As the constant stream of construction continues around the University of Massachusetts, a notable change in the landscape is taking place outside Franklin Dining Commons – the Franklin Permaculture Garden has recently completed the first of three stages of development.
Ryan Harb, the Auxiliary Services Sustainability Specialist and head of the project, explained the motivations behind creating the garden.
“Permaculture is an ecological design system where you’re essentially mimicking what nature is doing, and you’re not trying to improve upon it,” he said. “So, when you think of [permaculture], just think sustainability.”
“What we’re trying to do is grow food right on campus,” he said, “so it’s very local, and doesn’t take a lot of energy to do. [We’re] growing in a way where it’s actually building the soil each year, rather than traditional agriculture, which takes away a lot of the growth.”
Harb is a recent UMass graduate, and was the graduate of the Green Building program, as well as the first in the country to have a Master’s in Green Building. He initially built a permaculture garden in his own yard for his thesis.
Students in Professor John Gerber’s sustainable agriculture class proposed the larger-scale permaculture garden. With the support of students in the class, Josh Stoffel, the Campus Sustainability Coordinator, and Ken Toong, Director of Auxiliary Services, Harb received the job of creating the Franklin Permaculture Garden.
“If it wasn’t for Ken Toong, this project would not be happening at all,” said Harb.
With the idea of “Being a Local Hero” continuously displayed in the dining halls around campus, UMass will soon be able to see exactly where its food is coming from.
“We’re going to be growing things like squash and probably cucumbers, tomatoes, those kinds of annuals,” said Harb, “but also, permaculture takes into consideration perennials, so things like…nut bushes, berry bushes, herbs, spices, things like that, are also going to be in the garden.”
Harb also explained the short-term goals of the permaculture project.
“This garden is really to serve as an educational demonstration site on campus,” he said, “as far as growing food sustainably and just showing how this can be done really affordably. [We are] doing it all with student involvement, right from the initial implementation of building soil, which is what we’ve been doing for the past couple of weeks.”
According to Harb, student involvement will be key in the development of the project. The garden will be created in three phases: soil remediation, design and “…implementation, creating a long-term maintenance plan.”
UMass is not the first university to have a permaculture garden on its campus, but the garden is unique from others around the country.
“We are really the first one to do one this size and this magnitude, and also have it in this highly visible location on campus,” said Harb. “There are some at other universities, but UMass is fully funding this project; they’re buying all the compost, all the tools, they’re buying all the plants and materials we need. So they’re really putting in a great deal of resources, and taking a lot of time and students.”
Harb also stressed the uniqueness of the location of the permaculture garden, as well as the fact that food from the garden will be used at Franklin Dining Commons.
When asked about their thoughts on the construction of the garden, several students voiced praise for the project.
“If it goes along with the whole environmental thing they’re doing down in Southwest, I think it’s a really good idea… like they’ve been trying to enhance the green [image] and whatnot,” said Zac Ziemba, a freshman and prospective accounting major.
“I think it will be a great addition to campus, and a good move toward sustainability,” said Kendra Dean, a junior English and BDIC double major.
While most students agree that this permaculture garden is a step in the right direction for UMass, others still have their hesitations.
“Right now, to me, it just looks like a big huge pile of woodchips,” said freshman Jon-Luc Goodrich. “I don’t know if they’re actually going to plant [things] or not. I thought it looked pretty good before they started all the construction, to be honest.”
So far, student involvement has included a team of eight UMass students on the Permaculture Planning Committee, as well as about 110 volunteers from all Five Colleges, Amherst Regional High School, the Living Routes organization, Smith College’s Global Action Against Poverty Everywhere (GAAPE) , and Big Brothers-Big Sisters.
With the help of these volunteers, Harb and the Permaculture Planning Committee have spread about 250,000 pounds of organic matter by hand over the quarter-acre plot using no fossil fuels.
“All the organic matter came from UMass,” said Harb. “The compost came from the equestrian farm, and also a little bit from the dining halls,”
Although the first phase of the garden is now complete, Harb says there will still be more opportunities for students to help out in the spring.
“There [are] going to be ways to get involved in the design process,” he said. We’re going to be holding different open forums on campus where people can talk about their ideas. They can say, “You know, this is what I would like to see in the garden…”
For more information, contact Ryan Harb at [email protected]
Karissa Hamblet can be reached at [email protected]