Posted October 24, 2013 by Cooper Point Journal in Letters & Opinion

When It Comes To Permaculture, Evergreen Gets DEAP

By Jacklyn Hashimoto

Hazelnuts, apples, quinces and jostaberries, blackberries, salmonberries, salal and zucchini, potatoes, hops, nasturtium and lavender, lovage, mallow and sage — all these and more grow in Demeter’s Garden, a project of the student group Developing Ecological Awareness Practices (DEAP) on campus. While the 2-acre plot once hosted Evergreen’s Community Gardens, it is now a year-round outdoor cornucopia, open to the public and full of life.

DEAP’s coordinators and team members have worked tirelessly to make Demeter’s Garden a success for the whole community to enjoy. Part of DEAP’s mission is to promote sustainability issues, solutions, and projects through the practice of permaculture. DEAP offered a Student Originated Study (SOS) class last spring, led by the group’s co-coordinators Nicholas Wooten and Jessica Schilke. “We are hoping to offer another SOS this year, possibly again in spring,” said Wooten. “My hope is to be able to offer an SOS during all of the 2014-15 year.” An SOS class offers students a chance to engage in individual, quarter-long projects while still working collaboratively and engaging together as a learning community. The impact of the past spring’s class’ is evidenced in various plots and structures around the garden. Each is testament to the imagination and ingenuity of its creators.

A fall tour of Demeter’s Garden showcased bright hues of red and yellow, fallen leaves everywhere, like a finale to a concert of summer fruits and spring bloom. A soft rain began to fall as I made my way through the forest garden, observing the changes that have happened over a season and a half since I was last here. Spring’s budding greens had been replaced by dense, thick leaves and luscious growth, some of which had clearly begun a steady recession into the barren twigs and dead foliage of the coming winter. Several once-sown food-sources had recently wilded themselves about the garden, sprouting from seed-bed to seed-bed, waving their flowers lazily to the sun and drinking the Northwest’s plentiful rain.

Carter Brown, a DEAP team member, was an enthusiastic tour guide: he gestured animatedly about the garden as he pointed to current projects. We stepped over tangles of squash, here and there a vine bore a plump, rounded fruit at its end. Currants had passed their harvest time; but next to them a small tree bore heavy fruits, bizzarely fuzzy and shaped similar to apples or pears. “Quinces!” Carter exclaimed, detailing their immense usability in pies. Mint grew rowdily about the garden, forming dense beds. The scent wafted in the air. The garden was tactile, visceral, full of sights, sounds, textures and smells. I took a mint leaf, bit into it. The flavor was bright, piercingly strong. It was as vibrant as the soil it came from. Many of the garden beds had been recently harvested,  including one of to my left that was piled high with green stalks, the ground dug through for tubers and covered with a healthy mulching of fresh comfrey leaves.The work of several hands was evident here.

“One of our biggest challenges/changes has been rehabbing the Demeter’s Garden site over the last two years,” commented Wooten. The last two years have been busy: in 2011 DEAP secured funding for Jenny Pell [designer of the Beacon Hill Food Forest in Seattle] to oversee the creation of a new “master plan” for the garden. Students, staff, alumni and faculty were actively encouraged to participate in the process, and the plan was completed in 2012.

“Currently we are cleaning up the overgrowth of summer and making plans with new student volunteers on what to do for the coming season,” continued Wooten. “Most of our work will be in prepping the vegetable beds in Demeter’s Garden for next year and beginning to plan with students what kinds of other fruit trees, herbs, medicinal plants, and mushrooms they’d like to grow.”

Permaculture involves both short-term and long-term planning, evident in the juxtaposition of quick, annual beds to the many slower-growing woody plants. Intended to be a workshop and demonstration space, Demeter’s design is heavily based on the “Forest Garden” concept. Forest gardens are based on combining mixtures of harmonious annuals, perennials, shrubs, and trees to produce various food sources in a self-sustaining manner. In addition to hosting a variety of plants, Demeter’s has many other exciting features in the works.

Some of the garden’s long-term  projects include a non-denominational cobb Shrine, mushroom patch and Hugelkultur beds, the latter a technique which utilizes decomposing wood matter to form warm, rich soil.

DEAP also maintains an aquaponic greenhouse. “The original vision of the aquaponic greenhouse was to provide an innovative hands on student project that would examine urban/suburban food production techniques related to aquaponics while highlighting ecological practices that are not found in hydroponics,” said Wooten. Aquaponics combines hydroponics (growing plants without soil) and aquaculture, using the nitrogen in fish waste to fertilize the plants.

Wooten said the aquaponics project has been a “smashing success,” aside from one item of disappointment. “The project was originally supposed to be incorporated into the Practice of Sustainable Agriculture Program,” he told me, “but the faculty never utilized the project or it’s creator/manager, Jessica Schilke”. Aside from that, the project has been the focus of much  attention. On the national level, it has been featured in the Aquaponics Association’s ‘Tour de Tanks’, on Berkeley College’s Radio KPFA with Max Meyers and at presentations for regional and national conferences.  In addition, the Greenhouse has been host to tours for TESC courses, “dozens upon dozens” of student and community volunteers, and “opportunities for student interns of all kinds,” Wooten said. “Jessica has been able to carry this project…[on] until now with her hard work, tenacity, and persistence.”

I asked him what sort of contributions the student group is currently looking for.  “DEAP is always seeking a broad range of student skills; from pure enthusiasm and an ability to dedicate time to the garden to artists, mycologists, botanists, people passionate about growing food, natural building and organizers.”

Students can email or find us on facebook as EvergreenStatePermaculture.” Meetings are held on-site from 1-4 on Wednesdays.