Blog Category: Food Photography

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.

 

 

 

Give peas a chance: June’s Harvest of the Month

Generally speaking peas still get a bad rep. Like Brussels Sprouts, some people never warmed up to them, or are burned by childhood memories of their parents trying to force feed them green vegetables. Not on Martha’s Vineyard. Here peas are celebrated and admired, especially among the youth of our community.

This month we’re helping Island Grown Schools (IGS) highlight peas as their Harvest of the Month (HOM). It’s the perfect crop to represent the essence of the HOM program and the value and importance of better connecting kids to their locally available produce. I like to consider peas a gateway vegetable. If you can get your kids to take part in the growing process, and feast on peas (especially easy with the sugar snap variety), you can get them hooked on vegetables all together.

I recently attended a grand tasting event (so to speak) at the West Tisbury School. 

Throughout the month IGS hosts several “taste tests” where they serve the Harvest of the Month as an ingredient in the local school cafeterias, to encourage students to taste it in a new or creative way and understand its flavor potential. 

The farm-to-school movement at the West Tisbury School is an especially impressive program, and Jenny DeVivo, West Tisbury School cafeteria director and rockstar head chef (she used to be a traveling recording artist so that title is two-fold) always makes it fun and interactive.

Morning Glory Farm offers another clever way to encourage participation in pea harvesting with their annual pea contest. Each year the Island’s largest operating farm hosts a “First Peas to the Table” contest inspired by Thomas Jefferson. In the 18th century Jefferson led a contest among his neighbors at Monticello garden every spring to see who could be the first to grow a cup of shelling peas, and the tradition continues on Martha’s Vineyard today.

Now in its fifth year at Morning Glory, the first person to bring a measured cup of mature shelled peas receives a Morning Glory Farm gift certificate, a voucher for a free trip to the salad bar and a delicious risotto prepared by chef Meg Athearn from the winning peas, plus bragging rights of course.

The winner is also crowned, sashed and photographed for Morning Glory’s archives–and posterity–and left to bask in the glory of their delicious achievement! This year Katie Ruppel took the prize.

What’s not to love about peas? Peas are my favorite vegetable to grow in my garden, and are one of the first things I plant once the ground thaws. They get me excited for spring, and the potential of the new season, plus they’re delicious and packed with vitamin K, A, C and fiber, folate, thiamine, protein and iron. They’re easy to throw in salad raw, or simply sautéed with garlic, ginger and sesame oil. Sugar snap peas provide a welcome crunch in rice or stir fry, and shelled peas make a good addition to pasta and risotto.

Tis the season for potlucks, BBQs, and beach picnics, so don’t forget about the powerful pea next time you’re preparing your menus. Try this easy Pea Pesto Salad recipe, prepared by Harvest of the Month chef Gabrielle Chronister, for a fresh, savory side to celebrate the season’s palatable peas.

Pea Pesto Potato Salad

Ingredients:

1 cup green peas (fresh and blanched for 1 minute or frozen and thawed)

1 cup fresh basil

2 ½ tbl nutritional yeast

1 tbl fresh lemon juice

1 medium garlic clove, chopped

1 tsp kosher salt

¼ tsp fresh ground black pepper

1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil

1 tbl extra virgin olive oil

1 ½ lbs baby or new potatoes (quartered or sliced in half if small)

Directions:

Place potatoes and ½ tsp of kosher salt in a medium pot and cover with cold water. Bring to a boil and reduce to simmer 10-15 minutes until fork tender. Drain potatoes and set aside.

While potatoes are cooking, place remainder of ingredients except olive oil, in a food processor and pulse ingredients until everything is combined and evenly ground. With the machine running, slowly pour olive oil into the mixture and blend until smooth and creamy.

Combine the potatoes with the pesto in a serving dish, making sure all potatoes are coated in pesto. Salt if needed. Top with more nutritional yeast and fresh torn basil. Serve with a dollop of sour cream or plain Greek yogurt. Enjoy!

 

Selling seafood by the seashore on Martha’s Vineyard

Life on Martha’s Vineyard revolves around our relationship with the sea. We worry about making time to get to the beach, making boat reservations to get off-Island, and most importantly, making the most of the resources the ocean provides for us. This month we’re helping Island Grown Schools (IGS) highlight seafood as their Harvest of the Month–a sustainable and viable part of our Island economy and history, and a delicious and nutritious addition to our plates.

Hundreds of Island fishermen work through every season, in often dangerous conditions, to guarantee stocked local fish markets and restaurants. These men and women work to assure the livelihood of commercial fishing, and the future of Island fishing families and the trade.

If you don’t personally fish on Martha’s Vineyard you likely know someone that does. Drive by the Menemsha jetty most days and you’ll find fishing enthusiasts of all ages, ‘dropping lines’ into the water, maybe catching mackerel or fluke that they’ll use for lobster bait or that they’ll bake or bread for an easy fish fry. Drive by Edgartown harbor after sundown and you’ll see another contingent of locals jigging for squid. They’ll take it home, clean it, cut it, sauté it and have it for dinner, or even serve to their guests.


Scup is another commonly found fish, but it hasn’t historically been a popular fish to eat here. I was happy to see it recently featured on the menu at Port Hunter in Edgartown–an indication of the restaurant’s creativity and commitment to offering a local catch.  Conch has the same stigma, but Chef Deon Thomas is working to change that with the launch of his new cookbook, Chef Deon’s Island Conch Cookery, which will explore the range of  possibilities of cooking the affordable, sustainable mollusk.

As a food activist I was especially happy to provide my photography services for the book, part of my ongoing commitment to promoting sustainable food practices on Martha’sVineyard.


You can do your part to support the Island seafood economy by asking for the local catch at Island fish markets and restaurants. Quahogs, oysters, scallops, and mussels are especially important aquaculture and make for a delicious and nutritious dinner. IGS’ featured farm, the Martha’s Vineyard Shellfish Group, works to preserve and expand the Island’s traditional shellfisheries by farming shellfish from from seed, and we thank them for it. Not only do we benefit from the food and economic boost, but these useful bivalves help provide us with cleaner seas–they serve as a sort of water filtration system, unintentionally ridding water of any pollutants present like herbicides or harmful bacteria.

 

Recently the group also began experimenting with sugar kelp, or seaweed, in hopes of bringing about a new enterprise on the Vineyard, it’s available in limited quantities on-Island so if you see it available you’re in luck!

Stay tuned for my new cookbook Chef Deon’s Island Conch Cookery by Chef Deon Thomas for more inspiration on enjoying local seafood.

 

Enjoy this Simple Fish Ceviche recipe from IGS

Ingredients:

3 haddock, sea bass or any white flakey fish filets

½ cup sweet onion, finely chopped

¼ cup fresh ripe mango, chopped

¼ cup fresh chopped cilantro

¼ cup lime juice

¼ cup lemon juice

½ tsp sea salt

Freshly ground black pepper

 

Directions:

If using raw fish: Soak the fish in the lemon juice, lime juice, salt and pepper for 30 minutes – 1 hour. Then cut the fish into small ½ inch bites.

If using cooked fish: Preheat oven to 400 degrees F and place fish filets in a lightly oiled baking dish. Sprinkle with some salt and pepper and bake for 12-15 minutes until fish is flaky and moist. When fish is done let it cool completely and cut into small ½ inch bites.

Place remaining ingredients in a medium bowl and toss together with the fish until well combined. Place in refrigerator to marinate until ready to eat. Serve with tortilla chips and sliced avocado and enjoy!

We’re wild about wild edibles, April’s Harvest of the Month

Spring is upon us and we’re all hungry to get outside. After a long, dreary northeast winter we’re aching for some vitamin D and fresh food. Luckily our friends at Island Grown Schools are highlighting wild edibles as their Harvest of the Month and we’re happy to help them spread the word about delicious, locally available food you can find on Martha’s Vineyard–for free! Now’s the perfect time to get outside and get foraging, your mind and body will thank you.

There’s an air of secrecy that comes with foraging, similar to how the local fisherman are about revealing their spots–they’ll give you pointers and tell you what to look out for, but they’re not telling you exactly where to go. Likewise, we’ll share some tips and let you know what’s out there but it’s on you to hunt it down, plus the pursuit is half the fun! Just make sure you know exactly what you’re doing before you go eating things in the woods.

As a food activist I’ve always been a fan of foraging. Not only are there tremendous health benefits to locally sourced food, but foraging encourages resourcefulness and promotes food security. Plus a journey out to the beach or the woods to go picking brings you closer to the land and its offerings, as well as the seasons and our weather.

In Aquinnah foraging was a way of life, and for many it still is today. When we first moved to Martha’s Vineyard we resided in Gay Head and I became familiar with a lot of the locally available wild edibles. Resident gatherer Kristina Hook-Leslie is a local authority on wild edibles and has amassed a tremendous amount of knowledge since childhood, foraging for everything from wild carrots (Queen Anne’s Lace), to rose hips, grape leaves, sassafras, cranberries, beach plums and more. You can learn a lot just by watching this fantastic video of Kristina foraging in Aquinnah. Her advice for those who want to forage their own wild edibles is to do your homework–make sure you know what you’re picking and be respectful–take only what you need and give thanks to the plants before harvesting.

Personally, one of my favorite things to forage on-Island is stinging nettles. You’ve probably seen them, or accidentally brushed up against them (ouch!). They’re a prickly, leafy green that gets its name from the small, stiff hairs that cover them. They’re one of the first plants that arrive with spring and I’m always careful to wear gloves when picking. When cooked or dried, nettles completely lose their stinging property, making them perfectly safe for consumption. They’re high in vitamin A, C, full of calcium, iron, magnesium, and potassium as well as being a high source of protein. They have an earthy wholesome flavor, making them the perfect addition to smoothies, eggs, omelettes, or quiches–you can basically use them in place of spinach or a similar leafy green.

Another thing I do in spring is scout out beach plum plants. They grow all over the Island, along our roadsides, backyards and beaches, and I take note of the most abundant flowers–this later translates to bearing the most plentiful fruit. I then return in late August or early September, when the fruits turn to a deep purple color. My husband Philippe and I use them to make cordial and jam for the holidays. Like most fruits they are rich in vitamin C and antioxidants, and can help strengthen the immune system and lower high blood pressure and cholesterol.

There really are so many wild edibles with impressive health benefits on Martha’s Vineyard, ready for the picking if you know where to look. Obviously we have our namesake grape vines, and there’s no shortage of wild grapes. The grape’s fruit can be eaten raw (just watch out for the seeds) or turned into jams, jellies or wine. And the bountiful grape leaves are perfect for stuffing–steam them and stuff with rice or fish. Rose hips are also scattered about, and the hearty fruit of the rose plant can be turned into jams, and jellies, as well as soup, tea or stewed with meat–plus they’re also a great source of vitamin C.

Rampant too on-Island is sassafras, popularly used for tea or root beer, while providing a boost to the immune system or anti-inflammatory properties when applied to the skin. Lastly, purslane and dandelions are two popular greens most people trample over without giving second thought, and they can both be eaten raw or added to salads and soups for an extra dose of vitamins.

Feeling inspired to step outside and get picking? Just make sure you always know what you are harvesting before you eat it. Island Grown Schools recommends “that you go with someone who is experienced, as some pictures of edible plants can be misleading. And make sure you know the rules about picking wild plants in your area. For example on Martha’s Vineyard fiddleheads should not be harvested because some species are rare and can be difficult to identify, but they are often available at Cronig’s.”

If you’re interested in learning more about wild edibles check out this story I collaborated on with Holly Bellebuono and Catherine Walthers for Martha’s Vineyard Magazine.

Feeling adventurous? Try this wild edible recipe from Island Grown Schools:

Watercress Chimichurri

Ingredients:

1 cup watercress, tightly packed (if foraged- wash well and discard stems)

1 garlic clove

1 tsp red pepper flakes (optional)

¼ cup sherry vinegar

½ cup olive oil

¾ tsp honey

½ tsp kosher salt or sea salt

¼ tsp freshly ground black pepper

Directions:

Place watercress, garlic, red pepper flakes, honey and vinegar in a food processor and pulse until finely chopped, but not pureed (or you can finely chop everything by hand and combine with the vinegar.)

Transfer to a small bowl and add the olive oil, salt and pepper. Combine well. Store in refrigerator until ready to eat. Serve with your favorite sourdough bread or over roasted veggies, tofu, cooked fish, chicken or steak. Enjoy!

 

Randi Baird is a founding member and president of Island Grown Initiative’s Board of Directors and has long been committed to promoting local, sustainable food choices on Martha’s Vineyard.