Hello again! Here it goes, the first example of permaculture in the community — it’s a good one, and it comes right from us at PRI.
Just a few weeks ago, PRI worked with members of the House of Hope Presbyterian Church on Summit Avenue in St. Paul to install a community garden using permaculture design principles.
All proceeds from the garden will go to the food shelf at Neighborhood House in West St. Paul, the largest in Ramsey County serving 14,000 people.
The garden will be maintained by volunteers from House of Hope and Neighborhood House with a farm manager overseeing the project. PRI will be developing a Farm Manual to help train team leaders and volunteers. The focus will be on developing a set of skills, so that interested helpers can develop gardening skills while working.
This type of education is how we build sustainable communities. It’s all part of permaculture and making things last.
And so far, the interest and enthusiasm is impressive. From talking with Paula Westmoreland (our director) and Jenna Robson (our community organizer, who helped install the project), all the volunteers at the installation – church members, primarily – were hard working and ready to learn.
Positive feedback from the neighborhood came pouring in, too, as passers-by stopped to look and cars honked approval.
For me, this project almost epitomizes what permaculture is all about. We’re using a free space to grow food for people who need it. We’re transforming a landscape to be more productive.
And it just reinforces for me that we should be using more spaces like this. Surrounding this beautiful garden are miles of green lawns up and down Summit Avenue. Bright green squares their owners spend so many hours and liters of water on. In a world where time is money and water is scarce, why aren’t we growing more food? Couldn’t we use these lawns?
In part, it’s an issue of familar aesthetics. Vegetables aren’t typically considered pretty. Straw mulch doesn’t usually fit in with the look of ornamental gardens. And because the church is a historic site, they needed approval from the Historical Society to install the rabbit-proof fence.
Lucky for us — beauty is an important element of a healthy permaculture system. In the House of Hope garden, eggplants are planted with petunias, bush beans with pansies, mustard greens with marigolds. In these polycultures, the edible flowers provide habitat for beneficial insects and in some cases keep pests away. Their presence promotes biodiversity, which is good for the soil. And they look nice.
Along the sidewalk, pollination gardens have been designed with both aesthetics and practicality in mind. Meant to mirror the Gothic architecture of the church building, the specific flowers and grasses attract beneficial insects, like butterflies.
And in addition to the main production garden, there are potato towers and a strawberry foraging area, where passerby can harvest strawberries, chives, borage and rhubarb as they please.
Paula is hoping that the House of Hope community garden will serve as a model for other permaculture projects throughout the cities. Wouldn’t it be great if we could have sustainable food-producing gardens especially in neighborhoods where the food is limited?
What if we planted strawberries for the picking in North Minneapolis?
I’ll be charting the garden’s progress throughout the season, so check back for updates and more exciting local projects, including the herb spiral that I hope to plant this week! Until then, happy summer.