The Questions: Amy Zielinski -Spring 2018
Amy Zielinski took over as executive director of Sustainable Nantucket this winter after a number of years as the event scheduler at Bartlett’s Ocean View Farm and then a brief stint at the Nantucket Land Council working in development. She believes she’s found her niche in her new position.
How did you end up on Nantucket?
Tell us your story.
I was working for WGBH in Boston and not loving my life. My father had recently passed away at the age of 61 and I realized that life was too short to not be truly happy. My friend suggested a vacation to Nantucket, where I had never been but we had a mutual friend we could stay with.
Shortly after my arrival I left my friend’s house on Main Street for a bike ride to Madaket. I was taken aback by the beauty of the open land on that seven-mile ride and, even though it was foggy at Madaket Beach, I was smitten. We hit the town that night and I was introduced to so many kind, generous people. I still to this day say that it is the people that make Nantucket so special.
After 10 years in television, food was becoming my passion and I really wanted to learn more about farming. I had helped to create a farmers’ market and a community garden and I spent time farming in Costa Rica, but I really wanted to learn more about running a small family farm. I had read an article about Moors End Farm and I reached out to them to see about any possible job opportunities. Luckily, Sue Slosek responded to my unsolicited e-mail. I returned a few weeks later for an interview and they offered me a position on the farm the following spring. The job at Moors End brought me to Nantucket in 2010 and I just never left.
Why did you take a job with Sustainable Nantucket? What’s been the biggest surprise since you started?
I live what I believe to be a sustainable life. I eat locally and seasonally as much as possible. I like to shop local. I reduce and reuse before recycling. I choose biking and walking over driving whenever I can. I love food. When the opportunity presented itself, it was a difficult decision, but it was an opportunity that I ultimately could not pass up. I am passionate about food and farming and I want to see the number of farmers and local food producers continue to grow. I wanted to be able to encourage others to live a sustainable life that would benefit them and the island as a whole.
One of the programs of Sustainable Nantucket that I was not as familiar with when I took the job was our Farm to School program. The more I learn about it, the more amazed I am. Our Farm to School coordinator Calin Duke has a master’s in education and her love for teaching is apparent in every lesson she leads. She spends time every week working with students, and when they say things like, “We eat a rainbow of fruits and vegetables to help our skin and eyes,” I know that what we are doing is making a difference.
What is the idea behind the Farm to School program and what is its mission?
The Sustainable Nantucket Farm to School program was created to educate Nantucket's children about nutrition and healthy-eating habits, where their food comes from and how to grow it. We are also working to get more local produce into the school-lunch program. Our Farm to School coordinator creates hands-on lessons involving farming and gardening skills that correlate with the topics they are studying in school. We also offer after-school, spring-break and summer programs in our beautiful Joyce N. Furman Youth Garden, located next to Nantucket Elementary School. October is Farm to School Month when we plan a variety of other activities like a tasting in the Cyrus Peirce Middle School. We partner with Nantucket chefs and farmers to introduce students to locally-grown food. It’s an event that everyone loves.
What is the criteria behind the Nantucket Grown restaurant certification? What are the benefits for the restaurants?
The Nantucket Grown brand was created to encourage more restaurants to source from local producers. Not just farmers but beekeepers, local fishermen and small-business owners that are making cheese, jam, bread, teas, spices and chocolates. We communicate throughout the season with Nantucket’s farmers and small producers and work to connect them with island chefs. Plus, as a consumer, you can look for the Nantucket Grown sticker at restaurants to know that your meal is also supporting our local farmers, fishermen and small-business owners. We have numerous ways that we support our Nantucket Grown restaurants. They are listed on our website, in our bi-weekly enewsletters, in our Sustainable Nantucket magazine and in a brochure that we produce each year.
What are the benefits of eating locally on Nantucket?
There are many benefits of eating locally, the most important I believe is the environmental impact, or lack thereof. You are reducing your carbon footprint by purchasing food that did not have to be trucked or flown to the Cape, then put on the ferry. Plus, by shopping at the Farmers & Artisans Market or at one of our many farms you can meet the people who are growing your food. You can ask questions. If you care about your health, eating locally and seasonally is one of the best things you can do, in my opinion. Most likely you are purchasing food that was harvested that day or the previous day. Plus, you are able to purchase varieties that might not be well-suited to long-distance travel, like delicious but fragile heirloom tomatoes. Often, food is harvested before it is ripe so that it can be more easily shipped to its final destination. In order to get all the nutrients out of your food you want it to stay on the vine as long as possible and you want to eat it when it is at its freshest. You can do that when you eat locally. In addition, you are supporting our local economy. When you purchase from a local farmer you are helping to ensure that your dollars stay on Nantucket. You are supporting an unpredictable industry with small profit margins. There are no guarantees in farming, which makes it a risky endeavor, but when farmers succeed the benefits are healthy and delicious.
How do the logistics of being an island with a relatively-short growing season help or hinder your mission?
One of my goals is to help fill a demand for local produce throughout the winter by encouraging Nantucket farmers to plant crops that can be harvested throughout the winter, to put up more storage crops and to can, freeze or otherwise preserve the season's bounty. We have no shortage of local produce here in the summer and fall but winter into spring is where we have a need. How great would it be to be able to buy local throughout the winter or, better yet, have a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program filled with vegetables, eggs and honey? These days I find myself going off-island to the Boston Public Market or the Pawtucket, R.I. Winter Farmers’ Market so that I can purchase directly from farmers, but I would much rather be supporting Nantucket farmers. If I could gather a group of individuals or families willing to invest in a winter CSA I would hope to have some farmers be up to the challenge.
What Sustainable Nantucket events are you most looking forward to this year?
That would have to be our Farm Fresh Feast on Wednesday, July 25 at the Walter F. Ballinger Educational Community Farm. It will be a delicious and magical evening of food, music and dancing under the stars surrounded by the bucolic beauty of our farm. All the food will be grown by Nantucket farmers and prepared by chef Greg Margolis of the Nantucket Culinary Center. We’ll start with hors d'oeuvres and cocktails while exploring the farm, then move to a seated dinner and live auction. Finally, the night will end with live music, dancing and dessert. A perfect summer evening. I cannot wait.
What types of produce are best suited for growing on Nantucket?
That is great question and to answer it I had to reach out to Sustainable Nantucket board member and farmer Andrew Spollett. He said that most vegetables are well-suited to our sandyloam soil and, because it has less clay, it warms up sooner for early-spring planting. Not surprisingly, blueberries and cranberries thrive here. I know we have a lot of wild blueberries but I would love to see more farmers cultivating them, as they are one of my favorite fruits.
Most people think of farming on land when they think Sustainable Nantucket, but how do you incorporate the resources from the ocean into your mission?
We are proud to support, and offer our Nantucket Grown brand, to Nantucket's aquaculture farmers growing oysters in the harbor. These farmers are especially important because they are growing one of the most sustainable forms of protein available. Oysters (and other bivalves) have a very low impact on the environment because they don’t require any additional inputs (like feed or fertilizer) and an adult oyster can filter up to 50 gallons of water per day. Oysters are delicious and good for the environment.
What is happening at Sustainable Nantucket in the winter, when it’s not growing season?
Our Farm to School coordinator, Calin Duke, visits the schools every week, leading lessons on topics like eating the rainbow, what is a protein (she even wrote a song about it), compost and more. She is also ordering seeds to be planted in our Farm to School garden and working with the schools' food-service provider to try to get more local products in school lunches. Our Farmers & Artisans Market coordinator, Yeshe Palmo, is reviewing applications for this season's market, interviewing potential new vendors and discussing new products with current vendors. We have strict rules to keep the market as focused on Nantucket as possible. We want to make sure that when you visit the market you are able to meet the person who created the product and that as much of that product as possible was created on Nantucket. I have been working on projects at our Walter F. Ballinger Community Farm. We are in the process of making improvements to our greenhouse that will help to extend the growing season for our farmers and reduce our energy costs. Look for more events and opportunities to visit the farm this upcoming season.
What is your favorite meal to cook using local ingredients?
A simple, delicious meal for any time of day is the Mediterranean dish shakshuka. It starts with a tomato sauce made with onions, roasted red peppers, cumin and sweet paprika. Then I crack a few Boatyard Farm eggs into the sauce to cook, top it with Salty Sea feta from Narragansett Creamery, some of my homemade hot sauce and serve with fresh-baked crusty bread. Adding in some greens works, too. This is a dish you can eat all year long if you plan for it. I make sure to visit Bartlett’s Farm on pick-yourown-tomato days. I always pick as much as I can carry, then I spend the next day or two canning them. It is so great to have a supply of beautiful Nantucket Grown tomatoes all winter long.
When you’re not working how do you like to relax?
My kitchen is my happy place: cooking, fermenting things and eating. I love to read (mostly about food), practice yoga, dance, ride my bike, travel and be in the ocean.