In this green age of environmental consciousness,
permaculture could be a word you start hearing more often.
Permanent agriculture essentially takes the sustainable
practice of gardening to a higher level, reducing the amount of energy that
goes into growing through the natural process of regeneration. Using the perpetual biological turnover
in nature as a model, permaculture employs perennial vegetables, fruits and nuts.
“We can’t just sustain, we have to improve,” said Oswego permaculturist Valerie Dawnstar ’07. “You can take
care of yourself and the earth.”
A nontraditional student, she decided to pursue an art
degree at Oswego
after working as a nurse. Dawnstar earned certification as a designer through
the Ithaca-based Finger Lakes
Using various combinations of trees, plants and cover, a
permaculture site pretty much takes care of itself – like it would in nature.
Most of the work goes into the planning, Dawnstar said.
She describes permaculture, a movement that started about 40
years ago, as more of a philosophy than a practice. For instance, leaves,
grasses and even flowers join the more traditional garden varieties.
On a large enough property, wildlife can also become part of
“I think we’ve really narrowed our definition of food to
what’s in the grocery store,” said Dawnstar, who keeps apples, raspberries,
strawberries, hazelnuts, blueberries, day lilies and violets in her own Oswego yard. She will be
experimenting with a paw paw tree this summer on her rural property in Sterling.
The ultimate permaculture site, which can range from a
backyard garden to entire community, is completely self-sustaining. It requires little
human effort other than the harvest.
It’s not unusual to include a traditional garden full of
annual plants and vegetables to complement their regenerative collection, said
Dawnstar, who encourages anyone with interest in permaculture to drop her a line.
— Shane M. Liebler
Upper: During the Finger Lakes Permaculture Institute's design certificate course, students took a field trip to local permaculture projects including Sean Dembrowski's site to see his polyculture forest garden near Trumansburg.
Lower: Valerie Dawnstar '07
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