Eliza Greenman came to the Cranberry Isles as part of the Island Institute’s Island Fellows Program after an adventurous year abroad.

With a bachelor’s degree in forestry from The University of the South in Sewanee, Tenn., and supported by a Congressional Scholarship for Young Professional Exchange, she spent a year in Germany, one semester in a master’s program in tropical sustainable forestry in Dresden, then went on to Freiburg.

The professional experience and the personal growth opportunities were extraordinary. Eliza spoke no German when she came to Germany, nor did she share a common language with any of her four roommates, but, as they all learned German, fast friendships grew.

One of her projects took her to Uganda, where she conducted research on the value chain of the locally grown shea nut, travelling through Europe as she followed the manufacturing and marketing of shea butter. This was a long way from her hometown of Poquoson, Va., population, 10,000.

The route to the Cranberry Isles was indirect. Eliza met a gentleman identified only as “Quartermaster Carl” at a Privateers Ball in Beaufort, N.C. in 2007. He shared his tales of sailing from Maine to the Florida Keys, and planted ideas about the coast of Maine and the Island Institute. While in Germany, Eliza applied to the Island Institute for a position as a Sustainable Community Development Fellow, based in Islesford.

One of Eliza’s first priorities is to pave the way for forest management on the Cranberry Isles. There are, however, some impediments. Ninety-five percent or more of land on the islands is privately owned. Traditional uses for timber are not feasible on an island-the costs of transporting logs to the mainland for milling are exorbitant. And the definition of a forester’s job in a place with vast forest reserves, such as Germany, differs significantly from two small Maine islands having a total forest cover of around 820 acres. The trees and woodlands are an integral part of the island, and islanders are often personally familiar with specific rock and tree landmarks on the islands.

That’s not to say that everyone shares the same perspective. In meetings held on Islesford and Great Cranberry in February, two different views were expressed about the forest: one seeking immediate intervention and management, and the other suggesting lengthy study of the forest’s biodiversity and natural history before taking any action.

Eliza, working with state forester Jim Ecker, sees the need to analyze the islanders’ “sense of place.” Their close connection and familiarity with the terrain must be an integral part of any management plan. Eliza hopes to use the Island Institute’s equipment and expertise to allow each island resident the opportunity to present photographs, descriptions, and GPS coordinates for mapping their most personally significant sites on the island.

Eliza loves her job and living on the island. She felt immediately welcome on the island and developed warm friendships that have led her in interesting directions.

Anna Fernald shared a weekly trip with her to a ballroom-dancing class on the mainland. While they’ve practically become experts at the waltz, the jitterbug, and the Texas two-step, Eliza values the friendship, and says she thinks that it’s no coincidence that Anna’s home is located at the “heart” of the island.

Eliza’s days are varied and full. She shares space upstairs in the town office where she helps with various projects such as E911 addressing, but it is not unusual for her to get called to the Islesford Library to serve as a substitute librarian for the day or offer a one-day physical-education class.

Working with Phil Norris, a professional apple-tree pruner, she offered a popular workshop on fruit-tree pruning that has since taken her on pruning escapades all over the island.

She is excited about a recent invitation to join Stephanie and Rick Alley on a project to monitor juvenile lobsters for the Lobster Conservancy. They will be seeking out the small creatures in shallow pools on weekends.

Islesford is accessible by way of the mailboat, but there is no regular car-ferry service. Nonetheless, Eliza rarely feels isolated-except for the time she forgot the groceries in the car parked on the mainland.

She says, “My life here, the richness of it, really has meaning, because you’re required to interact with people more frequently and in a much closer way. Everybody on an island is at least five times more involved in the community than on the mainland. In order to live on an island, you have to have your hands in everything. There just aren’t that many people to spread things around.”

Eliza’s fellowship will last another year. Her priorities have broadened. For the next 18 months she will continue her “Sense of Place” forestry project, but she will be devoting more time to issues of food security and agricultural sustainability on islands. Difficult economic times are causing more families to consider ways to beat the high costs of transporting food from the mainland.

Eliza will be working with Island Institute staff and others to develop ways to increase food production on the island, and is researching grants for food-infrastructure development, such as obtaining a large bread oven for community use.

The time Eliza has already spent on the island has helped her develop and expand new skills, and she is deeply grateful for this opportunity. She’s not sure now, but has a year to think about where she’ll seek her next adventure, and she feels well prepared. Aside from practical training in forestry, community planning, and teaching, you never know when you’ll be called upon to jitterbug.