July 25, 2011 2:00 AM
In what might be some gardeners’ dream come true, Drew Clark stands inside the two-tired vegetable garden he started this year on Star Island, overlooking the ocean. Deborah McDermott photo

Jack Farrell and Drew Clark have a deep appreciation, even reverence, for Star Island.

Farrell, a longtime sustainable building contractor, took on the job as facilities manager a year ago for this small island off the coast of New Hampshire that is home to a conference center and retreat. Clark is a 23-year-old “Pelican” — the longstanding and endearing moniker used to describe the college-aged men and women who work on Star each summer.

Farrell and Clark have stories to tell — stories unique to an island that must provide or import everything that is needed to run a hotel and guest quarters that in mid-summer can house 300 people.

If only people on the mainland would consider that they, too, live on an island, we would look at our use of resources very differently, Farrell said.

“An island has all the resource issues the regular world has,” Farrell said. “But in the regular world, you don’t see it. It’s not in your face. On an island, you know immediately what those issues are.”

And it all comes down to power — where it comes from, how it’s distributed, how much is used, when it’s used, how it’s stored, what it’s used for.

It is, perhaps, not surprising that the island’s electricity comes from three diesel-powered generators. The diesel is stored in three 5,000-gallon tanks, which are filled periodically from a barge that comes down from Portland. The diesel is pumped uphill from the dock to the tanks “very carefully,” Farrell said.

These generators power everything, from dishwashers to the island’s own secondary sewer treatment plant, to light fixtures, he said. To minimize power use, Star has implemented a series of energy saving measures over the years: fluorescent lights, most rooms devoid of extra electrical outlets, no television, highly efficient washing machines and dishwashers, limited showers.

Still, Farrell said, Star Island Corporation spends $100,000 on energy every season it’s open.

The biggest energy hog by far is the island’s reverse osmosis machine, he said. While it converts ocean water to drinking water, as much as 5,000 to 6,000 gallons a day, it eats electricity, he said. It is, however, a necessary part of island life. And so, he’s left with the puzzle: how can the island become more sustainable while meeting the needs of a fully functioning conference center?

The answer, he’s hoping, is solar power.

“We spend $100,000 on power. We’re spending enough so that we can do something special here,” he said. The Star Island Corporation board has made a commitment to more sustainable power, and that’s the reason Farrell said he took the job. He’s working with a company to design a solar power grid that would take care of much of the island’s power needs.

“I don’t want to leave here until I make a change,” he said. “If any place should be sustainable, it should be this pristine environment where people come to be spiritually renewed.”

It is difficult not to be spiritually renewed standing in the tiered vegetable garden created by Drew Clark and Maggie Cerveny on a cliff overlooking White Island Light. This garden is literally a labor of love — the stones in the wall surrounding it taken from the cleared ground by many of the “Pels” (short for Pelicans) who work on the island. Compost came from on-island and donated sources, including Earthtenders in Farmington, N.H.

Clark is passionate about sustainability, well read in the likes of Bill McKibben, Michael Pollan and others. “I feel like I don’t really understand the way people live,” he said. “They take without giving back. I’ve never understood why.”

This is the first summer garden, and it’s an experiment to see what will grow in the harsh environment of wind and salt air. Included are corn, tomatoes, zucchini, cucumbers, blueberries and peas.

Produce will go to feed the Pelicans, reducing the amount of produce that will have to come from the mainland. Clark is presenting a proposal to the corporation board this fall for a Pelican gardener, and he thinks they will approve it.

As I’ve said many times before, I am so hopeful about Clark’s generation, and he is no exception. It was renewing to talk with him.

Star Island has many cool programs open to everyone. Among those of a sustainable bent this summer: sustainability through food, water as a resource, cooking up slow food and others. Visit

This coming Sunday, I’ll be writing about my trip to Appledore and a wonderful internship program there.