In 2022, the United States saw a 10% increase in the price of food. The considerable rise in food prices are a concern on the island of Martha’s Vineyard, where food costs are notoriously higher than in the rest of the state. The quiet winter months can create a difficult situation for island residents when considering the high cost of food coupled with the closure of businesses and the slowdown of income. This is when the critical food equity work of Island Grown Initiative (IGI) speeds up.
Food equity is the belief that people should have equal access to and the ability to grow and consume healthy, affordable, and culturally-significant foods. It’s at the heart of IGI’s mission. For IGI, that means focusing on innovative, collaborative programs in regenerative farming, food waste reduction, and community education to help make good food accessible to everyone.
The Important Job Of The Island Food Pantry
One of the organization’s most critical year-round tasks is keeping the shelves and freezers of the Island Food Pantry filled. In 2022, the Pantry served 1,661 households, including 4,605 individuals, across 14,261 unique visits. The winter and early spring are when IGI sees the highest demand at the Pantry.
This includes canned and dry goods, frozen meats, healthy prepared meals, and fresh produce–much of what they gleaned from local farms. In 2022, over 10,500 pounds of gleaned produce went to the Food Pantry, approximately 20% of the total 49,000 pounds gleaned. The Pantry also stocks personal care items such as toothpaste, soap, deodorant, and baby products, including diapers, wipes, and even homemade baby food.
Did you know Massachusetts is the most expensive state in the country regarding the cost of a meal? That stat, coupled with rising inflation and growing food costs, increased Pantry visits in early 2023. IGI receives a significant portion of food from the Greater Boston Food Bank (8,750 pounds a week!), but they’re currently experiencing shortages due to supply chain and staffing issues.
In turn, they have had to cut back on the food given to partner organizations like IGI. Currently, the staple items do not last the full week. To provide for the full week, IGI must purchase from local distributors like Island Food Products and Sysco to maintain a stable source of groceries staples such as eggs, milk, and produce. While this is not a sustainable long-term option, IGI is committed to ensuring that no one goes without food on Martha’s Vineyard. Want to help? The Pantry is looking to raise $25,000 to keep the shelves stocked through the next few months and would appreciate any and all monetary or food donations to help make it happen.
Your Money, and Time, Can Make the Most Significant Impact
In general, monetary donations are always preferred as cash allows the Pantry more buying power to purchase many items at more integral and convenient times. For example, meat and dairy cannot be accepted as individual donations, and it’s more cost-effective to purchase fresh fruits and vegetables at the time they’re needed, which helps IGI better manage inventory and coveted storage space.
Another significant need of the Pantry, especially in the winter months, is the availability of consistent volunteers. Many members of our year-round community travel in these slow months, and IGI is always looking for new volunteers to help fill those gaps. Anyone interested in volunteering at the Pantry should email email@example.com for more information or visit igimv.org/volunteer.
Food Builds, and Nurtures, Community
Additionally, IGI continues its prepared food program throughout the winter, which creates nutrient-rich soups, stews, and comfort foods that are not only distributed at the Pantry but are widespread throughout community outlets, including the Hospice of Martha’s Vineyard, Family Planning Clinic, local libraries, Island Elderly Housing and more.
For the first time, IGI just secured a year-round kitchen for this program. With their new head chef Jessica Miller, IGI plans to create and distribute 60,000 meals in 2023. This is 20,000 more than the 40,000 made in 2022.
Island Grown Initiative’s community lunch program will also operate out of this new kitchen, allowing the program to provide lunches for an entire 8-week period during the summer break from school. Lunches will be distributed throughout various summer schools, camps, and local libraries.
Island Grown Initiative’s Popular CSA Program Keeps Farm Fresh Produce Available to Island Families
Want in on IGI’s delicious eats? Check out IGI’s Winter (and summer) Community Supported Agriculture program (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. Although it is full for this winter of 2023, you can get on their list for this summer or next winter.
The seventy-five members of the CSA are entitled to weekly allotments of mixed greens, vegetables, herbs, and sometimes even a fresh pint of strawberries. CSA food distribution takes place at IGI’s farm, where members pick up their bounty, and most of the winter produce in their greenhouses.
IGI’s Future is Bright and Even More Abundant
The IGI Farm is the headquarters for IGI’s growing operation, which encompasses forty acres in Vineyard Haven and is set to become even more impressive in the coming years as they look to add a new education center, employee housing, and more to their growing operation.
There’s also the ongoing regenerative farming arm of IGI which aims to create a teaching center for regenerative and resilient agriculture practices at its 40-acre farm. As they research, experiment, and innovate with climate-friendly ways to increase local food production, they can share what works with Island farmers and backyard growers. In 2021, IGI grew 98,850lbs of food at its farm and greenhouses.
How do they do it? IGI is committed to regenerative farming, a dynamic and holistic approach. Regenerative farming focuses on improving the health of the soil. IGI recognizes that abundant, nutrient-dense food depends on the web of life in the soil. IGI’s approach utilizes low- or no-tillage; cover crops and mulches; compost; diverse crops in the field rotation; razing animals; no synthetic chemical fertilizers, pesticides, or herbicides; and absolutely no GMOs.
Island Grown Initiative Is Not Alone, Other Organizations Are Hard At Work
In addition to IGI’s effort, the Boys and Girls Club of MV has initiated its food program under the direction of Jenny DeVivo. Since October, they offer a grab-and-go option for students in their after-school programs. They also offer families Weekend Packaged Meals and School Vacation Meals.
Other efforts on Martha’s Vineyard to combat food insecurity include The Vineyard Committee on Hunger, Anchors senior center in Edgartown, and The West Tisbury Library, which has a mini-pantry equipped with a refrigerator for prepared soups. There are also weekly community suppers through our local churches.