Houses to grow permaculture gardens

by Maria Brenes | 10/14/14 6:19pm

Starting this fall, several Greek houses will work with Sustainability Office intern Malcolm Salovaara ’17 to explore the option of planting permaculture gardens in their houses.The gardens would grow plants and vegetables that only needed to be planted once and could be harvested each year.

The project will ask for funding from the Green Revolving Loan Fund, part of the nationwide Billion Dollar Green Challenge. The initiative encourages colleges, universities and other organizations to invest a total of $1 billion in revolving funds, which are replenished as money is withdrawn, to support sustainable projects. Dartmouth joined the initiative in 2011.

Salovaara said that the permaculture garden project aims to be a way of “edible landscaping.” While the plants cultivated will be a food source, he said he hopes to make them look aesthetically pleasing, too.

Designed to be low-maintenance, the gardens are meant not to infringe on the houses’ activities. Each Greek house must choose what it wants to grow in its garden and how it will look, and Salovaara will advise them on what is feasible. One sorority wanted to grow kale, he said, but this would have been too complicated.

Salovaara said he also aims to boost community through the gardens. Salovaara will visit each house each week, and he said he expects to motivate members to join him in the process of creating the gardens. He added that houses could use produce from the gardens to cook meals together.

“Food is the original cohesive thing that unites people,” he said.

The project can expand Greek houses beyond the house’s four walls, he said.

“For some houses, the lawns are the space that never gets used, that things never happen in,” he said. “Changing that and making the outdoor space a place where memories are created is something I hope will come out of it.”

He hopes that in the future, each building cluster will create its own permaculture garden.

Alpha Xi Delta sorority sustainability chair Katie Williamson ’15 said that she hopes the garden will enhance her sorority’s weekly dinners and serve as an alternative outdoor space where members can spend time together.

Sustainability program manager Jenna Musco said that when Salovaara applied, he had to suggest an ideathat would tackle an existing problem and strategically advance sustainability on campus.

First, Salovaara started a permaculture garden at Dartmouth’s organic farm alongside other students involved with the farm.

Musco said the project came from an interest in bringing the organic farm’s model to campus, where it would serve as a visible sign of sustainability to students who had not made the trip.

Musco noted existing attempts to bring gardening to campus, citing the Sustainable Living Center’s vegetable garden, but unlike permaculture, vegetable gardens must be planted every year.

For now, the project’s first phase consists of weekly one-hour house analyses by Salovaara. He will then study the space that will be used for the gardens and encourage Greek house members to join the effort.

In the winter, the houses will design the gardens and decide which crops they want. In the spring, they will plant them.Salovaara will be responsible for maintaining the plants.

The houses adopting or considering the gardens are Alpha Chi Alpha, Chi Gamma Epsilon and Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternities, Alpha Phi, AZD, Kappa Delta, Kappa Delta Epsilon and Sigma Delta sororities and Tabard coed fraternity.