in action. Complete with a tasting of the Island’s best oysters and a shucking demonstration so you can go home and impress your friends.

Dine overlooking the Aquinnah Cliffs. Even if you’ve ventured up to the Cliffs before there’s nothing quite like dining at the Aquinnah Shop restaurant, and taking in the view over a relaxing meal. Located at the Gay Head Cliffs in Aquinnah, it’s one of the oldest restaurants on the Vineyard with some of the best outdoor dining on-Island. They serve dinner Friday, Saturday, and Sunday and offer lunch and breakfast too.

Be mesmerized by Built on Stilts. Now in it’s 22nd year, the Built on Stilts festival is an annual showcase of some of the most talented dancers on-Island, and guest performers from all over. Each year the festival takes over the Union Chapel in Oak Bluffs and amazes spectators of all ages. And the best part–there’s no tickets or reservations required, all shows are free to the public and audiences may come and go as they please, so there’s no reason to not check it out. Look for it this summer, happening August 9–11 and 18–21.

Pop Up Dinners at the Beach Plum. Another magical place to enjoy dinner is the Beach Plum Inn in Chilmark. Their picturesque patio looks out over Menemsha harbor and is home to some of the most spectacular sunsets you’ll ever see. This summer chef John Thurgood is hosting a series of pop up dinners celebrating the bounty of the Island with local guest chefs throughout the season. Be sure to mark your calendars and prepare for the finest food around.

Go take a hike. I recently partnered with Sheriff’s Meadow to help them launch their TrailsMV app, an iOS app that helps hikers and outdoor enthusiasts better navigate over 100 Martha’s Vineyard trails and conservation properties, it’s a great tool to help you from getting lost in the Island’s more out-of-the way locales. Be sure to download the app and discover some of the Island’s most scenic locations. Our favorites include Menemsha Hills Reservation and Cedar Tree Neck Sanctuary. Is there anywhere more beautiful than this?

Take a tour of Thimble Farm, with Island Grown Initiative. Since 2011 Island Grown Initiative has operated Thimble Farm as their Farm Hub, an education resources site for farmers and growers, offering demonstration aquaponic and hydroponic greenhouse production, workshops and trainings, a community garden, and an orchard. Tour the Vineyard Haven farm every Tuesday and Thursday and check out the impressive farm and learn more about the work of this incredible organization. And their farm stand is open everyday (but Wednesday) from 9am to 3pm.