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New Permaculture Garden, local food topics of first UMass Sustainability Fair

The construction of a new permaculture garden at the Berkshire Dining Commons, as well as different ways that members of the campus community can do contribute to make the University of Massachusetts more sustainable, were showcased at the first UMass Sustainability Fair held on the W.E.B. Du Bois Library lawn last Friday.

Jeff Bernstein/Collegian

Jeff Bernstein/Collegian

The fair, which featured about 20 different student groups and organizations, highlighted issues from every part of the sustainability spectrum. Issues that were represented at the fair ranged from caged eggs to studying abroad in Eco villages. According to senior Elizabeth Sussky, the fair accomplished its goal of bringing the different efforts of both the University and students to light.

“I think that it’s great that the fair was able to show that all of these groups and more are right here on campus to raise awareness about sustainability,” said Sussky.

Some visitors were even surprised about some of the things that they discovered about sustainability on campus.

“I didn’t know that some of these groups and organizations have been around for as long as some of them have,” said senior Tim Sapienza.

And while many of the new groups at the fair that Sapienza referred to have only existed for a short time, some of them have seemingly already left their mark at UMass.

The UMass Permaculture group, which built the recently dedicated permaculture garden beside Franklin Dining Commons, is already preparing to break ground on the new permaculture garden at the Berkshire Dining Commons this week. The group, along with several volunteers, will begin work today on the garden. The work will take place between 11 a.m. and 5 p.m. and will not be as easy as the work on the Franklin garden was, according to group members.

Josefine Nowitz, who is a marketing representative and facilitator for the group, said that the site of the new garden lacks key nutrients that are needed to support vegetation. The site has never had any grass or other vegetation grow on it, and soil testing is being conducted to see how healthy the soil is. She also said that food most likely won’t be grown on the sight for two years because of the poor condition of the soil.

“I believe that we’re being challenged and that makes building this garden even more motivating,” said Nowitz.

Jean Arnaud, who is the grant-writer and a facilitator for the group, said that a lot of alternatives have been considered for the site.

“We’ve had people suggest that we get completely new soil, but that would take too much work,” said Arnaud. “The site just needs a lot of remediation and it will eventually be fine to farm.”

The group is on the lookout for sites on campus, like the space next to the Berkshire Dining Commons, to build more gardens in the future.

“Our motto is ‘why grow grass when you can grow food,’ and even though this site isn’t growing grass, it is unused space that we want to make productive,” said Nowitz. “Our current plan is to build a new garden each year.”

Other groups that made their debut at last Friday’s fair included the UMass Amherst Community Kitchen (UMACK), the Coalition for a Cage-Free UMass, the UMass Chicken Group and the UMass Student Farmers Market.

Students who run the market are taking a yearlong Farm Enterprise Practicum course in the Plant, Soil, and Insect Science department that combines classroom learning with experience in the field. The market is the brainchild of the Environmental Performance Advisory Committee (EPAC), and it is a combination of the UMass Student Farming Enterprise, the permaculture garden and UMass Garden Share.

The produce for the market is grown at both the permaculture garden and the UMass Research Farm in South Deerfield. The market is set up every Friday in the Campus Center across from the UStore. Some of the produce from the market has been sold to UMass Dining, but the majority has been sold to students and other members of the campus community. The current goal of the market is not to compete with local farms but rather to provide an alternative for local produce on campus, according to Adam Sillup, who is a student involved with the market.

“We’re staying within the UMass community for this year to keep things on the local level,” said Sillup, who added, “we’re still discussing on how we will grow in the spring and a lot of work still needs to be done before we can talk about expanding.”

Nathan Aldrich, who is a certified permaculture designer and a sustainability specialist for UMass Auxiliary Services, works closely with the market and is pleased with the progress it has made since its creation earlier this year.

“I think [the market] has brought a lot more visibility to sustainability on campus and we’ve had a great response from the campus community so far,” said Aldrich.

Dan Peltier can be reached at djpeltie@student.umass.edu.

 

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