FLPCI teacher and board member, Karryn Olson Ramanujan helps students design and implement permaculture on the campus landscape.

Karryn (second from right in the back row) with some members of the permaculture club during a work day in early spring.

This past week a conference at the University of Massachusetts has brought together permaculture enthusiasts and designers with students and college staff for a “Permaculture your Campus” event. Featuring Francis Moore Lappe’, the event is capitalizing on the recent success of the schools permaculture club’s work to educate people about growing healthy food and permaculture, and  delivering campus-grown vegetables to campus dining halls.

In the Finger Lakes Region, FLPCI has been helping develop programs at the two colleges in Ithaca. At Cornell University, Steve Gabriel has been guideing and teaching classes on permaculture and next fall will bring the first PDC to an Ivy League school. At Ithaca college, Karryn Olson Ramanujan, after teaching a PDC and other courses related to sustainable design, proposed an on campus demonstration of forest garden. This year a permaculture club was formed and as she describes in a local newspaper article, the new forest garden gathered momentum:

“As a person who has worked on this project for a long time as a volunteer mentor, the enthusiasm of students and passersby makes it all worthwhile. They see that this is something different. In this time of mounting ecological degradation, young people know in their bones that we, as a planetary society, have to transform our industrial growth culture to one that works with nature. They need to understand systems thinking and how our planet and its ecosystems work. They also need to be able to envision a new future that regenerates ecosystems, individuals, and societies. They need to have the skills to design that audaciously hopeful future, and to make it happen. The students, staff, and faculty that I have worked with on the permaculture garden offer it as a humble stepping stone in service to the planet…”

The Ithaca College Permaculture club describes the goals of their new demonstation garden on their blog:

“The IC permaculture garden is a small but highly productive space. In addition to yielding fruits, herbs and flowers, it serves as an accessible outdoor classroom demonstrating permaculture principles and functions as a gateway attracting visitors to other food-producing and sustainability-related projects on campus. In addition, it demonstrates an aesthetic and environmentally beneficial approach to landscaping that encourages interaction and discussion about our connections to food and the natural world.”

A design sketch showing planting suggestions for the garden which is found in a central location between the busy student union building and an academic building.

Karryn describes the flash of inspiration that led to the project:

“Walking by the student organic garden near Williams Hall, which was underutilized and bordered by a chain-link fence, I noticed that the pattern of student life did not match with the summer intensive veggie model. In the Fall of 2009, I started talking to students in my Principles and Practices for Sustainability about Edible Forest Gardens and how that model made sense in the Northeast, since it mimics the temperate forest ecology of our area…”

After finding the right mix of students and adminsistrative allies the project took off. Bill Mollison once said that you know your permaculture design is working when you find a surplus of willing helpers. This summer, despite being the worst time to find students on campus, the club found funding to put a student on as summer staff to further develop and maintain the site. So while typical gardens may not work on most campuses, the sight of a working, beautiful forest garden inspired enough activity to turn it into a year-round maintained, harvested and utilized space.