Monday, August 1, 2011

Permaculture in action: Updates from Sirius week two

By Mark Scialla

Workday at UMass Permaculture Garden
This post is over due. Apologies for the tardiness as my week has been unusually busy, and I needed to take advantage of a much needed day off yesterday after our massive eco-village pizza party the night before. Here I am though, back on the grind and head first into our final design stages for our client's site.

So much has happened in the past week that it would take more than one blog post to share it all. So instead, I am going to share what I found to be the most interesting things I've seen and done so far.

Without question the elements of this experience that have had the most impact on me are the friendships and networks that I have become a part of. I have been able to connect with the intensity and passion shared by my course-mates. We all have plans for our communities when we leave. However, these experiences are not something I can easily share with you on a blog, so I'll discuss another element that has struck me.

Bates's Holyoak Permaculture
Last week we got a chance to see permaculture in action on several different sites. First, we visited the home of Jonathan Bates and Eric Toensmier, two friends who transformed their suburban duplex into an edible food forest in Holyoak, Massachusetts. This project is featured as a case study in Dave Jacke's book, "Edible Forest Gardens."

The site is no more than a tenth of an acre and produces an abundance of perennial foods. The backyard features a lush landscape of pawpaw, gooseberries, hazelnut trees and hardy kiwi. The garden is only seven years old, and already produces heavily. Bates said they produce close to 80 percent of their produce needs during the summer months, and 20 percent during the cold months. Bates has started a small nursery out of his backyard where he distributes species that are coveted by permaculturists. The site has become a landmark in the neighborhood and place for community education. Their home is a living example that permaculture fits nicely into the cityscape.

One of the most striking things I've seen is the culture of sharing in permaculture. All the designers want to share their plants, designs, ideas and breakthroughs. There is seemingly no competition between participants. The point is to share everything so permaculture propagates far and wide. Many of the plants in Bates's site were shared, gifted, or propagated himself.  My hope is to bring back what I learned from this and other experiences to show how you can turn your site into a foraging paradise for humans and wildlife.

Bates's backyard forest garden
The next site we visited was the most influential to me. The University of Massachusetts at Amherst has fully embraced permaculture and has installed a large permaculture garden outside of its main dining commons. Ryan Harb, a 2009 Sirius Permaculture Design Course alumni, created a position for himself at UMass Amherst as the Chief Sustainability Specialist. He has brought permaculture to academia. After the course he returned to his home in Amherst and established a permaculture garden on his front lawn, which gained attention from the community and the university. From there he worked with UMass students and started teaching permaculture at the university. UMass now offers eight courses on permaculture.

After convincing UMass that permaculture works and is an important movement gaining momentum, the university gave Harb permission to design and implement the Franklin Permaculture Garden outside the Franklin Dining Commons. This garden is used by the chefs at UMass to feed the students. Since UMass began this project it has spent more than $100,000 on permaculture. In two years the dining commons has gone from 8 percent local foods to 25 percent local, and they consider food obtained within 50 miles to be local.  The university plans to install a second permaculture garden at another dining commons, and talks are underway for a permaculture garden at UMass Dartmouth. It seems that UMass Amherst is on to something. I wonder if other universities will follow.
UMass Permaculture Garden

In terms of skills, the most valuable things I have learned is reading the scale of permanence, following a dynamic design process, learning several principals, and sheet mulching for forest gardens. I will go in more depth about the design process at the upcoming workshops, but many of you are familiar with sheet mulching. This technique is essential to establish a woody-perennial system. I'm certain you all will be fascinated about what I have to share.

Permaculture is a movement that is more than 30 years old. It is now emerging from the underground, as the recent New York Times article suggests. Only time will tell if this movement and its ethics will be accepted. I'm so eager to bring it home.

Speaking of home, I miss the park and wonder what is going on. Maybe one of you readers would like to write the next post as an update for me and others as to what is happening at the garden? Email me the post with some photos and I'll publish it.

Presently, I smell a fire, and at this hour it can only be coming from the sauna so I think it is time for me to end this post on that note.

Don't miss this fascinating documentary about UMass Permaculture 

1 comment:

  1. We started our august eco-exploration camp with 14 campers from around the state today. Everyone had a great time and even our most reluctant campers were break dancing and doing gymnastics under the shade of the tree by day's end. Everyone loved the bear, fish, mosquito game you shared from sirius. We harvested tomatoes from the childen's garden and toured the community garden and bc before making our nature boxes to hold the week's treasures. Thanks to all the community gardeners and master gardeners for creating the setting for our first camp connecting kids with biodiversity in urban greenspaces.