On Wednesday, State Representative Tim Madden traveled to Martha’s Vineyard to help launch the new Island Grown Harvest of the Month program and to help inaugurate the new West Tisbury School kitchen and up-island meals program. His visit coincided with the statewide Mass Harvest for Students Week, in which schools across the Commonwealth will be highlighting local food in their cafeterias.
Rep. Madden’s first stop was the Tisbury School, where the kids held their first taste test in the lunchroom tasting a variety of local tomatoes, in honor of September’s Harvest of the Month.
Madden then visited the West Tisbury School where he was given a tour of the school’s garden. In the garden, kindergarten teacher Teri Mello, along with a few kindergarteners, showed Madden some of the vegetables they’d grown – many of which, along with nearly 500 pounds of gleaned produce from local farms, is now included daily in their school lunches. From the garden, the tour headed into the newly built cafeteria for a pizza lunch featuring sauce made from locally grown tomatoes.
This past year, West Tisbury, Chilmark and Aquinnah residents decided to move away from their long-standing corporate food service contract and put their kid’s school lunches into local hands. The effort to take over the school lunches was initiated by Island Grown Schools (IGS) and a group of concerned parents who were unhappy with the quality of food their children were being served on a daily basis.
After months of hard work and determination all three Up-Island Regional School District (UIRSD) towns approved the renovation of the kitchen at the West Tisbury School. The community rallied behind the effort, and skilled architects, builders, electricians, and plumbers all volunteered their time to complete the project - working hard all summer long to finish the kitchen in time for the new school year.
Madden joined principal Michael Halt, cafeteria director Jenny Devivo, and Island Grown Schools coordinator for West Tisbury School Nicole Cabot to celebrate the ribbon cutting and opening of the new kitchen, along with some of the dedicated volunteer builders, electricians, and plumbers who made the summer construction work a success.
Jason Napior, of Radius Construction, who acted as general contractor at no charge, sat with his daughter Stella, who is a third grader at the West Tisbury School. “It was all about the community effort and all based on getting good food for our kids. That was the primary goal. I was just a small part of a really big group effort to pull it off,” said Napior.
Napior and Devivo then cut the ribbon over the cafeteria window together, as Devivo declared to applause, “They said it would never happen!”
In addition to Napior, other volunteers who built the kitchen were on hand including David Sprague of Steve Gallagher of Gallagher Electric, Owen Willis and Dan Ennis. Devivo told the kids, “When you see these guys out and about, make sure to give them a big hug, because they worked themselves to the bone for you guys.”
The community, grassroots effort was highlighted throughout the ceremony with Cabot reminding the kids, “Anything is possible, if you try hard and never give up. And if you let people talk and listen, and work together, after a while things happen.”
Principal Halt called the effort “truly groundbreaking” and said, “This is the model of how grassroots involvement can really help things happen and I’d love to see it replicated -not just in the kitchen, not just in the garden, but truly in every aspect of education.” He also pointed to Island Grown Schools’ program coordinator, Noli Taylor’s, vision as being a crucial component. “Five years ago, she had a vision and today we stand here in front of what we said was one of our long term goals.”
Madden also thanked Taylor and the community. “I have to say this community is tremendous. The idea of building this kitchen for $100,000 just blows me away,” said Madden. “Many people talk about having vision and dreams and just talk about it. You made it a reality for this community and this Island…You’re terrific and you know it.”
The new kitchen not only means a change in the lunches served to the West Tisbury School, it also means that Chilmark School students are served hot meals for the very first time in the school’s history. As Superintendent of Schools James Weiss remarked, “It’s a wonderful day to celebrate.”
And so far, the kids are thrilled. As Stella Napior put it, “The food’s way better!”