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Farm & Food Systems

(Liberal Arts Option)

Permaculture garden taking root at GCC: New club at college germinates seeds for plan

Posted on Monday October 1st 2012

From The Greenfield Recorder – October 1, 2012 – About Town with Chris Shores

Greenfield Community College students Krystal Graybeal, Ian Walton, Karla Muise and Sebastiano Ratti Pistoi use tape measures to lay out gardens and paths for the permaculture gardens they are planting next to the new greenhouse at the south end of the GCC main building.  (Recorder/Paul Franz)

Greenfield Community College students Krystal Graybeal, Ian Walton, Karla Muise and Sebastiano Ratti Pistoi use tape measures to lay out gardens and paths for the permaculture gardens they are planting next to the new greenhouse at the south end of the GCC main building. (Recorder/Paul Franz)

GREENFIELD — Behind Greenfield Community College’s south wing, adjacent to the new campus greenhouse, rests an inconspicuous small patch of grass.

But when members of the newlyformed GCC Permaculture Club walk by this one-eighth of an acre, they can already see the perennial plants and wood chip aisles of a garden that will someday produce food for the campus.

A year of in-class brainstorming, site analysis and design planning by students in the college’s farm and food systems degree option converged into a proposal that found its way to President Robert Pura’s desk this summer.

And now that the president’s office has signed off on the plan, the physical work of constructing a permaculture garden has begun.

The eight-member club meets weekly. During the next month, students will install layers of compost and cardboard — to suppress weeds and grass from growing in the garden space. And the club will add nutrients and additives to the soil so that it will be ready for plant instal­lation in the spring.

Most of the compost and products used to build the garden are recycled from campus, said Tony Reiber, the club’s co-adviser and a GCC greenhouse technician and faculty member.

Planting will begin after the winter, with the installation of perennial plants such as gooseberries, blueberries, willow and medicinal tea plants. Climbing spinach will grow in the garden, as will mushrooms, and there will be some space for experimentation with annual vegetables, club members said. About $1,000 worth of plants was donated from Northampton farmer Lisa DePiano.

The hope among members, and the club’s two faculty advisers, is that by this time next year the garden will produce some food for GCC students.

“The plan is to highlight once a week sort of a hyperlocal meal,” said Abrah Dresdale, farm and food services coordinator at GCC and the club’s co-adviser.

A chance to educate

During classes last year, 25-year-old Krystal Graybeal worked with her peers to find the best place to build a permaculture garden.

After studying sites all around Greenfield, students found that GCC presented the best home for the project — both because of available land and because of the educational opportunity the site presents.

“We realized that the GCC campus was an awesome place to start educating people about local food and how it’s produced,” said Graybeal. “We’re hoping that once fully established, this spawns other schools to do the same.”

Jennifer Christian, 25, said that most institutions in the world are actively fighting sustainability. But she believes that building a garden at a college could spark some change.

“It’s a good place to start … a learning atmosphere,” she said. “It’s important for (students) to be engaged in all aspects, not just in the whitewall classrooms but when they’re leaving, when they’re coming, they’ll see (the garden) and they’ll see us changing a landscape.”

Student involvement has driven the project from an idea to land about to turn into a garden, said Dresdale and Reiber.

“It’s great that this is a student- initiated project,” said Reiber, who highlighted the project’s “learning aspect of students actually conceptualizing this and taking it from the onset to actually implementing it.”

Seeking involvement

There is still a long way to go before the garden becomes a finished reality, and club members always welcome new hands that want to help.

Ian Walton, 22, is hoping the club will be able to collaborate with other on-campus groups. But he added that community members are welcome to assist with the fall construction and spring planting tasks.

The club meets once a week, on Wednesdays from 11:30 a.m. to 12:50 p.m. at the greenhouse behind the south wing of campus. During the winter, the club will meet in room F311 to organize for the spring.

For more information on how to get involved, contact Dresdale at dresdalea@gcc.mass.edu

Chris Shores can be reached cshores@recorder.com or 413-772-0261 x264


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