Published August 15, 2013
It wasn’t the celebrated academic programs, historic buildings or successful athletic teams that drew Jonathan Gibbons to the University of Massachusetts-Amherst this summer.
Instead, it was the university’s student gardening program.
Gibbons, along with three fellow UB undergraduates and two UB staff members, attended a four-day conference at UMASS to learn about permaculture, a method of gardening that emphasizes educational, low-maintenance and edible gardens.
The students, whose travel and conference fees were paid for by Campus Dining & Shops (CDS), learned ways to turn marginalized landscapes into thriving gardens that produce vegetables, herbs and other plants that contribute to a healthy, diverse ecosystem. This includes, but is not limited to, composting, mulching and polyculture, the practice of planting different crops in the same space to mimic the natural landscape.
Gibbons, a senior environmental geoscience major from North Tonawanda, said the conference was educational and inspiring.
“It was such an amazing experience, probably the best thing I did all summer,” he said during a presentation last month with fellow student conference attendees Kristen Janson, Margaret Murray and Dylan Steed.
The students, who hope to create a permaculture garden on UB’s North Campus, spoke about the conference at a meeting of the UB Undergraduate Academies.
Among those attending was James Jenson, professor in the Department of Civil, Structural and Environmental Engineering. Jenson asked the students how they would maintain such a garden, considering the growing season in Western New York occurs during the summer when most students are not on campus.
That is one of several issues—the others being the garden’s potential location, access to water, what to grow, procuring startup funding and necessary approvals, and convincing future students to maintain the garden—that the students said they are addressing.
Their plan, at least in principle, is supported by Jeff Brady, CDS executive director.
“I’m very excited about this,” he said. “In addition to the education component, this will benefit our students because it will be a source of fresh, locally grown food.
Jim Simon, sustainability engagement coordinator with UB’s Office of Sustainability, who also attended the conference, said the garden could be another environmentally friendly project to benefit the UB community and beyond.
“It has been inspiring to watch this project unfold. Through the committed leadership of Campus Dining & Shops, and a student leadership team that draws from the Undergraduate Academies, Alpha Kappa Chi (the undergraduate professional environmental fraternity), and Engineers for a Sustainable World, it is clear that sustainability at UB is about building lasting relationships with the planet and the community,” Simon said.
The students, who are continuing to work on developing the permaculture garden, expect to present a more detailed plan this fall.