I have had the pleasure of pursuing a program through the Vision fellowship that engages some of my greatest passions in life: helping create sustainable, locally-based food systems and being an effective leader of community organizations. As a “mid-career professional” in the Fellowship, I followed a less traditional course of education by taking short courses off-Island and bringing that knowledge home.
I focused my Fellowship around supporting our local food system through learning about Permaculture, teaching and nonprofit management, and paired up with Island Grown Initiative (IGI) in the hopes that my studies could help us develop a farm-to-school program in my second Fellowship year. My two years of Fellowship-sponsored agricultural conferences, Permaculautre Design and teacher trainings, fundraising workshops, board development trainings, visits to other farm-to-school programs and more gave me a foundation that has helped our IGI team create an incredible program, Island Grown Schools (IGS).
We have put in learning gardens now at all seven K-12 schools on the island and an inter-generational garden at Woodside Village, an Island Elderly Housing complex for low-income seniors. In 2012 we launched Island Grown Pre-Schools, and are working with five island pre-schools to bring garden-based learning, local food, and nutrition education to our youngest island students. We also run three after school gardening and nutrition programs. We work with food service directors at all island schools, and now six of seven schools regularly buy food from island farms for school lunches. We work with teachers at all of our schools and at every grade level to help them develop and integrate curriculum-based lessons on food, farms, and agriculture. In the fall of 2009, we launched a “gleaning” program to harvest food from island farms that would not otherwise be harvested, and to date this program has delivered more than 35,000 pounds of fresh produce to our school cafeterias and to islanders in need.
The program is helping us raise a new generation of Vineyarders with the skills to create food security for themselves, their families and our community; with an appreciation for an understanding of the importance of local food systems; and an awareness about the power of eating fresh foods for their health, the environment, and our local farming community. As the coordinator of Island Grown Schools, I get to put all that I’ve learned through my time in the Fellowship to work in making our program a success — plus, the Vision Fellowship helped me find a job that I love here on the island! I couldn’t feel more grateful or excited about what the Fellowship has allowed me to do, and for what it’s doing for our community.