UMass permaculture garden dedicated and praised
By: Stephen Hewitt
The story of a group of University of Massachusetts students who set out to initiate the construction of the school’s first permaculture garden a few years ago is a remarkable one, but it’s only the beginning of a worldwide movement.
That was one of several messages delivered last Thursday afternoon, as award-winning author and anti-hunger activist Frances Moore Lappé visited campus and joined University administrators to help dedicate the permaculture garden in an event at the Franklin Dining Commons.
“This beautiful garden is a perfect illustration of what can manifest and what also proves this eco-mind, this ecological understanding of life itself, and what I find so incredibly empowering,” said Lappé in her address.
Lappé, a co-founder of three national organizations including the Small Planet Institute of Cambridge, is an activist on world hunger, poverty and environmental issues, and is the recipient of 17 honorary doctorates, including the Rachel Carson Award and the Right Livelihood Award.
She is also the author of 18 books, including “EcoMind: Changing the Way We Think to Create the World We Want,” her latest publication that was made available for purchase and personally signed by her at the event.
Lappé was joined by UMass Chancellor Robert Holub, Executive Director of Auxiliary Enterprises Ken Toong, and permaculture garden coordinator and sustainability specialist Ryan Harb, each of whom also added their appreciations for the garden and what it represents.
“It came from the students,” said Harb. “It’s a grassroots movement, and then we decided to compose those grassroots, and establish our own roots, that have now spread further than we ever could have imagined.”
Harb, a recent graduate of UMass and the first person in the nation to receive a master’s of science degree in green building, was contacted by auxiliary services to put together a student committee to create the garden last fall.
The project – which at one point nearly failed and saw that space almost turning into a parking lot – was headed by Harb, who put together the different factors needed to make the initiative a success, from hosting events to sheet mulching the quarter-acre area, which required over 150 volunteers moving 250,000 pounds of organic matter in less than two weeks last fall.
Presently, in its beginning stages the garden has been a success, Harb noted. Having been harvested for about one month since the start of the school year, students are seemingly enjoying fresh fruit and vegetables from the garden every day.
“I think people are looking for this sort of inspiration,” said Harb. “I think a lot of people have an idea that they want to do this, but they want to see other people doing it, and once they see that, they are just so wanting to do that themselves. So I think it’s incredibly important to just share this and just try to get the word out, and other campuses are going to be mimicking this.”
Plans were also announced during the dedication that an effort to create a new permaculture garden on campus will soon be initiated. Adjacent to the Berkshire Dining Commons in the Southwest Residential Area, work on the new garden is supposed to start this fall, according to sustainability specialist Nathan Aldrich.
It’s just the beginning of a movement to grow more gardens not only on campus, but to begin a domino effect of them spreading around the country and the world, according to Harb.
Harb and Aldrich both stressed the importance of education on the matter, to teach people the concept of permaculture and using the Franklin permaculture garden as an example to spark ideas to the community about growing food that they haven’t thought of before.
“The goal is to model growing food in a sustainable way to the campus,” said Aldrich. “And more than that, the goal is education. We have a unique opportunity here because we have a small garden that thousands of people walk by every single day. And so while we can’t feed everyone on this campus, we can show them about a completely new way of thinking of how land is used and where food is grown.”=
Stephen Hewitt can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org