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Farm & Food Systems

(Liberal Arts Option)

GCC permaculture students in the news!

Posted on Monday April 9th 2012

From the Daily Gazette – story by Richie Davis – Photo by Paul Franz

On the heels of White House recognition for a permaculture garden at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, Greenfield Community College students are proposing a similar garden on their campus.

GCC greenhouse technician Tony Reiber, student Christopher O’Connell, instructor Abrah Dresdale and students Krystal Graybeal and Ginevra Bucklin-Lane

The 8-acre garden envisioned adjacent to GCC’s new 1,000-square-foot zero net energy greenhouse is the brainchild of six students who took a permaculture class through the college’s Farm and Food Systems program.

Permaculture is a sustainable gardening technique that aims to renew rather than degrade the environment. The proposed garden will serve as a demonstration site for GCC students and also a source of food for the college’s dining services.

“This is going really well,” said adjunct faculty member Abrah Dresdale as she looked out on more than 50 people who attended a recent planning session. Dresdale taught the permaculture course with help from proponents of the technique like Jono Neiger of Conway School of Landscape Design and Daniel Botkin of Laughing Dog Farm in Gill.

At the planning session students brainstormed goals and suggested how they could be incorporated into a garden that – pending final approval from the college and outside funding – could be planted as early as next spring, Dresdale said. They will do a site analysis in coming weeks and then develop a final design and long-term maintenance plan, while awaiting word on a U.S. Department of Agriculture grant.

Permaculture is based on principles that take advantage of nature’s ability to restore its systems, Dresdale said. For example, it conserves water by capturing roof runoff and using swales dug into the land’s contour, and builds up soil with a lasagna-like layering of compost, cardboard, straw and other materials.

Designs that came out of the GCC planning session incorporated blueberry bushes, dwarf cherry trees and perennial flowers that attract pollinators and beneficial insects. The garden would use ground cover as a “living mulch,” and nitrogen-fixing plants including clover and members of the pea family instead of chemical fertilizers.

There were also provisions for structures for meditation and play, designed to encourage a range of visitors.

The year-old UMass permaculture garden near Franklin Dining Commons grows a wide variety of plants on its quarter-acre plot: medicinal and culinary herbs, Asian pears and peaches, vegetables like tomatoes and peppers, and some “fun, unheard-of plants,” said Meg Little, a student member of the UMass permaculture committee. Little said the garden maximizes output in a concentrated space by taking advantage of varying plant heights.

The UMass garden is one of the nation’s first permaculture gardens on a public university campus to also provide food for dining halls. The UMass Amherst Permaculture Initiative, which established the garden and enlisted more than 1,000 campus volunteers and 300 local youths in producing 1,000-plus pounds of produce for UMass kitchens, was honored by President Barack Obama last month as one of five “Campus Champions of Change.”

GCC Natural Sciences Dean Peter Rosnick, who supports a permaculture garden on the Greenfield campus, said, “Even if it ends up being just a small plot, I think this is just a fabulous learning experience for these folks, and it makes for a learning experience for the next set of students to come along.”

“At UMass, they took a field and they transformed it into a permaculture-designed foodscape,” said GCC student Christopher O’Connell. “The reason they’re getting recognition is they did something amazing for their community. Our hope today is that the goals that you offer, the vision that we’re sharing here today becomes the energy and foundation for building something so powerful that people come to this campus # and they take that knowledge home with them.”

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