This spring semester, there’s a lot growing on at the Center for Sustainable Development (CSD). One of the four CSD-based Applied Scientific Research classes through The Island School semester program is centered around food insecurity and permaculture, a form of sustainable agriculture that attempts to mimic natural ecological systems.

The Permaculture Research class is co-advised by Joe Plant and Leigh Schmitt, and their work is an ongoing project now in its third semester. In previous semesters, Joe, Leigh, and their teams of Island School student colleagues completed a comprehensive food audit of the dining hall and conducted a detailed sector analysis of potential growing spaces and the aquaponics system on campus. Now, their research is geared towards planning, designing, growing food, and laying the foundation for an edible campus landscape. The seven enthusiastic, budding farm-to-food Island School research colleagues this semester are as follows: Susanna Cabot, Isabel Cullen, Maeve Goodrich, Kelvin Monje, Kate Pausic, Ezra Stern, and Nora Verdier.  

  The team begins the process of turning over soil on the garden roof of the Early Learning Center.

The team begins the process of turning over soil on the garden roof of the Early Learning Center.

The Permaculture Research cohort is wrestling with many place-based food system-related ideas this spring semester. Specifically, the team is applying logic, reasoning, field time, and sweat to these guiding or essential questions: How can we feed ourselves? What are the true costs (economic, social, and environmental) to successfully growing food on campus?  For the long-term, what are the best and most logical uses of our open spaces? And what is the best way to communicate scientific ideas - and our message regarding food security - in the 21st century?

  The Research team plants seeds to then be transplanted into the new grow beds in the farm.

The Research team plants seeds to then be transplanted into the new grow beds in the farm.

This term, the team is going to record data and document their successes, failures, and work via social media – an innovative and new approach within the Research curriculum. Each week, there will be a different theme or topic within the Permaculture Research project that addresses the overarching and complex question, How do we feed ourselves? For the Permaculture team, the first week of Applied Scientific Research was all about getting grounded in the research process, and committing time to field work, lab time, and class discussions on soil sciences, geology, climate, and farming 101. The Research cohort, along with the CSD farm crew, were efficiently able to prepare and transform a section of the farm into a series of fertile growing beds. As Isabel noted after a long day in the field, “I’m really looking forward to knowing not just where my food comes from, but also how it’s produced.”  

  Teamwork makes the dream work! Students aerate the soil to prepare the new grow beds.

Teamwork makes the dream work! Students aerate the soil to prepare the new grow beds.

In sum, seeds and ideas about increased food security were planted this week in the Permaculture Research project. Please stay tuned for more news from the farm in the weeks and months ahead.