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UMass Permaculture Initiative to add three new programs

(Christina Yacono/Daily Collegian)

(Christina Yacono/Daily Collegian)

The University of Massachusetts Permaculture Initiative collaborated with local organizations to add three new programs to the edible gardens on campus this semester. The innovations are the initiative’s latest contributions to improve UMass’ status as a vanguard of campus sustainability.

The new programs, located in Franklin Garden, include a new Edible Mushroom Cultivation Program, the instillation of pollinator hotels to provide a nesting area for pollinator insects and a solar charging station which provides a renewable energy source for cell phones and USB-powered electronics, according to Sustainability Coordinator of Campus Gardening Lilly Israel, a graduate from UMass.

UMass Permaculture, a student-staff run collaborative, began in 2010 with the conversion of a patch of grass in front of Franklin Dining Commons with half-a-million pounds of compost material to an edible and educational growing space. Since its inception, the initiative now contributes more than 3,000 pounds of produce directly to the dining commons annually, according to a press release.

The mushroom cultivation program will expand to contribute organic food to UMass Dining Services. Working with Fungi Ally, a cultivation group based in the area that consists of recent graduates from the Stockbridge School of Agriculture, a mushroom lawn was installed in the Franklin Garden.

The lawn consists of 50 logs inoculated with spawns of shiitake and oyster mushrooms that will be available for use by The University Club this spring. Holes are drilled into the logs and then filled with mushroom spawns, which will then spread their roots and pores, according to Israel.

Along with providing organic produce, the mushroom program also assists in sustaining a healthy ecosystem, according to Israel.

“Fungi are essential to an ecosystem, they recycle nutrients and some can form symbiotic relationships with plants called mycorrhizal networks that allow other plants to absorb more nutrients from the soil than they normally would,” Israel said.

The pollinator hotels are being installed to aid the effort of sustaining a healthy ecosystem.

Constructed in collaboration with UMass’ graduate entomology organization, The Fernald Club, pollinator hotels will provide nesting and hibernation habitats for beneficial insects and local bees, according to the release. Accommodation for pollinators has become increasingly important due to the declining population numbers of all pollinators globally, according to Israel.

A study published by the Society for Conservation Biology said the last five years of losses of honeybee colonies in North America leave us with fewer managed pollinators than at any time in the last 50 years, and that the management and protection of wild pollinators is an issue of paramount importance to our food supply system.

“The expansion of urban environments has infringed on pollinators’ natural habitats. Without them, crop growth and vegetation would crumble,” Israel said. “A safe guess for their decline would be destruction of habitat and pesticide use.”

Israel also noted the possibility of allowing a repopulation.

“These habitats made of hollow flower stocks and bamboo housed in wooden boxes mimic their natural environments and provide a place for them to rest and repopulate. By providing habitats for these insects, it contributes to a self-sustaining vegetation system,” she continued.

The Permaculture Initiative goes beyond sustainable planting and harvesting. The Solar Charging Station is intended to support an overall culture of renewable energy on campus.
The charging station located on a picnic table in Franklin Garden was built by the Belchertown company HackerFarm01007.

Israel said the company contacted UMass Permaculture and offered to build the charging station using low-cost and recycled materials.

Small solar panels are situated on top of the water tanks in Franklin Garden. The panels convert sunlight into electricity that is then stored in a small battery cell. The panels operate year-round and are able to capture sunlight regardless of temperature. The excess energy stored in the battery cell allows the station to be utilized by the public 24 hours a day, according to Israel.

Permaculture’s innovations have not gone unnoticed. The program received global recognition and has become the most widely recognized campus permaculture program in the country. In 2012, it was honored by President Barack Obama as first place winner of the White House Campus Champions of Change Challenge.

Brendan Deady can be reached at bdeady@umass.edu.

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