Nantucket’s Community Garden -July 2007

Communal farming near Cisco Beach

by: Lucy Apthorp Leske

TGardening began as a communal activity. People worked together to raise the food their social group needed. In today’s fast-paced society that celebrates individualism, communal gardening is rare. One of the few exceptions exists here on Nantucket and goes way back.

While Nantucket history is synonymous with the rise and fall of whaling, it is agriculture that the first settlers brought with them and agriculture that sustained Nantucket’s inhabitants through the wax and wane of the various fisheries. Acidic poor soils swept by brutal wind were still enough for early inhabitants to squeeze out a meager living, and they did it by sharing.

The town of Sherburne and later Nantucket were originally laid out with land in common for the purpose of raising sheep and farming. Farming was very much a communal activity here. In a protected pocket near Cisco Beach, it remains so today.

Like the rest of the country, Nantucket has sacrificed most of its farmland to development over the years. Much of the rest was reclaimed by nature when neither home-building nor farming was in the cards. Large farms in faraway places produce and ship food more cheaply than we can hope to achieve, and fewer families choose farming as a way of life anymore. Farmland from Ohio to Mississippi is disappearing, vegetable gardens, too. Cities and suburbs sprout instead of lettuce. House lots shrink. People move into condos. Parking lots sit where vegetables once grew.

Lucy Apthorp Leske is an associate editor of Nantucket Today. She writes a weekly column, “Gardening by the Sea,” for The Inquirer and Mirror, Nantucket’s newspaper since 1821.

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