Farm To Table -June 2011

by: Joshua H. Balling

There’s a cornucopia of other vegetables, fruits and agricultural products grown on the island too, and Sustainable Nantucket wants to make sure you know about them all. That’s where its Nantucket Grown campaign comes in.

The Nantucket Farmers & Artisans Market runs downtown from June to October.

The idea behind Nantucket Grown is to promote the food grown, processed and distributed on the island, said Michelle Whelan, executive director of the nonprofit organization dedicated to “building a more locally-based and self-reliant food system on-island, and a strong local economy.”

“Nantucket Grown highlights for people and makes the distinction about what is grown here. Ideally it will be on stickers on vegetables in the supermarket so it stands right out. Basically, it’s like a Sustainability Seal of Approval,” she said.

“The ultimate goal is to increase agricultural production and demand on the island, to make us more self-sufficient in terms of producing and eating locally, and putting it back into compost, using our own resources to feed ourselves and our land, strengthening the local economy – which is the through-line in all we do – and reducing our carbon footprint,” Whelan said.

This summer, Sustainable Nantucket is working with the growers in its downtown Farmers & Artisans Market to use the Nantucket Grown label on their produce, with the hopes of in the next year establishing a set of criteria that will allow restaurants to identify menu items with the same seal.

“This summer, we want all the growers and providers in the market to use the stickers, to generate visibility for the program. We’re also thinking of creating T-shirts and stickers for an awareness campaign like Think Local First,” Whelan said, referring to the recent “shop local” initiative launched by Sustainable and the Chamber of Commerce.

“The second phase is setting up criteria for restaurants that are sourcing locally-grown produce as to what is an acceptable level for them to be able to call themselves ‘Nantucket Grown’ or ‘Nantucket Made.’ The menu should still say Bartlett Farm tomatoes, or Moors End Farm corn, or Nantucket Mushrooms, but it lets diners know they source as much as they can locally given the island’s limitations. ”

The campaign is part of a much larger initiative that grew out of Sustainable’s recent shift in focus to concentrate almost solely on agriculture and sustainable farming.

“We as a community have a need in terms of becoming more self-reliant, and having a more locally-based food system. The organization had gotten a lot of feedback and input from the community and the people we were working with at the Farmers Market to that effect, and we started to spend more and more time on those programs, so the board finally made the decision that that’s all we should be doing, at least for the foreseeable future. It’s such a big chunk of sustainability,” Whelan said.

Sustainable Nantucket is pursuing a number of programs in that vein, including:

1. The Farmers & Artisans Market, Saturdays downtown at the intersection of North Union and Cambridge streets from June 11-Oct. 15, featuring Nantucket growers, artisans and prepared-food vendors. The market will expand this year to a mid-island location (two sites were under consideration when Nantucket Today went to press) Tuesdays from 3:30-6:30 p.m. for eight weeks at the height of the harvest season from mid- July through August to focus solely on foodstuffs.

2. The Farm to School program, which connects island farms and the public-school system with the objective of serving healthy, locally-sourced meals in school cafeterias, and building a school garden for education and supplementing the school food supply. A garden manager oversees the plot while school is out for the summer, while volunteers and members of Sustainable’s Youth Council work in the garden, and with the schools’ food-services department canning and freezing the harvest and making large batches of soup for when school is back in session. All produce will go to the schools, the Farmers & Artisans Market, or the Saltmarsh Senior Center, Whelan said.

“As we get into the harvest season, Farm to School is also about more than the garden. It’s about connecting to farms, who call us when they have a surplus, and we call out our ‘Sustainable Gleaners,’ who go to the farms, pick the surplus, bring it back, clean it, wash it, prep it and get it back into the school system. We’re also working with the Community School to have its camp kids working in the garden,” Whelan said.

“The ultimate goal is that students learn about stewardship of the earth, that there is no ‘away.’ You don’t just throw things away. They go back into the water, into the soil. It’s about the whole cycle.” she said.

3. The Community Agriculture Program is a series of classes about gardening, composting, beekeeping and other sustainable agricultural practices, with the goal of eventually establishing a community farm institute, Whelan said, where Sustainable will look for land to lease where growers can teach young people how to farm. The organization has already placed seven interns at island farms, and is in early-stage conversations with property owners interested in “seeing their land being cultivated and put to good use,” Whelan said. “We have to get creative. There’s a national conversation going on now along similar lines. The whole point is education and cultivation.” 

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