Saturday, Aug. 28, 2010
tomatoes from the market photographed on Main Street
The market is operated by Sustainable Nantucket, an organization that has a mission that extends well beyond locally produced food and aims to encourage visitors and residents to buy many goods and services from local providers.
“Our objective is to make Nantucket Island a model of sustainability and self-sufficiency through support for the local economy, local agriculture, and initiatives that enhance our energy independence,” the organization’s web site declares. Towards that end, in addition to operating the weekly market, the organization co-sponsors a “think local first” education campaign with the Nantucket Chamber of Commerce. “Buying and hiring locally strengthens our economy and helps us maintain the unique character of our Nantucket community,” the group’s web site explains.
– Mark Thompson
What I Bought
Price: $5/lb. for heirloom tomatoes
I bought these tomatoes, and some of the peppers and eggplants, pictured below, from Dane DeCarlo of Perennial Gardens, one of about half a dozen vegetable growers on this flat, 300-square-mile island 30 miles out in the Atlantic Ocean south of Cape Cod. DeCarlo, who is originally from the New York City metropolitan area, has had a landscaping business and has grown ornamental plants on the island for 15 years. About six years ago, he decided to begin growing vegetables, mostly in raised beds on about half an acre of his property and in a couple of greenhouses. That happened to dovetail nicely with the seasonal ebb and flow of the population of Nantucket, which swells from 10,000 year-rounders to about 50,000 with the influx of summer residents and visitors.
“After July 4, most everybody has gotten their gardens going out here. That’s also when the restaurants start going full bore with people out here for the summer, and when the vegetables start coming in. That is really what pointed me in the direction of growing produce like a regular farm,” DeCarlo says.
To harvest tomatoes from plants grown in the field on Nantucket , “you are probably going to be waiting until at least mid-July in a good year. But unless there is a frost, you can easily go into October. We usually have a pretty big shoulder season here with the warm water temperatures. We have long Indian summers out here,” he says. Aiming for an earlier harvest, he says, “I am now learning how to start them early in greenhouses, and I’m even growing some inside hoop houses. Especially with some early varieties and cherries, you could be looking at harvesting them at the end of June.”
DeCarlo has sold produce at the Nantucket Farmers & Artisans Market since it was launched four years ago, and he also runs a small Community Supported Agriculture program with, at most, 30 subscribers. He has more recently begun to develop a new clientele among local restaurants, thanks in part to the efforts of Sustainable Nantucket, the organization that runs the farmers market.
“Just in the past few years, they have really gotten on board with trying to introduce the public and restaurants to local produce,” DeCarlo says. “They are all about supporting local businesses, but they seem to have focused on growing food. That has been a tremendous help. It has given a lot of people the idea, and a lot of restaurants out here are now very interested and into it. I have even started to see the names of local farms on restaurant menus.”
Encouraged by the increasing local demand for his produce, DeCarlo is now seeking to extend the season for his vegetable growing business. “Currently, I am planting again for a fall harvest, and I’m doing a little more experimenting growing inside this year with a hothouse and possibly even some four-season growing. I have read Eliot Coleman’s books and what he does up in Maine . It is pretty impressive. He grows right in the ground inside greenhouses and uses poly tunnels to further keep them warm. It is very interesting.”
As for what he intends to grow, DeCarlo says, “Certainly your greens favor the cooler weather, so you can get fall crops of arugula and radicchio and obviously lettuce mixes. You stay away from the summer heat-tolerant romaines and you go back to the delicate micro mixes. But you can also grow beets, carrots, chard, kale. Lots of good stuff.
“I am interested in supplying restaurants with the freshest herbs and produce. Even though the tourist season is not year round, there are a few restaurants that are, and I just feel like in the end, the more I grow into these shoulder seasons, the more I will be able to provide them in the spring and even for the fall holidays. The Christmas stroll is huge out here. Restaurants all open back up. I am sure they are not used to getting fresh produce that time of year, so we will see how it works.”
An array of peppers
broccoli (left) and string beans
Price: $2/lb. for broccoli
$2.50/lb. for beans