Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Permaculture at UMass Amherst

This is a blog entry from the UMass Amherst Permaculture Blog. I would strongly recommend following this blog, which takes you on a journey from the perspective of 9 individuals, whose job is to create one of the first student led permaculture gardens on a major university campus in the country. A link to the blog site can be found here:

You'll like this, I promise!


Dear Eco-Conscious Reader,

Welcome to the University of Massachusetts Amherst permaculture blog site. My name is Ryan Harb and I was recently hired as the Auxiliary Services Sustainabilty Specialist at UMass Amherst. In September, 2010, eight passionate and hard-working students were selected to serve on the UMass Permaculture Planning Committee. Together, the nine of us have quite the story to tell you.

Our job is considerable: to implement one of the first permaculture gardens on a public university campus in the country. UMass Amherst fully supports and funds this project as it is part of the campus-wide sustainability initiative to raise awareness about a more holistic and ecologically conscious way of growing food.

The Franklin Dining Common Permaculture Garden will supply UMass Amherst Auxiliary Services with fresh, local and organic produce to serve to its students. Please read on to learn how students, outside volunteers, and the campus community transform a conventional, unproductive grass lawn into a highly progressive, aesthetically pleasing, and socially responsible garden directly on campus.

What is Permaculture?

Permaculture is a merger of the words permanent and agriculture and was created to mitigate environmental degradation while helping to solve issues associated with modern agriculture. Its approach is simple: to restore ecosystem health by mimicking natural processes. Permaculture gardens are ecologically designed, require minimal maintenance, and provide an abundance of food and resources. The principles of permaculture include observing patterns in nature, catching and storing energy, using renewable resources, producing no waste, and valuing diversity. These principles can be applied to economic systems, land access strategies, and legal systems for businesses and communities. UMass Amherst, in its commitment to sustainability, has adopted permaculture strategies to provide food and education for the campus community.

Read more about permaculture here in a more recent blog entry.

Project History:

The Franklin Permaculture Garden was first conceived in the fall of 2009 by a group of students in Dr. John Gerber's Sustainable Agriculture class. The lawn adjacent to Franklin Dining Common was chosen with the intention of producing food for UMass Auxiliary Services. After much planning and numerous meetings with administrators, the project was given the green light.

Then something unfortunate happened. The project was halted when news arose of a proposed temporary parking lot on the exact site of the garden. Students voiced their concerns that this would delay the permaculture project for years and adversely affect the UMass Amherst Sustainability Initiative. The permaculture garden seemed defeated.

Fortunately, the administration listened to student concerns. The project regained some momentum during the Spring 2010 semester when the proposed parking lot fell through. Ken Toong, Director of Auxiliary Services, began talking with Ryan Harb, a certified permaculture designer and M.S. in Green Building, about overseeing the project that Dr. Gerber's students had proposed. Ryan had recently transformed his Amherst lawn into a yard-sized permaculture garden for his graduate thesis project. His "yarden" served as a model for what the Franklin Garden could be.

In the fall of 2010, Ryan was hired for the job and began interviewing for a committee of eight students with the determination and inspiration to assist him with the project. Thus began the UMass Permaculture Planning Committee and the Franklin Permaculture Garden.

What's Coming Next?

We, the UMass Permaculture Planning Committee, are responsible for transforming the ¼ acre grass landscape into a highly productive and low maintenance garden using no fossil fuels on-site. During October and November 2010, we will be moving over 100,000 pounds of organic matter by hand, with help from many other students and community volunteers.

We will hold educational permaculture workshops for the surrounding community throughout the year, and will partner with organizations such as Big Brother Big Sisters and G.A.A.P.E (Global Action Against Poverty Everywhere) to inspire future generations about the need for sustainability.

Subscribe to our blog! We will be posting twice weekly throughout the year with pictures, stories and video footage to document our progress.

Thanks for reading!
-The UMass Amherst Permaculture Planning Committee


Ryan Harb
Auxiliary Services Sustainability Specialist
University of Massachusetts Amherst

• Email:
• Phone: (978) 314-1176


Amherst Man turns Car into Permaculture Garden

Today, I opened my backseat and surprisingly saw something green. It looked like sprouts, but I had just vacuumed my car. Something must gotten attached to my bag earlier in the day, I thought. Upon closer examination, I noticed it had roots.


All summer I had been hauling 5 gallon buckets of wood chips, cardboard, and compost in my car, as I was in the midst of 4 separate permaculture garden projects. Needless to say, some of the compost and wood chips spilled on my floor, in my seats, etc.

About 4 weeks ago, I transported some buckwheat seeds in my car, to my garden at 3 Willow Lane in Amherst, Massachusetts. Can you guess where this is going?


Apparently some of the compost had found its way down in my backseat seat-belt-buckle. Apparently some of the buckwheat seed had also found its way down there. Some moisture, perhaps from the hot days and cool nights we've been experiencing lately, added to form the perfect storm.

I now have buckwheat growing out of my backseat seat belt buckle!

Thank you for reading,