Popular Permaculture Design Course Is One-of-a-Kind Offering

The time has finally come to fetch a garden shovel from the garage or shed, not a snow shovel as we have done so many times in recent weeks.

George Mason University’s Office of Sustainability representatives are ready to get their hands dirty, and so are more than 30 conscientious gardeners from five states at the university’s week-long permaculture design course during spring break, from March 8‒15. It is the only course of its kind in the Washington area.

Last spring, Mason faculty, staff, and students came together with community members to construct the Innovation Food Forest on the Fairfax Campus. Photo by Evan Cantwell

Last spring, Mason faculty, staff, and students came together with community members to construct the Innovation Food Forest on the Fairfax Campus. Photo by Evan Cantwell

Permaculture design is a term for permanent or perennial agriculture that benefits both the earth and its people. It is a way to lay out your yard or garden in the most beneficial and ecologically sound way. A 2,700-word feature in the New York Times called permaculture “a growing and influential movement.”

The university’s Innovation Food Forest, near Innovation Hall and the Johnson Center, is an example of permaculture design because it takes into account shared resources, responsible forestry and water management, healthy soils, organic food production, climate, energy and other sustainable living outcomes that exemplify Mason’s mission.

With Mason offering the only certification course in the capital region, the green-thumb (and green-minded) set are eager to take part in the intensive and rewarding 72-hour class.

“When I heard about permaculture in 2011, I was disheartened to learn that there were no opportunities for taking a permaculture design course anywhere in the area,” says Danielle Wyman, outreach and community engagement manager in the Office of Sustainability and also a Mason graduate. “I had to travel to Georgia to take this course, and I’m so glad I did. The Food Forest has become a lush, green, inviting space for members of the campus community to interact with—and even taste—nature.

“Each time a student takes a piece of fruit from one of these trees, it may be one of the few interactions with nature that they experience during their day. As we continue to become more of a global society, food production and preservation of our natural resources will remain at the crux of our most challenging issues. It is crucial that our future leaders understand the importance of self-reliance and resiliency when it comes to our food and livelihood.”

This is the third consecutive year that Mason has offered the permaculture design course, and each year the enrollment has doubled. Global permaculture expert Wayne Weiseman of Permaculture Project LLC will return to Mason to teach the class. The Office of Continuing and Professional Education and the Office of the Provost have provided assistance and support for the course, and five local businesses and three individuals made donations to help make it possible.

The class participants will visit areas around the region that exemplify permaculture principles and, as a course-closing project, will design a plot of land in the Fairfax area. Most important, they will return home with environmentally friendly ideas that will benefit their families and their communities, just as Wyman did after taking the Weiseman permaculture course in Georgia.

“With rising food costs, increased storm water and pollution challenges, and soil erosion due to over-development plaguing some parts of Northern Virginia, permaculture offers many comprehensive and lasting solutions to these ongoing issues,” Wyman says. “By increasing the amount of perennial, food-bearing plants through thoughtful and ecologically responsible design, we are making an invaluable investment in our future and for future generations.”

Mason and non-Mason community members are welcome to attend a free permaculture design spotlight discussion at 7 p.m. Tuesday, March 11, in University Hall, Room 1200. The talk will feature Jonathan Storvick and Danylo Kosovych of Organic Edible Gardens LLC in Arlington, Va. Contact Danielle Wyman at dwyman@gmu.edu for more details or to RSVP.