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Permaculture Blossoms at Colby-Sawyer

Colby-Sawyer’s organic permaculture garden provides a variety of benefits to both the ecosystem and its inhabitants. Located adjacent to the Susan Colgate Cleveland Library and the Sustainable Classroom, this once-vacant-lawn-turned-flourishing-landscape serves as a source of local food and a multipurpose learning tool for students across disciplines.

Permaculture landscapes reduce the amount of necessary human input and care when implemented and executed strategically. These well-designed ecological systems save labor, energy, and money over time while producing food, fiber, and fuel for the surrounding community.

In 2010, a gift from Anne Baynes Hall '67 allowed Colby-Sawyer to install a small seedling lot. The college later received a significant grant from the Margaret A. Cargill Foundation, which allowed for more investment in the garden and a new endowment that continues to support student interns.

The effort only grew from there. In 2011, Director of Sustainability & Innovation, Jennifer White '90 enrolled in Colby-Sawyer's own Permaculture Design Certificate course and developed plans for the garden's expansion. Students taking the course the following year were each assigned a section of her design and asked to select specific features and plants for incorporation.

With all of these collaborative ideas for improvements, Colby-Sawyer hired two summer student interns to implement the expanded design. Soon, the garden began to thrive, and the number of vegetables and herbs multiplied to the point where dining services could use them for meals. Another permaculture project, developed by Morgan Allen ‘15, surrounds the entrance to the Ware Student Center. Her design goals included no-waste production, natural byproducts re-use, water conservation, visual appeal, and plant species education.

In Sustainable Farming and Food System classes, students from all majors can literally put their hands in the dirt while learning about good land practices. Windy Hill School children often visit during the warmer months to learn about the gardens and snack on healthy food. Interns continue to expand and manage the garden every summer, and it now includes several other student-implemented design elements, such as a pollinator garden, insect hotel, stormwater wetland, outdoor classroom, and a food forest.

These deliberate landscapes serve as living laboratories. They teach students the fundamentals of permaculture while providing a relaxing natural space on campus. As Garden Manager and Professor for the School of Arts and Sciences Leon-C. Malan says, “We don't want the garden to be just a place to get food but [also] where we go to rest our souls.”