People and Permaculture: Taking Students Back to the Soil

Last April, two second year students in the College of Natural Resources, Cailyn Schmidt and Kea Rutherford, were tasked with organizing a syllabus for an imaginary DeCal. The assignment was created to encourage students to think critically about the topics that interested them, and how they could pursue those same subjects. However, even after handing in their assignment, Cailyn and Kea knew they couldn’t let their idea die. So one summer later, their DeCal, “People and Permaculture”, became a reality.

Photo: Jonathan Fong

Permanent agriculture, or “permaculture,” is the most fundamental urban agricultural practice, and, thanks to these two sophomores, it may be happening closer to you than you think. Coined by two Australian ecologists in the 1970s, permaculture is the specific development of sustainable agricultural ecosystems with the intent of producing self-sufficient communities. By focusing on ethical concerns behind farming practices, permaculture seeks to reach beyond agricultural techniques and into the development of self-sufficient, pre-consumerism lifestyle practices. By learning how to live without reliance on corporate farming, students are actively reducing the harmful effects that mass production and transportation have on the environment. Cailyn and Kea created Cal’s newest outdoor DeCal “People and Permaculture” with the goal of providing fellow food-system-fanatics with an entirely new outlook on self-sufficient living.

Derived from the struggle to get back to ethical farming practices, permaculture centers around three intrinsic ethical philosophies: fair share, people care, and earth care. Fair share ethics focuses on the vitality of taking only what is necessary and leaving no trace behind. People care and earth care center around the spiritual and communal well-being fostered by regenerative farming techniques as well as the importance of earth stewardship and respect of nature, respectively.

The class of about twenty students – ranging from seasoned urban gardeners to rookies – meets every Monday for two hours at the Student Organic Garden, all of them eager to get their hands dirty. So far, the students have planted their own beds in SOGA using permacultural techniques – such as no tillage and bio-intensive gardening. Occasionally, the group meets to discuss, often calling upon Berkeley alumni and urban farmers, to speak about the importance of sustainable farming techniques on communities and cultures.

Beyond the active planting and farming, the instructors have outlined a course focused on what Schmidt lovingly called “the interdisciplinary beauty” of permaculture by dividing it into three parts. The first part centers around the communal aspect of permaculture and the demographics it fosters. The second part is the hands-on, empirical aspect of the course, where students learn the regenerative farming techniques necessary for the facilitation of a sustainable community. The final unit focuses on self-sufficiency beyond the garden and the role of permaculture as a combat to hyper-consumerism and is chalk-full of do-it-yourself projects designed to minimize your carbon footprint. Holistically, the course offers a diverse and transformative atmosphere for students to develop new skills and better understand healthy agricultural ecosystems through hands-on research. For more information on permaculture, keep your eyes peeled for “People and Permaculture” on the decal course list next semester, as well as any Urban and Environmental planning courses focused on sustainable food systems!

 

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