WESTHAMPTON BEACH (CBSNewYork) - Michele "Shelly" Martuscello found her passion in the ocean.
During a walk on the beach with her mother Laura, the water piqued her curiosity — could she harvest her own fresh sea salt?
"I love research, and I love a good challenge," she said.
She grabbed an empty soda bottle from the trunk of her car, filled it with seawater, and brought it home.
"I did a straight-down boil method on my parents' stovetop, which they hated because the whole house was humid for more than a few days. I made a batch of salt, and my parents looked at me like I created gold," she said.
"Over the years, I would make small batches and gift [them] to people."
When requests for her salt started piling up, Shelly knew she was onto something.
Her little experiment grew into Shelly Sells Sea Salt, a company for small-batch salt products harvested from the Atlantic Ocean near Shelly's childhood home in Westhampton Beach.
"When I'm not at my job job, this is what I do," she said.
"I'm in a wetsuit in the cold months. I'm in a bathing suit in the warm ones," she said. "The fact that this gets me in the ocean almost every weekend all year long is a dream in and of itself."
The salt harvest begins at the beach. She wades into the surf to fill two five-gallon buckets of water. She then brings the seawater to her family's backyard greenhouse, where she begins the process of filtering and evaporation.
"It's all done by hand. That's why it's so small-batch, takes so long," she said.
The end result is flaky salt, fresh from the ocean.
"It's not sharp and bitter. It's very briny and not as salty as you would think it would be."
The labor-intensive process demands trial and error, and Shelly is grateful for help from friends and family. Her mother helps her run the business and sell products at the Westhampton Beach Farmers' Market.
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"It gave me a new calling to marine biology and conservation," she said.
For Shelly, the challenge has been a learning experience.
"I learned more this year than I think I learned in the last ten," she said. "So much about science that my art school education didn't cover."
She has also found new appreciation for the ocean.
"The beach is a totally different place for me now," she said. "It gives me something that I make and produce and sell. I feel more grateful to the ocean than ever."
Find out where Shelly sells sea salt at http://www.shellyseasalt.com/.
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