July 24, 2013

Farm Project: Summer 2013

We are the Farm Project: a group of young people striving to fill the food security gap on Martha's Vineyard. We serve the people by distributing fresh, local produce; we inform the public about their nutritional rights; and we empower the community through the practice of gleaning and sustainable farming. This is a recent blog post from Jacob Janak, crew member of this year's Farm Project.

The Farm Project is a hands-on experience, up close and personal with plants. We learn about beans, squash, and corn (the three sister plants) and many other vegetables. There is a learning aspect to the program, and it is evident when we visit different local farms on the island. We explore the ideas of sustainability on an island, and ways to maximize outputs and minimize inputs. Saving resources can help to make our island a green island with a sustainable food cycle, where what we consume is what we produce.

We have discussed and learned many different ways to achieve this goal. Turning waste water into compost and clean water for a farmer’s crop and distributing the harvests to local grocery stores. It’s a greener way of life for our planet and our economy. It creates less waste by reducing transportation, and if many farms on the island continue to remain GMO-free, it will be a healthier alternative to most imported fruits and vegetables. Many people’s diets rely too heavily on meat. Meat has essential proteins and carbohydrates, but we can afford to eat more vegetables. Greens are extremely healthy, especially local greens. One of the things on our agenda has been learning about a healthy diet. We’ve also learned about a healthy diet for the plants we grow and the right mix of minerals for the specific type of plant we’re growing to naturally get a healthier plant.

Thimble Farm on the island features an Aquaponics system. Aquaponics is the use of nutrient enriched fish culture water, in the propagation of leafy vegetable and aquatic plants. So, fish fertilize the water with their natural compost and then that same water is used to feed plants. The fish and plants can then be sold as food. Aquaponics is an almost waste-free way to grow plants, where 1 acre of Aquaponics greenhouse is equal to 10 acres of farmland in terms of production. As an island we are limited in space, and we need to maximize what we have.

Allen Farm is another farm we worked on. It is mainly a sheep farm, but for us the main attraction was the compost tea bubbler. They take quality compost, and they steep it like you would with tea. This adds oxygen and heat, jumpstarting bacterial life in the soil and thus enriching it. You then have 4 to 6 hours to pour it on your crops, and just a little bit on each plant can greatly improve the quality of the soil and plant life. Allen farm sells the compost tea, uses it on their own crops, and interestingly enough they use the tea along with chicken tractors to fertilize their grass for the sheep to eat, making healthier sheep. Chicken tractors are cages with chickens in them that are pulled along the field by a tractor. The chickens can feed on the grass and then drop chicken poop, which is extremely rich in minerals. Not only have we worked on farms, but we’ve worked on many school gardens, as well as the high school. School gardens help expose kids, especially smaller children, to vegetables they may have otherwise never seen growing on a plant. They get educated on what they’re actually eating when they eat a vegetable, and the difference between local and imported greens. Kids are attracted to colorful foods with toys inside, but the goal of Island Grown Schools is to expose them to healthier and tastier things that they can ask their parents to buy, or even grow it themselves.

Gleaning is the harvesting of extra, unused vegetables that the farmers didn’t have time to harvest. We then take these vegetables to local retirement homes or the jail. It’s non-profit work that benefits those who normally might not have access to fresh, local greens. It also saves food that would otherwise just be wasted. Every Tuesday we glean on island farms.

A collaborative project of the Farm Institute and the IGS program at the high school, the Farm Project is a crew of teenagers committed to addressing issues of food justice on Martha's Vineyard. These teens engage in a variety of projects across the island: they glean surplus produce from local farms and distribute to those in need; they help maintain the school gardens through the summer; they offer workshops on how to use local crops; and they assist farmers with projects, all while educating each other about the importance of a sustainable food system.