Permaculture: UMass vs. Smith

31 Jul

It all began last semester when Helena Farrell, the woman who started the famed permaculture movement at UMass, came to speak to my LSS 100 class about her experience.  I had heard of permaculture before but had never really listened and I thought it was just some flashy new gardening technique.  But Helena Farrell made me and my fellow Community Garden org members in the class realize that this was a model that could really work for us and could help us solve some of the challenges we had been facing.  It would mean we would have less area that we needed to plant every spring with our limited crew of volunteers and it would help the garden be more sustainable and consistent from year to year, permaculture also appealed to us because it implied a deeper connection between the Earth and people and allow for both to be taken care of.  We went up to Helena at the end of her lecture and shared our excitement with her.  She encouraged us to look to the current model in place at UMass because it has been so successful.

I kept permaculture for the garden on a front burner in my mind and UMass on the back burner.  I knew that there were certain aspects of the UMass system that could only thrive at a school like UMass and might not be directly applicable to our garden, such as credits and work-study positions dedicated to managing the gardens on campus and planning for their development and planting.  In any case, I attended one day of the three day Permaculture Your Campus Conference that UMass was hosting earlier this summer thanks to funding through the Smith Students’ Aid Society.

Going in to the conference I wasn’t too sure what to expect, but it turned out to be extremely helpful and inspirational.  I learned all about how to analyze a site for it’s permaculture opportunities from Jonathan Bates of Food Forest Farm, the importance of partnering with other local organizations based on the Grow Food Amherst model and Sarah Berquist’s PC in the PV practicum course, and how UMass has been able to integrate their garden and permaculture efforts into the academic fabric of the campus and market their campaigns successfully.  I was able to talk to UMass permaculture staff and students but I was also able to meet and talk to gardeners from Michigan, New York and California.  They each came with a whole host of perspectives on permaculture, some were experienced permaculture gardeners, others were permaculture skeptics from traditional farming backgrounds. UMASSgarden                                           The permaculture garden at UMass.

Just hearing about the wide range of motivations that people had for coming to the conference made me realize just how big the permaculture movement really is and how the guiding principles of permaculture can be manipulated to suit the needs of any garden, no matter what the scale or the institutional context.  It made me feel better to know that we could be inspired by UMass and use their resources without having to walk perfectly in their footsteps.  The Community Garden can incorporate permaculture on our own terms so that the garden continues to fit within the fabric of Smith while creating positive social change through the principles the practice embodies.

-Claire Adams ‘16
Summer Manager, Smith Community Garden

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