College of the Atlantic students show enthusiasm on their way over to Samsø Island on the ferry.College of the Atlantic students show enthusiasm on their way over to Samsø Island on the ferry.

 Each day I am aware of personal and collective growth, the sense of infinite possibility awakens.

In this post, I will compare and contrast Samsø Island’s community with the island communities in Maine, share projects and ideas, and provide snapshots of life as I see it.

A small group of students from College of the Atlantic, including myself, decided to participate in a journey together. All of us have different backgrounds and ideas regarding lifestyles and energy solutions, but are brought together by two common principles: curiosity and sustainability.

This journey, in the form of a COA course, led us to a small island in Denmark. This island has traditions of innovation with agriculture and fishing. Today, the pioneering island spirit that lives within many locals drives the creation of an energy-independent island.

Back in 1997, Samsø participated in a competition to create the best plan for becoming “Denmark’s Renewable Energy Island” by converting the entire energy supply to renewables within 10 years.

Several islands in Denmark took part in the competition, hoping for funding to implement their plans. Samsø came out on top and after some time began receiving financial support from the Danish Energy Agency, Århus Regional Authority and Samsø Municipality. Many locals became inspired to invest in renewables; a ripple effect helped launch various projects on the island.

The work is never complete, however the motivation and dedication to moving in a positive direction is obvious here, and that in itself is something we can never have too little of in this world.

The excitement and media surrounding the project prior to arrival made me wonder how I could best prepare myself for this style of experimental education. Beside the course reading material, bios, and questions that were laid out for us, I was most fascinated by the potential of islands.

There has been a great amount of work by members of the Island Institute and College of the Atlantic to create the Fund for Maine Islands. Being in the position to participate in this new project, and having the opportunity to travel to Samsø with a collective earnestness to learn is something very good to share with other students and islanders.

I was raised in Maine, and spent a considerable chunk of my childhood exploring islands in Casco Bay. I recently have found a new love, in the form of North Haven — an island located in Penobscot Bay. It has a year-round population of less than 400 people, with lobstering, farming, and tourism  the primary forms of income.

Our main focus on this journey is to take on an island project with other islanders or by ourselves, and to use the ideas, strategies, planning, and relationships on Samsø to help make progress on Maine island initiatives. I was very happy to learn that one of the projects is focused on North Haven, Vinalhaven, and the cooperative in which they get their energy, the Fox Island Electric Cooperative. I am in the beginning stages of trying to start a diversified sustainable farm on North Haven, and find that all of the potential energy solutions will affect my future directly along with the people I hope to share my life with.

The amount of agriculture on Samsø is impressive. A small portion of it is organic, but there is interest in moving more in that direction. Despite the lack of organic produce, the use of genetically-modified organisms GMOs in the European Union is illegal. So, even if the food is not organic, there is still a much higher standard in the chemical contamination and genetic structure of the food that is grown and sold on Samsø.

Back in Maine, we have a high number of organic farms scattered about the state and tons of support from groups such as the Maine Farmland Trust and the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association to promote farming.

In January 2014, LD 718 — An Act To Protect Maine Food Consumers’ Right To Know About Genetically Engineered Food — was signed into law. One condition of the law is that we need four other states to adopt the law before it takes effect.

Here on Samsø, the primary concern of the farmers is turning a profit, understandably. I got a chance to meet the largest employer on the island, a vegetable farmer and distributor, and had an enlightening conversation about the workings of a large-scale farm.

Because of the higher quality standards (organic or not), the food is already produced more ecologically than most non-organic farms in the U.S. He said it is very expensive to make your farm registered as organic and — in general, on his scale — the costs would be much higher for the amount of food he produces.

It was incredible to see the thousands of tons of onions piled in wooden crates 40 to 50 feet high in his warehouse. All of his produce goes off the island, taken into inventory for Netto, a discounted grocery store, where they distribute as they see fit, and return a small portion on the ferry the same day to the island. It is too big of a business to be supported only by the locals’ food consumption.

All of the students have bikes to use during our stay here. We take off from our cabins on the shore every day to see different parts of the island.

As I ride around Samsø, there are way more fields used for crops than not. I think of how much people pride themselves on their manicured lawns in the States and I have hope that minds are changed in a more ecological direction.

Having a yard that produces food makes more sense economically, and perhaps it’ll make way for friendly neighbor relations and collaborations.

Speaking with various people here who rent out their unused fields to farmers helped me imagine the potential of food production on the islands in Maine, where a large portion of land is owned by summer-only residents.

Our first assignment in the course led us around the island to generate our own understanding of the locality, mentality, and activity of the people of Samsø. My group encountered a diverse array of personalities, livelihoods, and passions. All of them  shared a common denominator: They love their island.

After all of our interviews were finished, the assignment consisted of creating a short documentary to share. We showed the films up on the screen at the Energy Academy this morning.

For it being the first piece of work of the course, I was very impressed by the caliber of work that was produced in just a couple days. Everyone developed their perspective and feel through various styles of filming and editing. This was an extremely efficient way of sharing stories, ideas, and attitudes towards life on Samsø.

My group had the opportunity to meet two farmers, one being the largest employer, the other being the owner of a wind turbine. We spent the afternoon sharing tea and baked goods made for us by an inspiring woman who was a former EU Parliament member — anti-nuclear, and avid supporter of renewables on Samsø. Another woman we spoke with was the owner of a small hotel, fashion designer, and rented her fields to a local farmer.

The owner of the wind turbine let us climb up inside to the very top while it was producing energy; he opened up the very top and we were greeted by giant blades whizzing in front of us at very high speeds, it ranked towards the top of the most intense and loud interviews I’ve ever encountered.

On Sunday, members from the Island Institute will arrive on the island. I expect they will be greeted with the immense generosity and welcoming that was offered to us a week ago.

All the members of the Energy Academy, especially Soren and Malene, have been incredibly helpful in getting us acquainted with the island and feeling at home. There is no doubt in my mind that the next two weeks will be full of hard work and inspiration from all angles.

Our main project work begins Monday, so I hope to fill this weekend with exploring, fishing, and tracking down a boat to go for a sail. The wind here is steady and strong, perhaps that’s what stirs the creative spirit that flows through the air.

— Navi Whitten, of Cape Elizabeth, Maine, was raised in a small coastal town exploring tide pools and adventuring in the sea. After high school, he began working on organic farms to learn how to reconstruct his lifestyle to be self-sufficient. “At College of the Atlantic, I am driven to find energy solutions for the rural communities on the Maine Islands. I currently help manage North Haven Oyster Company where three of us sustainably grow hundreds of thousands of oysters on a small island. Maine is my home, and I want to increase the quality of life here as much as I can.”