UMass Permaculture Garden grows space for community

An on-campus organization provides diverse events to promote sustainable agriculture


Andoni Zervoglos

The UMass Permaculture’s Franklin garden currently grows over 300 species of plants.

In the early fforagall Months, many New England farmers begin to collect their harvest from the past year. Farmers harvest their apples, pumpkins, and other crops before the winter settles. Meanwhile, Umass students venture into an alternative method of food gathering; foraging. Run by the Umass Permaculture Initiative, the foraging event, at 4 pm on October 12th, focused on learning how to gather edible and tasty plants and fungi from the brilliantly colored forests of the pioneer valley. 

The permaculture volunteers meet at the circle of logs in front of the Franklin Garden. Photo by Andoni Zervoglos

And, if foraging is not your neck of the woods, these walks are only some of the events the permaculture initiative has hosted lately. Recently, a plethora of diverse events have budded. Their diversity seems to rival the natural world they work to preserve. Between farmers markets and movie showings, the permaculture initiative offers many ways to connect to nature in a personal and sustainable way.

“The permaculture garden was something I admired from a distance, and heard about before I applied to UMass and thought it sounds like a wonderful initiative” Jo Fuchs, one of three student coordinators of the permaculture garden said. 

As a permaculture coordinator, Fuchs is one of the people responsible for initiating some of the events for the community. However, that does not mean that all events are determined solely by leaders of the permaculture initiative.

The Permaculture initiative adds a new garden in the back of Franklin Dining Hall. Photo by Andoni Zervoglos

“It’s a community effort to make these things and it’s definitely not like one person decides what’s happening. It’s like, everyone has ideas. Everyone’s passionate about things and we get together and decide what we’re all really passionate about doing.” Fuchs said when asked about the impact the community has had on the garden. 

And consequently, the community has felt the impact of the garden. 

“It’s nice having a place where you can kind of take one bend around the corner, and then you’re pretty much immersed in vegetation” Andrew, a Umass student, said when asked how he connects to the space.

The Umass permaculture initiative started in 2009 when a group of students dreamed of an on-campus space that is edible and environmentally friendly. In 2011 ground was broken on the first permaculture garden on campus. Now, 11 years later, the permaculture initiative is flourishing with four gardens. In 2021 alone, they produced 1806 pounds of fresh and diverse fruits, vegetables, herbs, mushrooms, and nuts. 

The Permaculture initiative has also collaborated with other student groups on campus, including the Umass Student Farm. This conglomerate hosts the Umass Student Farmers Market Fridays on Goodell Lawn. 

“The farmers market is so popular. Having people get really excited about coming together [with] student vendors, being able to share their craft, and what they do, what they’re passionate about, is what we’re passionate about,” Fuchs said. “And so that’s a really important event for us and expanding that is probably going to be an emphasis that we have.”

The farmers market is a way for the initiative to reach out to the community of Umass Amherst, and give student shoppers a means of supporting the gardens.

“We’re helping our community out by paying… and helping ourselves out by buying.” Said Lucas Chaves, a student shopper at the farmers market.

This is only the beginning of the permaculture initiative’s growing involvement in the UMass and Pioneer Valley communities.

“The garden is a place where we can kind of like expand that bubble because we see people come in from the wider community here all the time.” Fuchs Said. “We had like big tours with the students, young students. And that was lovely. And I would love to see more of that and how can we have like a further impact on not just the campus community, but the wider community.”

Email Andoni Zervoglos at [email protected] and follow him on Instagram at @zervoglosandoni.

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