Two apple trees planted outside of Wildwood Elementary School in late October marked the start of a new partnership between Amherst elementary schools and the University of Massachusetts Permaculture Initiative.
The fruit trees mark the location of future permaculture gardens that the schools will be designing with the help of permaculture garden officials Ryan Harb, the Permaculture Academic Program coordinator, and Tripper O’Mara, an Auxiliary Services employee who recently graduated from UMass.
O’Mara will be working individually with the Wildwood, Fort River and Crocker Farm elementary schools to help them design their own gardens. The gardens will be similar to the permaculture gardens located outside of the Berkshire and Franklin dining commons.
The permaculture gardens – which are types of gardens that try to mimic natural growing patterns – will then be planted in the spring.
“My main thing right now is just to get kids to understand why we’re doing this, why local food is really good,” O’Mara said.
He added that there is already a lot of excitement about sustainable agriculture at the schools. One of the goals of the partnership is to build on that excitement and integrate permaculture education into the classroom.
While working with the students to plant the fruit trees, O’Mara was impressed by the enthusiasm and knowledge the children brought to the project.
“I was absolutely blown away by how much even the kindergarteners knew,” he said. “They were telling me what I could and couldn’t put into the compost. And that was just really inspiring and exciting to know that these kids were already being taught at such a young level.”
The project – which is funded through a grant the from the Creative Economies Fund, a part of the UMass President’s Office – sprouted from a desire to find more direct ways to give back to the community, O’Mara said.
Harb “won some money to essentially take the idea of permaculture and sustainability education out into the local community,” O’Mara said.
“The way he wanted to do that was by working with the elementary schools.”
The Stockbridge School of Agriculture is also working on this project.
David Barnstone can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.