Located in the heart of Ann Arbor, the University sits amid more than 300 restaurants and cultural attractions. Imagine, then, if we were the leaders and best in dining on-campus as well as off-campus.
Enter the University of Michigan Sustainable Food Program, a new organization born out of student interest and various class projects in the winter of 2011. UMSFP seeks to unite many sustainable food efforts on campus, such as Cultivating Community Workdays, Friends of the Campus Farm and the Michigan Sustainable Foods Initiative, among others. This is an important first step in making sustainable food relevant to our enormous student population. But we can do more.
Ideally, sustainable food at Michigan would be visible to all students. They’d practically trip over the good work going on, what with all the distractions and stresses that college life brings. The solution? Satellite gardens on Central Campus that incorporate permaculture principles.
What is permaculture, you ask? It’s a design science advocating for “permanent agriculture” by growing food the way nature would. It favors small and slow solutions over drastic changes. And it’s all about scale.
The goal at a large university like Michigan shouldn’t be to provide all of the food for the dining halls through these satellite gardens. A more realistic and effective goal would be to provide students, faculty and staff with educational experiences while producing a limited number of ingredients that chefs could choose from. This has been done at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst with great success.
Permaculture gardens favor curvatures over straight lines and polycultures over monocultures. There’s no such thing as waste — the output of one system becomes the input of another. These principles, if applied to satellite gardens at the University, would decrease the irrigation, fertilization and waste management costs of the University while providing an enriching experience for everyone involved.
The University’s goal of purchasing 20 percent of its food from sustainable sources by 2025 could be more easily achieved with satellite gardens. As permaculture advocate Geoff Lawton says, “You can fix all the world’s problems in a garden.” Let’s start with permaculture.