High School Teaches Permaculture with Michael Burns

Not your typical high school classroom...
Not your typical high school classroom...

A few weeks ago, a yellow school bus delivered students from New Roots Charter High School to Cayuta Sun Farm for a weeklong permaculture intensive. Instead of driving them to their downtown Ithaca school, it brought twenty students to the same site of the Finger Lakes Permaculture Institute’s (FLPCI) annual Permaculture Design Certificate (PDC) course.

During the week of May 20th, students started their mornings in the cool pine woods and in the Octogon (FLPCI classroom) learning the history, ethics, principles, and strategies of permaculture. In the afternoon they tried exercises and games to enhance their ability to assess the landscape, and to analyze systems through the perspective of permaculture principles. They sheet-mulched and planted seedlings in the annual garden, set up a new pig pasture, harvested and promulgated rhubarb and jerusalem artichokes, and inoculated shiitake mushroom logs. They also found time for daily sit spot meditations, hikes, and to spoil the pigs with lunch leftovers and bushels of the invasive garlic mustard weed. The week ended with a potluck BBQ dinner for the students, staff and parents.

Students used the same facilities FLPCI uses for its summer PDC.
Students used the same facilities FLPCI uses for its summer permaculture design course.

New Roots High School is a public charter high school committed to social justice and ecological sustainability.  Learning permaculture design is a natural fit for New Roots students who are accustomed to learning about many of the same struggles and solutions to meet human and ecological needs that permaculture designers address in their work.

Michael Burns has been working as a high school teacher for over a dozen years while also teaching and administrating FLPCI classes and building a small farm. He found this new assignment to be a natural fit as well:

“Ten years ago I joked about the unlikely possibility of teaching ecological design to high schoolers… but when New Roots started I saw a secondary school curriculum that was ideal for permaculture instruction… “

He now teaches half-time at New Roots in a class titled, “Inventing the Future” a twelfth-grade social studies course that combines two New York State graduation requirements (Government & Economics) with a classwork that examines how our systems could be more just and sustainable. Michael noted that the intensive’s success was thanks to the help of New Roots staff (including Fran Speight) and FLPCI volunteers Nathan Arnold, Kelly Dietz, Jake Maher Delisle, and Anna McCown.

Cayuta Sun's clever and cute earthmovers (Dozer, Auger, Tractor & Tiller) convinced many students to hand over portions of their bag-lunches.
Cayuta Sun's clever and cute earthmovers (Dozer, Auger, Tiller & Tractor) convinced many students to hand over portions of their school lunches.