2014 Falk Summer Sustainability Fellows: Zig Osiecki, MSUS '14


The Falk Summer Sustainability Fellowships provide an opportunity for students in Chatham’s Falk School of Sustainability’s Master of Sustainability (MSUS) or Master of Food Studies (MAFS) program to engage in meaningful work or research in their field. The Fellowships are supported by the Falk Sustainability Endowment, and in 2014, were awarded to six students.

Zig Osiecki thought that his Falk Summer Sustainability Fellowship at John’s Folly Learning Institute – located on St. John (U.S. Virgin Islands) and dedicated to providing positive opportunities and environments to community youth – would be spent creating a more sustainable garden and a plan for its year-round use. He was wrong.

“The larger of the two cisterns, capable of holding ten thousand gallons and the only source of water for an irrigation system, was never fixed,” he writes. “I was told it would be operational by the time I got here but when I peered inside I was surprised to find nearly a foot of scummy water in the bottom, teeming with mosquitoes and tadpoles.  The roof is completely missing and there are cracks and holes throughout the inside,” he continues. “Tree roots have also found their way through the concrete and caused it to crumble in certain areas. I’ve had to reassess my work for the institute and make fixing the cistern a priority.”

And so began Osiecki’s induction into the realities of sustainability projects in developing nations – although “developing” is a strange word to use for an island that is 70% national park, and where the average price per square foot nears that of Aspen, Colorado. But St. John harbors extreme economic disparities. The side of the island on which JFLI is found is tremendously poor, and JFLI provides an important source of community and resources for the young during the yearly summer program. Despite its tropical location, St. John is largely desert, and, as Oisecki reports, “resources at the Institute are very slim and gathering the necessary materials has taken a great deal of time. There is still much to acquire. Concrete that was supposedly available at the institute had gone bad and turned into one big brick in a bag.  Thermo seal is expensive and there is yet to be the discussion on roofing materials. It will be done but there may be some Henry David Thoreau style bartering going on.”

Oisecki did repair the cistern. He also worked with JFLI to hold a farmer’s market on the main road in town. “We often ended up giving the food away,” he says, “but the important thing was to draw attention to the Institute, and foster good relations. After I left the island I researched desert gardening and believe that the JFLI has the ability to adopt various methods without spending too much money. However, to further aid them in their gardening goals I have been working on writing a grant proposal to fund the irrigation system and the necessary tools and supplies needed to complete this project and maintain it for future use by the kids and families of the community.”