by Cara Godlesky
Prior to the boom of the whaling industry, Nantucket was a sheep herding and farming community. The first settlers on the island were small groups of farmers and wool manufacturers who hunted small game and fished, according to the Nantucket Historical Association. Today, our economy migrated far from the initial herding and farming trades but Sustainable Nantucket is cultivating local farmers to bring back agriculture on the island.
Sustainable Nantucket is a nonprofit organization dedicated to raising awareness, educating others about sustainable agricultural practices, and advocating for more local island food production. Their Farm-to-School program helps to integrate agricultural and nutritional education into the curriculum of Nantucket schools. And they aim to expand agricultural demand while increasing access to local foods by connecting consumers to food with local origins with a Saturday market.
This year, Sustainable Nantucket began the third growing season of the Community Farm Institute program, located at Walter F. Ballinger Educational Community Farm. Started in June of 2015, the Community Farm Institute (CFI) is designed to teach sustainable agriculture production and provide plots of land for farmers to grow produce. Through educational workshops and providing the farming equipment, the goal of CFI is to “grow new growers.”
“The farm does three different things,” said Michelle Whelan, Sustainable Nantucket executive director and director of programs. “It’s a working farm that is a model of sustainable agricultural practices, and its also an incubating [teaching] farm…and increases the amount of local food to our community and a place where we directly teach classes.”
Farmers interested in the program must first go through an educational program and a series of workshops to teach the style of farming the used by the CFI. The CFI wants to emphasize to new farmers sustainable, humanscale farming, meaning on a scale that makes it possible for the farming to be done by humans without machines or chemicals. Some farmers will even handpick bugs of each plant to avoid the use of pesticides.
After completing their workshops and classes, farmers must submit a proposal for their plot of land to be approved by the CFI. If the farmers are accepted, they will be provided a plot to farm and access to the tools and facilities on the farm for small fee.
The CFI not only teaches farmers directly affiliated with the program, but all who are interesting in furthering their agricultural knowledge. The workshops and classes are free and open to the public. Just two years old, the program is receiving positive participation.
“It’s great,” said Whelan. “Right now we have four farmers who have gone from one-eighth to a quarter acre, one getting ready to make the leap [to a bigger plot], and one who is leaping.” Learning and contributing to farming and agriculture is especially vital to our island community because all of our food and produce must be shipped in. Food not only travels across the country to get here, but 30 miles across the ocean as well. If something were to happen to crops on the mainland or shipping problems developed, we would be susceptible to food shortages.
Nantucket does not have enough farms to support the produce needs of our population. This is why the community farm and backyard gardeners are so essential to our island. We need a system and the knowledge to provide for ourselves if the mainland is faced with an agricultural issue.
“Last summer, the boat didn’t run for two days and Stop & Shop ran out of food. We don’t realize how vulnerable we are,” said John Kuszpa, Community Farm Institute site manager, educator, and Nantucket Agricultural Commission chair. Kuszpa also operates Lazy Man Gardens at the community farm. “It’s a big illusion that it is perfectly safe and nothing can ever happen. It’s way more vulnerable of a system that we than we think,” he added.
Not only are food shortages a concern here, but we also are creating a higher impact on our environment by having all of our foods shipped in. The farther from the source foods are shipped, the greater the emissions produced and fossil fuels used to bring them to Nantucket. Commune farms provide local goods to restaurants and our community without those side effects.
“We try to keep the cycle of life nutrients small,” said Kuszpa. “We grow here, use [the produce] here, and fertilize them from here, and are taking out the transportation. We use a lot less petroleum.”
In addition to holding educational workshop and classes, Sustainable Nantucket has a farmers and artisans market during the summer and early fall months. The farmers and artisans market started as a platform for local entrepreneurs and growers of all kinds to showcase their goods while enhancing the overall experience of our community.
“It puts locals and visitors in touch with the community, people who are making things, the people who live here year round, the farmers who are growing our food,” said Sarah Morneau, owner of s•mac designs. Morneau has been a vendor at the market since its first year in 2007.
“I think that it’s really important for people who live here year-round to see as well as the people who are coming to Nantucket because it gives them a little of view of how we work and how we support ourselves on the island,” said Moreau
The Sustainable Nantucket Farmers and Artisans Market, which had more than 45,000 visitors last year, includes vendors who are seasonal or yearround residents of Nantucket. The market features a wide range of Nantucket vendors and products, from hand loomed clothing and ceramics to baked goods and fresh produce.
“I think working with Sustainable Nantucket has really helped me develop my business because they have been really good about getting word out that the market is happening, getting us [vendors] visibility being in town,” commented Morneau.
kHeld every Saturday until October 14, the Farmers and Artisans Market opens at 9 am and continues to 1 pm in the center of town on Cambridge and North Union streets. The market also has a second location at Walter F. Ballinger Educational Community Farm, 168 Hummock Pond Road, that is open on Wednesdays July 5 to August 30, from 3:30 to 6:30 pm.
Sustainable Nantucket offers a taste of what they do in their Farm Fresh Feast, a benefit dinner held in the middle of Walter F. Ballinger Educational Community Farm under the summer stars. This annual gourmet dinner party made with locally sourced ingredients will be held this year on Wednesday, July 26. Event tickets are available at sustainablenantucket.org or by calling 508-228-3399.