The concept is this

Is anyone up for a lasagna today? I'm thinking a summer-in-the-winter, put-up pesto and tomato sauce and homemade bechamel type of gig. Takers? Yes? Ok.

There's only one hitch. I made this about a month ago, and although I can still remember the fabulous August brightness of the tomatoes and the way the pesto made me feel like maybe, just maybe it might be time for a pond swim that afternoon, I did not exactly write down the recipe. Not that I had a recipe to begin with, which is why I think this might be okay. The thing about lasagna is, you really don't need a recipe. You need to understand the concept, and the concept is this:

Find a box of noodles, the thick, flat kind with crinkly edges made for lasagna (or make some yourself). Get out a 9" by 13" casserole dish, and butter it up. Go down to your freezer, or open your pantry, and pull out a pint of that fantastic tomato sauce you made back when you couldn't even imagine the meaning of the words Wintery Mix. While you're at it, grab a half cup or so of the pesto you made with your neighbor's extra basil. Now root around in the fridge and hope for some milk, and butter, and mozzarella, and grab a few spoonfuls of flour and make a bechamel sauce. (Preferably this one, but if you have your own favorite, you just need a similar amount.)

At this point you could also get out some frozen spinach or pick some fresh from the greenhouse, and cook it down with a little bit of olive oil and garlic. Or maybe you have a freezer full of sundried tomatoes. Or, you could be into sauteed mushrooms. Whatever you're feeling here, go with it.

Finally, heat up a pot of water, add a pinch of salt, and boil those noodles. Now comes the hard part: drain the noodles, put them back in the pot, and drizzle some olive oil over them. The noodles will be hot, painfully hot, but if you're like me, you won't have any dishgloves so you'll go ahead and burn your hands, because you need to work quickly before they all stick together in a glob.

Spread a tiny blob of bechamel across the bottom of the casserole dish. Put a layer of noodles on top. Then a layer of tomato sauce, then more noodles, then maybe a few dollops of pesto and whatever vegetables you've got. Then another layer of noodles, and a smooth one of bechamel, and so on and so on. Until you've got a big, layered sandwich of tomatoes and noodles and pesto and vegetables and creamy, delightful sauce. Then, when you get to the top, layer on some slices of mozzarella and maybe even a bit of grated Parmesan.

And there you go. You've got yourself an oven-ready Winter-Into-Summer Lasagna. Happy Monday, everyone, and happy almost-March. Only 22 days until spring!


The Local Food Report: school lunch finances

Hi! Today's Local Food Report is the final piece in my three-part series on Island Grown Schools. We've talked about warm, locally baked snacks, and farming and gardening in the curriculum, and that was nice. But today, we need to talk about something a little more serious: the finances of getting local food into school lunch.

The way Noli Taylor, the coordinator for Island Grown Schools, explains it, school lunch works like this:

Most schools, across the country, have contracts to get their meals from corporate food service providers. These providers are big, often multi-national companies that provide meals to schools, hospitals, and prisons. They buy huge amounts of food from big, industrial farms at very low prices, making lunch inexpensive for the schools and profitable for the companies. Some schools have exclusive contracts, meaning they can only buy their food from the companies, and others have looser arrangements. Either way, school food budgets are based on these sorts of deals, which means there's very little money available for lunch.

Clearly, this is a national issue that needs attention. And as you probably know, it's getting it—through programs like Alice Waters' Edible Schoolyard and First Lady Michelle Obama's Let's Move campaign. But in the meantime, people like Taylor and organizations like Island Grown Initiative (or IGI, the Martha's Vineyard non-profit that works to increase supply and demand for locally grown food on the island and is behind Island Grown Schools) are working to get healthy, local food into school lunches whether there's funding or not.

Usually, there's not. But that hasn't stopped Taylor. She's set up meetings on the Vineyard between local farmers and food service directors so that they can talk about price and try to find places where island produce is affordable. It sounds far-fetched, but it turned out veggies like greens are actually cheaper on-island. And in the fall, when the tourists left and schools opened up, farmers were awash in extra produce and were willing to drop their prices for the school.

The most successful program, though, has been the Martha's Vineyard Gleaners. The term gleaning comes out of the industrial revolution, when farmers opened their fields after the harvest to the poor to come and glean whatever produce was left unharvested. Each fall now on the island, farms open their fields to community volunteers and students to collect food that wouldn't otherwise be harvested. Last fall, the gleaners collected over 6,000 pounds of local produce for school cafeterias on the island. Not only was this a lot of produce, but since it was free, there was more money in the budget to spend on other local food that might otherwise have been too expensive.

That's just on the Vineyard. Other schools in our area are making efforts to get local food into their cafeterias, too. Wellfleet Elementary School, for example, just put in a hoophouse last year and started an edible gardening curriculum this fall. And once a month, they open the cafeteria to me and my husband, where we cook up a local fish lunch with product donated from his company, Mac's Seafood. Truro Elementary is working with local farmer Dave Dewitt to put in an experimental bio-char garden, and the food service director there also buys from Dewitt. Gardens are popping up at other schools all over the Cape—Nauset High School is one example—and the school district in Westport buys produce from farms like Noquochoke Orchards in Westport and Quansett Gardens and Tavares Hillside Farms in Dartmouth.

Still, few places have as coordinated a program as what Island Grown Schools has going on the Vineyard. But Taylor's hoping that will change. There are ways to get local food into schools, she says, to get kids interested in growing and eating their own food, to get them to care about supporting their local farms. It's do-able, and she wants to help.

So if you're interested in starting a program like Island Grown Schools or just getting local foods on the radar in your school district, get in touch. Noli Taylor says she'd love to talk, and she can be reached at noli@islandgrown.org, or you can find out more on the IGI website.


Our favorite two

You are not going to believe me, but here goes:

We are still pulling carrots I planted on June 24th, almost seven months ago. I know! I wouldn't believe it myself, except that I wrote down the date in my gardening notebook, and that notebook does not lie. I wrote out the varieties—Purple Haze and Danvers and Atomic Red—and drew a little diagram to show which kind I'd planted in each row.

Then I completely ignored them—forgot to thin them, even—until October, when Alex and I pulled the plastic greenhouse cover over the garden and shut the door. Apparently, they liked this treatment just fine, because when I went foraging after Christmas to see what I might find for a chilly afternoon lunch, I found them stout and sturdy, still a head full of green on top and bright oranges, reds, and purples popping up from down below.

A few of them were carried off by lucky rodents—a mouse maybe, or more likely a vole—but for the most part, we've been getting a full harvest from every row. Some are small, little more than pinky-sized, but others are as round as silver dollars, as long and straight as home-dipped candles.

Mostly, we've been eating them fresh—washed and trimmed and dipped into a bowl of homemade blue cheese dressing or bean dip. But at my mother's suggestion we've also been cooking them down into smooth, velvety soups.

Here are our favorite two—perfect for February and March, for seeing us through.


This recipe is adapted from The Black Dog Cookbook: Summer on the Vineyard by Joe Hall. I like it because it is quick, easy, delicious, and beautiful. The recipe calls for a lot of ginger—don't add any extra (the soup will get bitter), but don't skimp, either. The ginger adds a lovely bright taste.

1/4 cup olive oil
1 cup diced onion
1/4 cup fresh ginger, peeled and grated
4 cups chopped carrots
4 cups vegetable or chicken stock
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons ground coriander
sliced scallions or chives, for garnish

Warm up the oil over medium heat in a large, heavy-bottomed pot. Add the onion and ginger and sauté for 5 minutes, or until the onion starts to get tender.

Add all the remaining ingredients except for the scallions and bring to a boil. Turn the heat down to a simmer and continue cooking, uncovered, for about 15 minutes, or until the carrots are soft.

Puree the soup and serve hot with a sprinkle of scallions on top.


This recipe is adapted from one my mother found in a Moroccan cookbook from Williams Sonoma. The original name was Chorba b'khisou bil kseksou, or Carrot Soup with Spices. It has a stunning orange color and a lovely texture.

2 tablespoons butter
1 yellow onion, peeled and grated
1 heaping pound carrots, washed, peeled, and grated
2 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground paprika
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper
5 cups chicken stock
1/4 cup dry couscous
2 teaspoons lemon juice
parsley, for garnish

Warm up the butter over medium heat in a large, heavy-bottomed pot. Add the onions and sauté for 5 minutes, then add the grated carrots, garlic, turmeric, ginger, cinnamon, paprika, cumin, and cayenne pepper. Cook for a few seconds, then add the chicken stock.

Bring to a boil, cover, and reduce the heat to low. Simmer for 15 minutes.

Add the couscous, stir until boiling, then cover and turn the heat down to low. Simmer gently for another 20 minutes.

Add the lemon juice and serve hot, topped with a little chopped parsley.


To Jamaica

Hi friends. I just wanted to stop by to let you know that I won't be around here for a few weeks. On Sunday, Alex and I will be getting on a plane and heading down to Jamaica with his brother's family and a few friends. According to my friend Kristen who's already down there, it is 80 degrees and sunny, and soon our biggest worry will be whether to put on SPF 30 or 45. I can't wait!

While I'm gone, there won't be any new Local Food Reports—WCAI is doing a Valentine's Day fundraiser next week and the week after that will be a repeat. I'm not sure what our access to internet will be like, so I probably won't be posting around here either. But just know that I'll be thinking about you, and toasting you with some Ting, and I'll see you when we get back on Monday the 21st.

Oh, and happy Valentine's Day! The flowers are for you.


The Local Food Report: in the classroom

So, do you remember Tristan from last week? Today we're going to talk about his school again. This week, I want to tell you about all the things Island Grown Initiative (IGI) and its program Island Grown Schools are doing to get farming and local food into the curriculum.

Let's start with the garden:

That up there is a classmate of Tristan's, working on pulling weeds and mulch away from the beds. The day I visited, the kids were discovering the results of a winter-long experiment, which involved trying different kinds of mulches on their raised beds and doing soil tests and hunting for worms to see which one worked best.

A lot of schools have gardens, but what's amazing is that thanks to Island Grown Schools, every public school on the Vineyard has a garden. That makes seven gardens in all, plus three pre-school gardens and one inter-generational garden with teens and low-income seniors at Island Elderly Housing. I think that's pretty cool.

Not only that, but the people over at IGI have worked with over 100 teachers in every grade level and in every school on the island to develop food and farm based lessons that work in all sorts of curricula. For instance the third graders at Chilmark, when they study colonial life, also study colonial herb gardens. If you think about it, food and gardening and farming can really connect to anything—whether it's vocab during seventh grade Spanish or first graders learning about area and perimeters.

When I was there, the kids in Tristan's K-1 class were doing a whole unit on farming. They told me facts about pigs—like how six to twelve are born in a litter, and that they come out with shaggy black hair like their parents, and that it takes eight months before they grow up enough to have their own babies. And cows. Did you know that Holsteins produce the most milk?

Anyway. The thing about the Vineyard effort is that it's coherent. A lot of places are trying to get programs going—trying to get local food into cafeterias and gardens into schoolyards and farming into the curriculum—but very few are doing it in such a comprehensive way. IGI didn't just work with the schools to get a local baker offering warm, healthy snacks, or just put in a garden here and a garden there, or help coordinate a few lessons based on farming facts. Because it's working on an island—a place with limits, a specific, bordered place—it's been able to do much more than that. It's been able to make sure, in a careful, step-by-step way, that it's reaching everyone.

That's harder to do on the mainland, for sure. But I think with the Vineyard as a model, it's possible. School districts, after all, have their own borders and perimeters. If you're interested, there's more inspiration over here. Thoughts?


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All text, photographs, and other original material copyright 2008-2010 by Elspeth Hay unless otherwise noted.