As I approach the end of my time at UMass, I’ve been reflecting on my time here and how my interests have developed. I came in four years ago undeclared, briefly pursued a Spanish major, and then switched to Environmental Design. But it was not until this past fall that I really found my academic and professional niche as a member of the UMass Permaculture Committee.
The first question I always get is, “What’s permaculture?” Permaculture is a system of sustainable design that meets human needs for food, water, energy, shelter, and community, while also increasing the health of the ecosystem. Permaculture design was created in the 1970s by two Australian designers to address fossil fuel dependence, environmental degradation, community fragmentation, and other problems caused by our current food system. A union of the words ‘permanent’ and ‘agriculture’, permaculture promises to maintain human health and well-being while promoting long-term sustainability.
The problems our society faces these days can seem overwhelming; what can one person do in the face of climate change, global hunger, and a broken food system? My answer to this question is permaculture. Permaculture design is, at its core, extremely optimistic and participatory. It empowers individuals to make a change in their lives, whether it’s by growing food locally, by strengthening community bonds, by transitioning to renewable energy, or by taking any number of other actions. For me, permaculture provides hope in a sometimes-hopeless world.
As a member of the UMass Permaculture Committee, I have participated in the design and implementation of the Franklin and Berkshire Permaculture Gardens. Our purpose as a committee is to provide healthy, local food to the dining commons while simultaneously restoring neglected land and educating students about where food comes from. Apart from working in the garden, I also work with other committee members to plan events, coordinate with local school groups, facilitate permaculture initiatives at other colleges, and involve UMass students in our project. Over the past year I have deepened my knowledge of permaculture, learned to work cooperatively, and made some lasting friendships.
The UMass Permaculture Initiative started small, but we have recently been getting a lot of attention for our demonstration gardens on campus, our work to educate students and community members about sustainable food systems, and our bottom-up, student-driven methods. I had no idea when I joined the committee in September that by March I would be honored at the White House and get to hear President Obama speak! It has been an incredible honor to work with the Permaculture Committee, and I hope to continue on this trajectory even after I graduate.
For more information about UMass Permaculture, check out our website: www.umasspermaculture.com. You can follow our blog, find out when to volunteer in the garden, and see our progress on the Berkshire garden.