By JASMINE WALLACE
Construction has begun on a new Fruit for the Future permaculture garden and outdoor classroom located behind Commons College. This student-orchestrated project will facilitate more interaction between the Canton community and the university, and provide a place for both education and relaxation in nature.
According to Cynthia Tina ‘15, who is president of the Fruit for the Future club, permaculture is both a method of landscaping design and a philosophy. The goal of a permaculture garden is to mimic natural ecosystems with as little human interference as possible in the long run. Therefore, permaculture gardens tend to feature perennial and self-sowing plants. Tina said, “Landscapes on St. Lawrence’s campus can be aesthetically pleasuring, self-sustaining and productive.”
The project was originally proposed by Ryan Gillard ’11 and Cassie DiMarino ’12 last spring. They wanted to increase food production on campus and originally planned to plant a small orchard of fruit-bearing trees. They applied for received an Innovation Grant to fund Fruit for the Future.
Assistant Professor of Environmental Studies Dr. Amanda Lavigne became the faculty adviser of the project, and they began to discuss how to put their plan into action. “We had discussed it as a way to increase local food production and decrease the amount that our campus needed to mow and use it as a way to educate people about permaculture,” said Lavigne.
Coordinator of Sustainability Projects Louise Gava and Grounds Manager Marcus Sherburne both became involved in the project and the group began to search for a plot of land on campus that received the desired amounts of sunlight and drainage. They ultimately selected the reclaimed parking lot space behind Commons College as the site of their garden. “When you’re going to take a piece of the campus and claim it for a project, you want to make sure that you can clearly communicate how it’s going to benefit our students, faculty, and staff,” said Lavigne. The fact that this area will be transformed from a previously paved and currently un-used space to an enjoyable spot on campus is an added benefit to the organizers.
As the project took form, the vision for it expanded to include a more dynamic and multidimensional plan for the garden. DiMarino also arranged a partnership with the local sustainable living community group, Turtle Hill. Together, the two groups brought an expert from Prospect Rock Permaculture last summer for a design workshop. According to Lavigne, the workshop was informative and aided the planners in designing a map of the future Fruit for the Future garden. “The whole idea of permaculture is using natural ecosystems as a model for how a garden should be set up,” said Jessica McGlinchey ’15, Vice President of the Fruit For The Future club. “The garden should maintain itself.”
“They wanted this space to not only produce food but also be a space that was attractive for people to utilize,” said Lavigne, who explained that the garden would provide a place for quiet reflections and also for teaching. The outdoor classroom component of the project also increased the complexity of the planning. The gifts of the classes of 2009 and 2011 were money that was set aside for an outdoor classroom, and this has been used to fund the project in addition to the Innovation Grant.
The outdoor classroom will be constructed of stone and will by made with minimal materials such as cement. “It’s actually going pretty quickly,” said McGlinchey. “They’re going to carve out the back of the hill that its on and start excavating.” The classroom will seat approximately 30 students, and, like the entire garden, will be handicap accessible. It will be open to all instructors who wish to use the garden as a supplement to their teaching in classes concerning ecology, agriculture or environmental studies. “I feel like there will be a lot of science professors and environmental professors interested in going there, but I hope that it becomes something that everyone on campus can use,” said McGlinchey.
The classroom will also be available to anyone who is simply interested in teaching outdoors without the use of technology. “It’s not going to belong to any one department,” said Lavigne. Tina is also hoping that professors will bring their classes to the garden to teach. In addition, the group plans to provide workshops over the course of the next few years while the trees grow. “We really want to make it an educational center.”
Currently, preparatory work is underway on the site. “The construction is happening now. They already took down trees and are going to be bringing in compost,” said McGlinchey, who explained that the compost will allow them to plant trees in spite of the gravel that still exists from the parking lot.
Problematic trees that were either in danger of falling or blocked too much sunlight have been removed and the ground has been marked with spray-paint to show where the paths and classroom will be. The site still needs to be leveled, and the area where the outdoor classroom will be built needs to be dug out. According to Tina, they plan to plant in the next few weeks. DiMarino is also currently coordinating with the university about her plans to carve a sign for the garden. The hope is to have everything in place by the end of the summer, but the garden will be an ongoing project that doesn’t have a real end in sight.
The garden will include a variety of fruit trees such as apply, pear and plum trees. It will also feature bushes including blueberries, mulberries and elderberries. A herbaceous layer will feature herbs and vegetables. “All the nuts and fruits harvested will mostly go to Campus Kitchens and whoever comes to volunteer,” said Tina.
“It’s open to the entire community, so we will always be looking for volunteers from students and community members,” said McGlinchey. The project has also resulted in formation of the Fruit for the Future club, which currently has about 20 members. The garden’s success will be dependent on volunteer efforts, and many of these volunteers will be club members. The two Seed to Table summer garden interns will work on the garden during the months when students are away from campus. Tina is one of this year’s summer interns.
Lavigne said that the project has been almost entirely carried out by students and said, “The real emphasis was that this was there idea.” However, she added that the staff involved in the project has been instrumental in its success. “Marcus has been great in terms of really embracing this project and supporting it. Louise is always wonderful in how she facilitates student projects and ideas and helps the students realize those on campus.”
“I’m really hoping that the garden will be a huge success and that the campus will start looking at this as a model for the rest of the campus gardens. The landscaping here can be very unsustainable,” said McGlinchey.
The Fruit for the Future committee is hosting an event on Saturday, April 14, at 4:30 in the Sykes Common Room. It will include an information session about the permaculture garden and how students can get involved, and will also feature guest speaker Bill MacKently, who is the owner of St. Lawrence Nurseries in Potsdam, NY, where the trees for the garden will be bought.