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Community Guest Post Reflections Summer 2014 The Farm at Stonehill

Guest Post! — Permaculture: Why Mow When You Can Grow?

Why Mow When You Can Grow?

 By: Christine Moodie (Class of 2015)

photo of Summer Farmers relax in the new Permaculture test plot located at The Farm.
Summer Farmers relax in the new Permaculture test plot located at The Farm.

While the summer harvest is providing us with a bounty of fresh produce for our community partners, a team of students and faculty are actively performing research to create permaculture gardens for the Stonehill College and Massasoit Community College Campuses through funding provided by the Lloyd G. Balfour Foundation, Bank of America, N.A., Trustee!

How did this research take root? In the late spring, two faculty members, Bridget Meigs, Instructor and Farm Manager at The Farm at Stonehill, and Melanie Trecek-King, Assistant Professor and Chair of the Sustainable Landscaping Committee at Massasoit Community College met with Rachel Hirst, Assistant Professor of Biology and Marie Kelly, Director of Corporate and Foundation Relations, to discuss the potential to work together and with students Jamall Plummer of Massasoit and myself, to create on-campus permaculture gardens at each of the respective colleges.  When I was approached with this research opportunity while I was studying sustainability in Australia, I was thrilled to become involved and be a part of the project.  I became even more excited when I met Jamall Plummer, a passionate student and leader in the garden projects at Massasoit College and active urban farmer at his home in Brockton.

photo of Some of the gardens at the Massasoit College Brockton Campus.
Some of the gardens at the Massasoit College Brockton Campus.

The research project and the resulting gardens will serve as living laboratory spaces, allowing students from both campuses to connect with one another – creating academic and community linkages between Stonehill and Massasoit for years to come.

photo of Jamall Plummer working in the Massasoit gardens!
Jamall Plummer, Massasoit student collaborator, working in the Massasoit gardens!

Now, what is permaculture? Permaculture, also described as “permanent agriculture”, or “permanent culture” (since the two are so often intertwined!) is a regenerative design system that involves observing and mimicking the relationships found in nature to create ecological and edible landscapes and sustainable communities and economies.  Therefore, permaculture incorporates organic growing methods that emphasizes growing polycultures (a number of different kinds of crops) over monocultures (one kind of crop) and planting perennial (plants that come back year after year) rather than annual crops (plants that have just one season) to ultimately create a complete and self-perpetuating system!

An herb spiral is a permaculture design. When you visit The Farm you will see one of these in the middle of the meditation garden.
An herb spiral is a permaculture design. When you visit The Farm you will see one of these in the middle of the meditation garden.

Why have a garden on campus?  I think by having a garden on campus, it begins to change people’s perceptions on how they think about food- from production to consumption. I really want students to think about where their food is coming from, how it is being grown, and who is growing it, so we can all begin to change those norms!  The garden would show a real life example of how to convert underutilized grass lawns on the campus into edible, educational, and biodiverse gardens!

photo of UMASS Amherst has led the way in integrating Permaculture Gardens into their campus's landscape.  Here is a sketch of their flagship garden, located right next to one of their dining facilities on campus in Amherst, MA.
UMASS Amherst has led the way in integrating Permaculture Gardens into their campus’s landscape. Here is a sketch of their flagship garden, located right next to one of their dining facilities on campus in Amherst, MA.

The garden will hopefully also inspire more Stonehill students and staff to visit The Farm at Stonehill and learn more about food desert conditions in parts of Brockton to help to inspire more lasting solutions.  In the future, the garden will also provide educational opportunities and living laboratory spaces for ecological and scientific research.  It will bring together students, faculty, and staff from all different realms and disciplines and offer additional volunteer opportunities while being an outlet and source of inspiration for students during the school year.

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A college campus is a perfect setting for implementing a permaculture garden as they are replicable, low-maintenance, scalable and can be adapted to suit anyone and in any climate!  In addition, all of the food harvested from the garden will be available to the entire Stonehill Community, providing healthy and nutritious food grown from the campus itself!

In the past two weeks, we have been preparing the permaculture garden at the Farm for planting in the fall by outlining the beds with rocks and adding compost and mulch!

Watch the progression below!

photo of Location for the Permaculture Garden test plot at The Farm at Stonehill!
Location for the Permaculture Garden test plot at The Farm at Stonehill.

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photo of Making progress! Thank you to Langwater Farm for the local rocks that we used to outline the beds!
Making progress! Thank you to Langwater Farm for the local rocks that we used to outline the beds.

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photo of     “The Farm at Stonehill” brick at the entrance to the garden for a unique and authentic touch!
“The Farm at Stonehill” brick at the entrance to the garden for a unique and authentic touch!

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photo of Bridget and Chris laying down plastic for the pathways to keep down the weeds!
Farm Manger, Bridget and Summer Farmer, Chris, laying down a plastic ground cloth for the pathways to keep the weeds from taking over!

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Adding mulch to the beds - a big thanks to all of the farmers, Bridget, Devin, Anna, Andrew, Chris, and Kaleigh for helping with the first stages of implementation of the garden!
Adding mulch to the beds – a big thanks to all of the farmers, Bridget, Devin, Anna, Andrew, Chris, and Kaleigh for helping with the first stages of implementation of the garden.

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Ready for planting! Here we will plant some fruit trees, perennial vegetables and flowers as well as some annual crops.
Ready for planting! Here we will plant some fruit trees, perennial vegetables and flowers as well as some annual crops in our test plot at The Farm.

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On another exciting note, the location of the on-campus garden is in the final stages of approval – it is located behind the split rail fence along the southern edge of Duffy Parking Lot behind the senior courts.  We are very excited about this high visibility location that many students will pass on a daily basis! The garden beds will be planted with a variety of annual and perennial plants that will be maintained by students affiliated with the club Food Truth and under the supervision of Bridget Meigs, Farm Manager.

photo of Proposed site for our Permaculture Garden on campus.
Proposed site for our Permaculture Garden on campus.

Once we receive approval, we are excited to begin sheet mulching on campus soon and begin planting our perennial crops in the fall!  Sheet mulching is a no dig, no till gardening technique that reduces labor inputs, improves soil quality, prevents soil erosion, and improves plant health and productivity.  Sheet mulching involves aerating the soil, reducing soil compaction while disturbing it a lot less than using a tractor, then covering the area with compost, organic matter that will improve soil health and add nutrients to the soil.  The compost is then covered with a layer of cardboard or newspapers, which will prevent weeds from growing.  Lastly, the area is covered by a mulch layer, which will hold in moisture and nutrients for the plants!

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We can’t wait to continue the work on this project and begin to watch the garden grow!

Please contact me if you’d like to learn more and get involved in Food Truth or these garden projects: cmoodie2@students.stonehill.edu.

Categories
Community Fall 2013 Fall Harvest 2013 Greenhouse The Farm at Stonehill Volunteer

Thanksgiving for a Fruitful Season!

A turnip green wrapped up in a light coat of frost.
A turnip green wrapped up in a light coat of frost.

As the chilling wind races around the fields, stirring up fallen leaves along the edges, rushing between our spindly apple trees, and bending the recently sprouted cover crops with ease it is clear that our third growing season is coming to a close.

Here are a few fast facts about The Farm that tell some of the story of how productive the 2013 Season has been and how many people are responsible for our bountiful harvest.

2013 Harvest: 12,416.5 pounds of over 35 different kinds of veggies – our biggest and most diverse harvest yet!

2013 Donations: These vegetables were donated to our partners: My Brother’s Keeper, the Easton Food Pantry, The Old Colony YMCA’s Family Life Center, and The Table at Father Bill’s & MainSpring.

2013 Volunteers: Over 500 hours contributed by over 250 individuals.

Classes Held at The Farm: Over 18 different classes, including creative writing, photography, mentoring through art, environmental science, religious studies, and first year experience classes used the farm as an outdoor learning space to help deepen certain lessons and provide context for others.

2013 Flower Sales: $2,100.00

Zuri approves of this year's harvest!
Zuri approves of this year’s harvest!

As Thanksgiving approaches, we have so much to be thankful for, from the natural elements that create an environment that supports healthy and productive plants to our summer staff and year-round volunteers who join us to make the work of planting, feeding the soil with compost, weeding, harvesting, and finally, delivering our crops both easier and much more fun.

protecting apple trees
Members of the Food Politics Learning Community help to protect our young apple trees from rodents that might attempt to snack on saplings in the colder months.

Looking back on this season, I see a different farm than the one we started in February of 2011.  The same generous and hopeful spirit, originally found in Professor Paul Daponte’s vision for the farm – to grow organic and healthy food with and for our neighbors in need and raise awareness about food deserts – is thriving!

A group of students helps to plant garlic on October 28th.
A group of students helps to plant garlic on October 28th.

However, I think that it was in this third season that the dust started to settle and the work of The Farm began to thrive, not just on it’s 2 acre plot next to The David Ames Clock Farm/Facilities Management, but also in the classrooms and in the creation of new student groups like “Food Truth” across the street on the main campus.  There are times, I must admit, when I hear people talking about The Farm, and Food Truth – a student organization that works to promote Real Food on campus – who I have not yet had the pleasure of getting to know.  It is exciting to see The Farm becoming more integrated into the campus culture!

Food Truth held a Banana Split To Commit event on Food Day, October 24th. In this photo, students sign a petition asking for more "real food" on campus as they await their turn to make a banana split comprised of local, organic, fairly traded, or humanely produced items.
Food Truth held a Banana Split To Commit event on Food Day, October 24th. In this photo, students sign a petition asking for more “real food” on campus as they await their turn to make a banana split comprised of local, organic, fairly traded, or humanely produced items.

Still housed under the Mission Division and now under the guidance of Father Jim Lies, The Farm is truly a place of community where new volunteers are now welcomed not just by me and Zuri, but by students who have been working at The Farm for almost their entire Stonehill career!

Three of the students who have, much to my delight, made The Farm a second home during their time at Stonehill. Gabby Gobiel (2014), Breanne Penkala (2015), and Sean Davenport (2015).
Three of the students who have, much to my delight, made The Farm a second home during their time at Stonehill. Gabby Gobiel (2014), Breanne Penkala (2015), and Sean Davenport (2015).

Despite the freezing temperatures and frost filled mornings, the work of the farm is far from complete.  We are experimenting with growing some mustard greens, spinach and a few lettuce varieties in our hoop house.  Following the lead of some friends at Langwater Farm, we flipped a few of our seedling tables over, filled them with a rich mix of compost and soil and planted our the seedlings.

Three volunteers help to plant greens on Halloween!
Three volunteers help to plant greens on Halloween!

We also find that we have time to clean the shed, the hoop house, and clean up the tines on our amazing rototiller that does such important work for us all season long.

I heard a clanking as the tiller spun through the soil and crawled under to discover a few wires had gotten tangled in the tines.
I heard a clanking as the tiller spun through the soil and crawled under to discover a few wires had gotten tangled in the tines.

The other place to pour our energy is into helping our community learn how to compost!

If you don't know how to compost, simply read the signs above the bins or ask a friend!
If you don’t know how to compost, simply read the signs above the bins or ask a friend.

Members of the Food Politics LC will join me and our TA, Breanne, to help point out what to compost – fruit, veggie, sandwich and salad scraps – and what not to compost – plastic utensils, paper boats, cereal cups as with our new campaign: “You Know How To Compost, Right!?”

The scraps from the Commons kitchen and from the tri bins near the tray return area are added to this pile daily where they are mixed with leaves and become nutritious compost.
The scraps from the Commons kitchen and from the tri bins near the tray return area are added to this pile daily where they are mixed with leaves and become nutritious compost.

Sometimes we find items in the compost pile that simply don’t belong! Help us to keep our operation clean, productive and functional so that we can grow more nutritious crops in the years to come.

These plastic bottles were pulled out of the compost pile at The Farm the other day.
These plastic bottles were pulled out of the compost pile at The Farm the other day.

Course projects are also involving the farm and our mission. For example, a group in the Climate Change Learning Community is putting a proposal together to suggest that an herb spiral garden be constructed on the main campus.  If installed it will serve as a way for students to have access to fresh, flavorful herbs for meals they prepare and allow more students to learn more about the work of The Farm.

Six students taking the Climate Change Learning Community met me and Zuri outside of the Chapel of Mary last week to discuss where to construct and herb spiral.
Six students taking the Climate Change Learning Community met me and Zuri outside of the Chapel of Mary last week to discuss possible locations for an herb spiral on campus.

Longer nights and shorter days also provide time to meet with our partners to learn which crops to grow next year and strategize about ways to involve more classes and volunteers with the work of the farm in Season 2014!

Our third season draws to a close, but winter projects abound, and Season #4 is just around the corner - you know that summer's coming soon!
Our third season draws to a close, but winter projects abound, and Season #4 is just around the corner – you know that summer’s coming soon!