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Stockbridge lecturer offers a permaculture perspective with ‘Inhabit’ screening

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Last Thursday evening, the University of Massachusetts Permaculture Initiative hosted a screening of “Inhabit: A Permaculture Perspective,” an environmental documentary, on the 26th floor of W.E.B. Du Bois Library. My elevator was packed with people, all of whom would accompany me to the top floor of the gargantuan tower.

We reached the 26th floor and funneled into a room that began to fill with attendees. I saw some friends already seated and walked over to join them. I looked around the space – there appeared to be somewhere around 60 chairs. In the back right corner of the room, Cider donuts and cold apple cider – served on compostable plates and in compostable cups, respectively – beckoned their guests from a small counter. By the time the screening itself began, people were sitting along the windows and walls around the room.

Shortly after 7:00pm, Madeleine Charney, Sustainability Studies Librarian at UMass, welcomed the robust crowd to the screening.

Charney introduced Lisa DePiano, a lecturer and permaculture instructor at the University’s Stockbridge School of Agriculture. DePiano delivered some brief opening remarks to introduce the film. She noted that director Costa Boutsikaris and assistant director Emmett Brennan traveled through the Pioneer Valley and called it “a hub for permaculture.” The film demonstrates that hub at work.

Permaculture – “a socially responsible, ecologically beneficial, and financially sustainable practice,” as defined in the UMass Permaculture pamphlet distributed at the screening – is indeed prevalent in the Valley and other parts of the Northeastern and Midwestern United States. The term itself, which combines “permanent” and “agriculture,” succinctly encapsulates the goals of the process. Permaculture is a response to modern agriculture – an effort to regenerate, to sustain, to produce plentiful resources without exacerbating the environmental harms wrought by older agricultural practices.

Ben Falk – a “leading authority on permaculture homesteading”– provided an opening voiceover in which he explained the concept of a “keynote” species, or one that affects every other species in an ecosystem. Human beings are such a species, and have made an indelible mark on the environment. Falk described the damage as Boutsikaris cut between shots of pollution and other harmful practices. Aled Robert’s organic score – a composite of gentle piano, strings, synth and guitar – added a fitting sonic gravity to Falk’s words.

A portion of Lisa DePiano’s own work also received focus in the film. She is a member of Pedal People, a Northampton-based “permaculture-inspired business that facilitates the bike powered pickup of home compost (and) trash.”

The film introduced its audience to agricultural problems across urban, suburban and rural areas, and then moved on through a linked series of vignettes and testimonials to examine those working toward the permaculture related solutions.

“Inhabit” emphasized that a flawed understanding of nature leads to devastating consequences. The film imposed a sense of urgency to embrace these newer sustainable and regenerative ecological practices – and it also reminded the audience that the solution is well within reach.

Falk ended the film with a powerful sentiment about moving forward with these beneficial environmental efforts. “We have all of the pieces,” he says. “We just have to start assembling.”

Nathan Frontiero can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @NathanFrontiero.

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