Tag Archives: sustainable agriculture

Spotlight: Amelia Burke, ’15

11 Mar

Meet Amelia: Amelia developed a well-established interest in Middle Eastern studies and sustainable agriculture in the year before she arrived at Smith. During her gap year, she worked in the West Bank, writing for a Palestinian news site, went WWOOFing in Italy and hiked a portion of the Camino de Santiago in Spain. She arrived at Smith ready to focus on environmental sustainability and land revitalization through sustainable agriculture. This spring, she will be graduating with a degree in Middle Eastern studies, a minor in environmental science and policy, and a concentration in sustainable food.


During her first two years at Smith, she worked on research projects relating to climate refugees and abuses of freedom in Northern Africa. By her junior year, she decided to take another year off to engage in foreign sustainability issues in agriculture. Amelia had plans to return to the West Bank for an internship at a women’s olive oil cooperative, but upon being denied entry at the border, she was forced to improvise the following year’s plans.

Working her way across continents, she lived in Jordan, worked on a dairy farm in Turkey, a horse farm in Bulgaria, and a kiwi farm in Italy. Her travels then turned south, where she worked on permaculture at an Eco lodge in Egypt and then headed to Zimbabwe for an internship at the Africa Centre for Holistic Management. There she focused on improving degraded soil through proper cattle management. She next headed up to Morocco with plans to use Smith’s Praxis scholarship. Up in the Moroccan highlands, she worked at the High Atlas Foundation, engaged with rural development strategies through fruit and nut tree cultivation and production. In her last year at Smith (oh yes, she accelerated a year) she applied for a Fulbright and is now a finalist for goat and sheep management systems on rates of pasture regrowth in the Middle Atlas.


When asked how Smith has contributed to her academic goals she responded: “there is no defined outcome [for what you get out of an academic institution].” As we can see, Amelia patchworked her own academic trajectory through Smith and beyond.

Thanks Amelia for sharing your unique navigation through Smith and good luck with all your future endeavors!

-Odessa Aguirre is a senior at Smith College from Sonora, California. She studies Anthropology with a focus on immigration and Spanish. When she is not at Smith College, she is somewhere sunny and warm. Her future plans include backpacking in every feasible mountain range–and for the non-feasible mountain ranges, she has plans to train as a mountaineer.

Keep current on gender and international agriculture

20 Oct

https://www.flickr.com/photos/icrisat/5814411222/in/faves-croptrust/ Sorghum at its peak.

Agriculture is the largest employer of rural women in much of the developing world (FAO 2011). Yet women farmers often face gender-based productive constraints, largely in the form of unequal access to resources. The world’s female farmers own less land, manage less livestock, and use less purchased fertilizer than men; they are less likely to obtain formal education, credit, insurance, membership in groups or collectives, and improved seed and livestock breeds (FAO 2011). In many agricultural communities, female-headed households are less resilient to economic and environmental stressors and more food insecure than their male-headed counterparts (for evidence from Africa, see a recent working paper from the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research). As should be the case, multilateral agencies and research institutions are increasingly committed to redressing gender inequality through agricultural and rural development.

harvesting wheat (2)
An Ahir tribal woman in Nadapa village, east of Bhuj harvesting wheat.

Through my research on and off campus, I have amassed a collection of favorite agriculture-related blogs. Below are some of the sites that I use to keep current on gender issues on the international ag front. Enjoy.

1. Gender-Nutrition Idea Exchange of the CGIAR Research Program on Agriculture for Nutrition and Health
2. Year of Gender news page of the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics
3. International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI): Gender
4. Gender, Agriculture, & Assets Project of IFPRI and the International Livestock Research Institute
5. Gender & Food Policy News from IFPRI
6. Climate Change, Collective Action, & Women’s Assets from IFPRI
7. On Gender and Restoration: A case study series by the International Union for Conservation of Nature
8. Agroforestry World posts on gender from the World Agroforestry Center

– Jacqueline Maasch ’16J

Jacqueline is an anthropology major, environmental science & policy minor, and sustainable food concentrator. Her interests include agroecology, human nutrition, (agro)biodiversity conservation, and climate.

Agriculture and transboundary infectious diseases – the Ebola crisis

14 Oct

20141010-BABY-slide-MFC3-videoSixteenByNine1050_NYTPhoto: Daniel Berehulak for The New York Times

International Food Policy Research Institute Director General Shenggen Fan has authored an opinion piece on the implications of the Ebola crisis for food systems in West Africa. The article, Preventing an Ebola-Related Food Crisis, was posted to IFPRI’s DG Corner blog on October 9th.

Agricultural production, food importation, labor availability, and local trade have been significantly upset in many regions struck with the virus. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization, 40 percent of farmers in Kailahun, Sierra Leone, have abandoned their farms since the outbreak, while cultivation has ceased on 90 percent of agricultural land. Harvests have been disrupted due to labor shortages as people fall ill, are quarantined, or are prevented from traveling freely. Consequences include decreased food availability and rapid increases in food prices: the cost of rice has increased by up to 30% in Ebola-stricken regions (World Bank 2014), while cassava has jumped in price by up to 150% in Liberia (FAO 2014). See the original World Bank and FAO reports for more information.

Fan offers his own recommendations for moderating what could become a large-scale food crisis. I assume this blog’s readership includes those who share my interest in evidence-based agricultural growth that is responsive to the needs of people – perhaps you also have thoughts on the implications of zoonotic epidemics for agricultural livelihoods, and what can and should be done in times of crisis.

I have more questions than answers.

– Jacqueline Maasch ’16J

Jacqueline is an anthropology major, environmental science & policy minor, and sustainable food concentrator. Her interests include agroecology, human health & nutrition, (agro)biodiversity conservation, and climate.

Morning Wake-up Working Party

21 Aug

[This is the fourth in a series of posts by Junzhou Liu, ’17 about her experience as garden manager for the student-run Smith Community Garden and intern for the Botanic Garden this summer.]

This week, in addition to the weekly Friday afternoon working party I offered a one-hour working party every morning from 7-8 a.m. I believe that being among green plants refresh people’s minds for a new day. Working one hour in the early morning, when the sun hasn’t risen high yet and the air still smells like dew can also be a good opportunity to get some exercise. In contrast to exercises like running and bicycling, with gardening you can see the real change you made to the land instead of just imagining how many calories you just burned. This can be one of the charming characteristics of gardening.

peasPeas are among the earliest produce shining under sun and rewarding my labor.

currants_bush                                             Red currant fruit is plumping up.









Red raspberries are coming along.
                                                                                                       Blueberries too!

bok choiBok choi always does well and the plants look so beautiful after taking a shower.

swiss chardSwiss chard make me laugh with water drops on their cute leaves.

Even though I usually work alone, I enjoy my time watering the plants and preparing them for the dry and hot summer days. This week I got some help with watering from the sky above because it has rained almost every day. I have enjoyed eating my breakfast in the garden in the company of  birds singing pleasantly.

waxAll sorts of beans (these are wax) have been my company for the past a couple of weeks.

-Junzhou is a rising sophomore and a potential biochemistry major and economics minor originally from Beijing, China. This academic year Junzhou is moving from Park House, where she spent her first year, to Hopkins House, where she hopes to continue to meet new people and enjoy making and eating food from different cultures with others.


Learning to understand a food forest

1 Jul

The outdoor realm of the world has always held more fascination for me than that of the built environment, mostly, I think, because of the variety of smells. At home, those smells were pine needles and green peas, strawberries and mulch. In Ecuador, where I’m completing a two-month tropical food production internship on a biosphere reserve, the smells are vastly different but still provide fascination for me; the smells of maracullá and papaya, donkeys and thatched roofs mingle with motor oil and moist air for an intoxicating mixture of jungle community. When I first arrived in the 350-person community of Camarones four weeks ago, I made the three-kilometer trek up to the Jama-Coaque Biosphere Reserve. I unpacked in the bamboo tree house and became acquainted with the moist evergreen forest surrounding me. I looked out on the tree-covered mountains and immediately took stock of what was lacking from my normal view—power lines, roofs, and road cuts, to name a few. What was present was thereby made more special—I saw powerful hummingbirds hovering over passion flowers, countless bizarre insects, as well as a mish-mash of fruit trees and shrubs that would soon become my fascination. About an acre of the Jama-Coaque Reserve is a permaculture food forest, and this site is where I’m spending most of my time.

I’m learning more and more that a permaculture system looks akin to a half-forgotten forest. And even more, I’m learning this laissez-faire appearance is intentional—strived for even. This is hard for me to comprehend; I come from a suburban New England town where lawns were the norm and any stray dandelion was blasphemous and immediately attacked with any number of chemicals, from RAID to Windex. In school, I was praised for having all my papers in numerical order and at home I was rewarded for keeping the table clean. These subtle influences made me want to control everything in my reach. This tendency mostly manifests itself in a clean room, doing most of the driving on road trips, and taking on the mother role in many friend groups.

This controlling trait of mine has also applied to most of the gardening I’ve done in my life. Gardening brings me joy and peace because I have a hand in producing the food that I consume. Neat rows, not a single maple seedling in sight, and beautifully trellised tomatoes are my favorite TV shows and I could watch them for hours. Of course, there have been mishaps, including a slapdash pea trellis, and a bunch of tomatoes whose growth was stunted when I mistook their terminal buds for suckers (suckers are sometimes removed from tomatoes so that energy is sent to a few tomatoes to make them bigger—in this case, the tomato plants had to send lots of energy into a sucker stem to create a new terminal bud).

Nothing compares, though, to the chaos and beauty of permaculture. To my control-focused brain, a permaculture system is difficult to comprehend, but I’m coming to understand the purpose. Along with the general food production my internship entails, I will also be getting a Permaculture Design Certification. This certification will verify that I am capable of designing a system that might look like an overgrown forest but that is so productive the fruits of my labor will literally be falling on my head (this is not an exaggeration—I’ve had maracullá, or passion fruit, fall off its vine into my lap while reading in a hammock).

The food production side of the reserve is still young, but some of my favorite permaculture techniques that the reserve employs include a water filtration system that uses beneficial bacteria that inhabit sand and eat harmful microorganisms, making the river water potable; planting ginger rhizomes to outcompete weeds; and utilizing the cleansing properties of banana and yucca plants to filter our grey water. I am also learning the concepts of design, which really just define common sense principles of using a problem to create a solution, among other things. The crux of permaculture is to design sustainable human settlements, something we all need to put all of our time and energy into.

Life on the reserve is similar to a permaculture system—while most of our food still does not come from the backyard, bananas, oranges, limes, passion fruit, yucca, oreganon, spicy ají peppers and a spinach-like green called verdulaga come in from the food forest and supplement our diet. Our days are relaxed and full of learning. The day starts at eight, maybe clearing the understory with machetes or harvesting oranges and cacao in the forest, followed by an extended lunch, and then permaculture class. The day ends at four and a good two or three hours of my afternoon are consumed by reading (Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver, Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan and The Sixth Extinction by Elizabeth Kolbert are my latest obsessions). Since there is no electricity, dinners are shared by candlelight and then after a game of cards it’s to bed at 8:30.

One of the things I’ll miss the most when I return to the States is having an infinite supply of fresh local bananas at my doorstep. The coast of Ecuador is prime banana country—“banana heaven” is what my intern coordinator called it—and each week it’s someone’s chore to harvest a whole stalk. Bananas are actually overgrown herbaceous plants, not trees, and their vascular system is amazing. To harvest the fruit, one must cut down the plant, which then exudes copious amounts of sap. Each xylem tube of the plant is visible to the naked eye, making the cut stump look something like a beehive, but with rectangular holes instead of hexagonal. A banana stalk contains anywhere between 25-35 bananas and terminates in a long stem holding its purple flower bud. Since all bananas that are cultivated today are clones, bananas do not reproduce sexually, so this flower never gets to complete its natural cycle. Bananas produce pups at their base, which grow into subsequent plants in about nine month. I pretty much swore off of bananas a while ago for the well-known politico-social reasons, but while in Ecuador I’m planning to consume as many as my body can stand and appreciate this bizarre fruit’s sweetness while I can.

The most recent adventure in tropical food production surrounded a pile of light-brown fermented seedpods. These seeds had been harvested from age-old trees and their orange outer-pods sat fermenting in a bag for about three days and then spent the past two weeks drying in the sun. Yesterday, we toasted them over a low flame and then cracked open the casings to reveal a midnight black oval with a delicious fragrance. Once ground, this end result was turned into xocolatl—“bitter liquid” in the Aztec language Nahuatl. In other words, hot chocolate. From the tree to the cup, chocolate takes on many forms, and in the process I experienced we didn’t even make a classic chocolate bar. Yet I have to say my favorite part of this whole cacao process was not sipping of the panela-sweetened drink but sucking on the freshly harvested outer pods, which are coated with a sweet and slightly tangy goo that is absolute heaven. My fellow food production interns and I sat for about an hour shelling the pods and intermittently sticking one into our mouths to enjoy that sweet flavor. Cacao is actually native to Ecuador, yet most modern cacao does not come from here. However, the majority of the highest quality cacao is grown in coastal Ecuador, right near the reserve. So while I’m eating locally now, I will sadly never be able to taste the fine flavor of Ecuadorian cacao in a Hershey’s bar…but who needs those anyway? I’ll have my chaotic, fruit-falling permaculture garden design to keep me happy when I return.

P.S. I apologize for the lack of pictures—we operate with limited technology up here! If you’d like some photos of this project, visit the reserve’s website at http://www.tmalliance.org, their facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.780585085294384.1073741834.154975601188672&type=1 or check out my fellow intern’s blog at http://sarahkbarney.wordpress.com/.

-Julia Graham, ’16

Wild and Domesticated: the invisible powerhouses of our food system

23 Feb

During this time of year it’s hard to imagine trees flowering and bees buzzing—but right about now, in the Central Valley of California, over 800,000 acres of almond trees are blooming.


Almond flowers only bloom for about two weeks in late February. This is a critical period of time because in order for the trees to produce any almonds, the flowers need to be cross-pollinated, which means that bees need to visit each of the thousands of flowers, on each of the thousands of trees, all in the course of two weeks. This is why the almond bloom is the largest annual managed pollination event in the world. Large-scale commercial beekeepers transport over 1.5 million hives of honey bees from all over the country and across the globe to the Central Valley of California. 1

Why do bees need to be imported? Industrial agriculture in the United States initially expanded with the introduction of Nitrogen fertilizer supplements in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.2 Rationalized production methods and monoculture systems increased acreage. For pollination this meant that industrial agriculture methods were destroying natural pollinator habitat and the wild pollinators already present in the landscape were not enough to support the booming industry.

The almond industry exemplifies how pollination has adapted to meet the needs of commercial agriculture. Mechanized agricultural processes required a mechanized pollination process, and the European honey bee, Apis mellifera, was an ideal pollinator for the job. Honey bees, as the most widely utilized insect pollinators, are the invisible powerhouses that enable commercial agriculture to thrive. Honey bees are versatile, generalist pollinators that live in large perennial colonies and forage over long distances, so they are well suited to provide pollination services over large areas. Honey bees communicate efficiently within their hives about food sources, and also produce honey which is a marketable product of its own. Over time, industrial agriculture not only employed honey bees as supplemental pollinators, but they also required them.


And it’s more than just almonds. We rely on insects, and primarily honey bees, to pollinate everything from nuts to fruits and vegetables. Livestock and dairy products are also indirectly derived from insect-pollinated legumes or grasses. Insect pollination is also responsible for many fat and oil producing seeds. Both wild and domesticated, insect pollination is responsible for one out of every three bites of food.3

There are grave consequences to transforming insect pollination into an industry. Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) has become the catchall phrase for describing the phenomenon of continued colony disappearance and hive decline since the early 2000’s. It has been difficult to isolate one specific reason for CCD, since it has roots throughout the entire system of modern industrial agriculture. It has been attributed it to hive exposure to toxic pesticides, viruses, mites, and poor nutrition. The short of it is that bees are dying, and we’re going to have to get involved in order to save them, and ourselves.

The apple and pear orchards of Southwest China exhibit a dramatic example of where the United States might be headed if pollinator health continues to decline. Farmers in Southwest China are hand pollinating their fruit orchards by hand.4 They have no other choice than to resort to these tactics because widespread pesticide use has eradicated all of the wild pollinators in the area. If current agricultural trends in the United States continue, and we do not acknowledge our precarious dependence on these small living creatures and take immediate action, Americans are also destined for hand pollination.

But this crisis also presents an opportunity for positive change. Individuals now have the chance to become more informed about food production, and reintegrate themselves in the  production process. Beekeeping is reemerging as a craft throughout the U.S. The movement towards urban beekeeping complements the movement towards urban farming and gardening. The initiative to localize food production and redistribute the load from industrial farms has heightened public awareness surrounding these issues.

That is to say that there are still small farms that maintain a less mechanized and more integrated structure within their surroundings, and in turn they benefit from wild pollinators. I interviewed Ben Clark of Clarkdale Fruit Farms in Deerfield, MA, who told me that he has never had to use a commercial honey bee hive and he doesn’t plan on it. His fruit orchards are home to many native insects that do a more efficient job pollinating his fruit trees than any honey bee would do.

So, during these cold months, as you snack on some trail mix, or some roasted almonds, or even before you bite into that apple, you can take an extra minute to think about the journey that food took to get to you, and remember that it relied on millions of tiny insects humming and buzzing and spreading pollen.

-Ellena Baum, ’14

CEEDS Field Station Intern

Photographs: Kathy Keatley Garvey

1.Ferris Jabr, “The Mind-Boggling Math of Migratory Beekeeping,” Scientific American, September 11, 2013, http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=migratory-beekeeping-mind-boggling-math.

2. Edward D. Melillo, “The First Green Revolution: Debt Peonage and the Making of the Nitrogen Fertilizer Trade, 1840–1930,” The American Historical Review, (2012) 117 (4): 1028-1060.doi: 10.1093/ahr/117.4.1028

3. Samuel Emmett McGregor. Insect Pollination Of Cultivated Crop Plants. Agricultural Research Service, US Department of Agriculture, 1976.

4. Dave Goulson, “Decline of Bees Forces China’s Apple Farmers to Pollinate by Hand,” China Dialogue, February 10, 2012. https://www.chinadialogue.net/article/show/single/en/5193

Franklin Permaculture Garden

31 Oct

Recently, I was able to attend a tour of the University of Massachusetts, Amherst (UMASS Amherst) permaculture garden next to the Franklin Dining Commons. Permaculture is a kind of environmental design that mimics the surrounding natural ecosystem or attempts to represent the land as it historically used to be. The garden at UMASS Amherst uses a design that is based in natural ecosystem design, but provides food that people need. One of the main reasons that this technique is becoming more common is that it provides a more natural landscape, while producing great services.  The unique things about this movement is that the design and growing process can vary; the UMASS Amherst garden is very well planned out, with pathways and tables, but it can also be a plot of land that if left to grow over,  might produce some basic nuts and crops.

I got to meet some students that were involved in the development of the garden and they were able to provide a brief history of the project. John Gerber, Professor of Sustainable Food and Farming, was teaching a class on Sustainable Agriculture and asked his students to come up with an idea that would change the world; what they came up with was a permaculture garden outside one of the biggest dining halls on campus. The area used to be a green lawn and was actually supposed to be transformed into an extension of a nearby parking lot, but after a couple of months that project was dropped and the students got the chance to pitch their idea. At the same time, a grad student, Ryan Harb, had designed and build a permaculture garden on his yard as part of his masters education and hosted an Open House where much of the administration was convinced that permaculture was beneficial. In 2010, Harb was hired to implement the first UMass Amherst permaculture garden. It took many volunteers, but after two years the garden is flourishing. Students take the crops from the garden at sell them at the UMass Amherst Student Farmer’s Market.

The garden has become an important educational and community building tool that students and the community can take advantage of. This garden is also important because it shows what students and volunteers can do in regards to building a more sustainable campus.

Stephanie Cervantes ’13, CEEDS Intern

Notes from the Field Station: Student Involvement in MacLeish Site Design

1 Dec

This week I will be focusing on Smith student Tia Novak (’13) and her involvement in the permacultre designs that will be implemented in conjuncture with the Bechtel Environmental Classroom.

Students Tia Novak '13 and Brittany Innis '13, caught on film on a hot day in the Botanic Garden flower bed this past summer. (http://www.smith.edu/news/potd_archive_display.php?id=1040)

Having been surrounded by impassioned horticulturists and landscape designers throughout her youth, Tia found it impossible to resist the fascinating world of plants, their innovative evolutionary adaptations, and how we cultivate and interact with them. Now at Smith, Tia is a Biology and Environmental Science & Policy major, who is also pursuing the new Sustainable Food Concentration.

Throughout her undergraduate experience, Tia has become increasingly interested in agriculture, given that it is a fundamental necessity for human existence, yet also one of the largest consumers of natural resources and producers of environmental pollutants. Especially, Tia was struck with the need to supply tangible, grounded solutions for the every growing problems facing big agriculture in the United States, while taking into account economics, social perspectives, and even just the day-to-day challenges facing the modern American farmer.

Trellised Orchard

After receiving some background in botany this summer as an intern at the Smith College Botanic Garden, she decided to take an agriculture class at UMass so she could “get a taste of what growing a crop was like”. Newly enrolled in “Deciduous Orchards” this fall, Tia was presented with the challenge of designing her own hypothetical orchard, including species selection, layout, pest control systems, and pricing out the entire project. Having some knowledge of the construction underway at the MacLeish field station Tia proposed to Reid Bertone-Johnson (the Field Station Manager) that, using this class assignment as a guide, she could design an orchard for the field station. She believed the implementation of an orchard at this site could serve as a learning tool for horticulture or natural science classes and provide the dining halls with produce, in addition to satisfying the productive agriculture requirement of the LBC imperatives.

Tall Spindle Orchard

The proposed orchard will be on a 2.5 acre plot northwest of the Bechtel Environmental Classroom next to the proposed parking lot. The orchard will be organic, using only benign sprays to prevent bacteria, fungal and insect pests. The design will incorporate various aspects of integrated pest management (IPM), such as “trap trees” for Plum Curculio (Conotrachelus nenuphar), to expand the horticulture classes IPM experience. Smith alumni Jodi Lew Smith from High Mowing Seeds is advising in organic IPM and in the selection of disease resistant varieties. The planting plan will include disease resistant apple varieties such as Liberty, heirloom English-origin Russet varieties, Honeycrisp, Zestar, and Snowsweet, potentially with the addition of some varieties of peach and asian pears. As this project is geared to education, in addition to sustainability and productivity, Tia plans to combine a variety of rootstock and planting systems (such as the tall spindle and Y-trellis systems). The overall goals for the design are to maximize space and food production while being mindful of the use of water, materials, and energy in creating an education-oriented setting.

Assisting Tia in her research efforts for this project is Stride student Ellena Baum, ‘14, who is also beginning design work on another aspect of the site’s permaculture gardens, located to the north of the classroom.

This is an incredibly exciting project, and I can’t wait to see every Smithie’s favorite Mountain Day tradition become a delicious educational opportunity. Coming up soon we have another construction update- so stay tuned! Things are really starting to take shape out there at the field station.

Just for fun: Below is a UMass archives photo I found- check out the skis and snowshoes!

Winter school class in pomology students pruning apple trees in M.A.C. orchards (http://clio.fivecolleges.edu/umass/photos/130women-students/)

Jessa Finch (’12)

CEEDS MacLeish Intern

Notes from the Field Station: Permaculture Principles

10 Nov

Permaculture Tree

In order to satisfy the imperatives put forward by the Living Building Challenge, all projects are required to host sustainable agriculture on site. In the case of the Bechtel Environmental Classroom (BEC) our design team has chosen to implement permaculture gardens including an orchard of native fruit trees. Over the next two weeks I will introduce the basic concepts of permaculture, how those principles operate in practice, and the impact permaculture gardens will have on the design and operation of the BEC.

Put most simply, permaculture is a design system used in the crafting of sustainable human environments. The name itself speaks to the intended longevity of these designs, being a contraction of permanent and agriculture.  In essence, permaculture focuses upon the interrelationships of plants, animals, buildings, and infrastructures based on their placement within a landscape. Although the meaning of the word sustainable has become increasingly convoluted in recent years, in this context I am using it to mean a system that is ecologically-sound as well as economically viable in that it has achieved a balance between consumed resources and output wastes. To achieve this, permaculture makes use of the inherent qualities of plants and animals, in addition to landscape features, to produce a highly efficient self-sustaining system on the smallest possible area.

Permaculture draws upon the wisdom and common sense of traditional farming systems, as well as current knowledge of natural systems. The hugely influential book The One Straw Revolution (Fukuoka) most succinctly outlines the basic philosophy of permaculture: to work with nature rather than opposed to it, long and thoughtful observation over reckless labor, and the utilization and appreciate of all plant and animal functions. The principles of permaculture design are highly interdisciplinary, merging ecology, energy conservation, landscape design, and environmental science. They include:

  • Every element is placed in relationship to another so that they assist each other
  • Each element performs many functions (“stacking functions”)
  • Each function is supported by many elements (basic needs served in two or more ways)
  • Efficient energy planning for house and settlement (4 zones based on intensity of use)
  • Emphasis on use of biological resources (plants and animals) over fossil fuel
  • Energy recycling on site (fuel and human energy)
  • Using plant succession to establish favorable sites and soils
  • Polyculture and diversity of beneficial species for a productive, interactive system
  • Use of edge and natural patterns for best effect

Based on your familiarity with design and permaculture, these theoretical principles may seem highly abstract without the grounding of concrete examples. Next week I will continue this post by discussing “Permaculture in Practice”, in which I breakdown permaculture designs in action, as well as discuss the role permaculture plays in the BEC design and qualifications for the LBC. Stay tuned!

A great resource on permaculture principles and designs for sites large and small, rural or urban, is an Introduction to Permaculture by Bill Mollison and Reny Mia Slay.

If you have yet to read my initial post on the overall design scheme for the BEC feel free to check it out now.

Jessa Finch (’12)

CEEDS MacLeish Intern

* Permaculture Tree drawing is from Introduction to Permaculture by Bill Mollison

Gardening with Alli Langley, Botanic Garden Intern

1 Jul

My name is Alli, and I’m a rising junior at Smith College. I’m double majoring in Sociology and the Study of Women and Gender, and this summer I’m interning at the Smith Botanic Gardens. As a BG intern, I have an independent project that I’ll spend roughly 120 hours working on this summer; mine is, in short, the Smith Community Garden. I’m the summer manager of the garden, and will also be producing a report that surveys community gardens at both a variety of similar institutions and at Smith, analyzing the varying roles they play within their respective institutions and the surrounding community. I’ll admit that, at first, my internship seems to come entirely out of left field. What could a social science major, of all people, be doing spending their summer in a garden?

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It’s kind of a long story, but suffice it to say that I grew up gardening. My grandparents’ own a farm where I spent the majority of my weekends and summers as a kid, whether I was hoeing and weeding in the two-acre vegetable garden or canning and preserving the produce.When I first came to Smith I did not, however, have any intention of pursuing farming or horticulture further than the family farm and greenhouse business; I wasn’t even involved in the Community Garden until my second year here. But studying sociology and the study of women and gender radically changed my mind. Among other things, both soc and SWG (as we refer to the study of women and gender at Smith) necessitate studying power and privilege, examining and challenging oppression and inequality at both an individual and societal level.  It can get overwhelming at times—after all, what can I do to challenge oppression beyond a very basic, personal level? For me, the answer lies at least in part in community gardening.

One of the focuses of my studies is the impact of neoliberalism and globalization. Agriculture and food is just one of the many areas where you can see quite clearly this impact, from the farmer suicides in India to the so-called “obesity” epidemic in the US, which results at least in part from lack of access to healthy food and fresh produce among the majority of low income families. Community gardening is, I believe, a way to actively challenge the effects of neoliberalism and globalization. It is a way to begin challenging the current food system and to regain agency, to provide people from all walks with control over their access to food—which is a basic human right. It is a way to share knowledge and a skill-base among a community, to teach and educate and to gain skills, all while challenging the status quo. There is an increasingly large movement within the US that propels this “food justice” agenda, and I want to be a part of it. College community gardens are a small step toward this goal—by educating students, staff, and faculty, creating visibility, and  helping push our respective institutions towards sourcing local food in dining halls and other college venues, we’re working, at least in part, to further the goals of the food justice movement. And this is why I, a sociology and Study of Women and Gender major, am spending my summer pulling weeds and suckering tomatoes: to learn and refine the skills and knowledge that will help me  pursue local and urban agriculture more seriously and to work, in the small ways I can, for social justice and a more sustainable, livable world.

I’ll be writing periodically throughout the summer about my adventures in the Smith Community Garden: my musing as I weed, and what I’m learning from assembling this survey and report of college community gardens. Expect to hear more…