A Permaculture Food Forest for WSA
Last year, the Grounds Committee, the body tasked with overseeing the care of our school’s outdoor spaces, began looking for a way to better manage our school property. Our goal was to build on our gardening program and sustainable initiatives such as school wide composting, animal care and rainwater harvesting. We wanted our grounds to further emphasize education, human development, and the values of land stewardship inherent in Waldorf communities. This search led us to a partnership with a local company, Shades of Green Permaculture Design, Inc. (SGPD) and together we have begun to form a new direction for our school’s practices that embody the permaculture design principles. Permaculture is a school of sustainable design that integrates human activity with natural surroundings and seeks to create efficient self-regenerating ecosystems. We have begun the permaculture journey by installing a new landscape design in the administration front yard and hosting a permaculture design course at our school.
The Administration front yard is the public face of our school and while we wanted it to be beautiful, we also wanted it to abound with educational opportunities and provide sanctuary to local animal life. We decided to work with SGPD to install an edible forest garden. Forest gardening is the practice of putting plants together in woodland-like patterns. The notion of a food forest guided our decisions to install rainwater catchment basins, use only native plants, and choose plants that feed both humans and local animals and insects. We also wanted to include intentional gathering and meeting spaces and clear footpaths. This project is in its first stage of construction and thanks to the generous donors at the WSA 2016 Benefit Auction, the Administration front yard will be fully installed this April. The installation process has provided an opportunity of involvement by students through the middle school Practical Arts curriculum; students have participated directly through basic stone masonry, plant propagation and other gardening skills.
An additional ongoing project is the Permaculture Design Course hosted at WSA, which will result in a master design proposal for the entire school grounds. The plan will include new playground improvements that reflect kindergarten through eighth grade developmental stages and serve as pollinator sanctuaries and rainwater catchment areas. The proposal also includes a restoration plan that will transform our woodland lots into healthy forests with an understory that nourishes native species and educational elements. It suggests efforts like labeling native trees and planting dye gardens for our handwork classes. The final plan for all the school grounds will be completed by the beginning of the 2016-2017 school year, and the initial designs will be presented in Spring 2016.
Many people are familiar with the Waldorf school farm model and often it is considered an ideal setting for Waldorf education. While this is a wonderful framework, in our time and place in Atlanta, a farm school is not necessarily the best answer for WSA. The school’s urban location allows us to serve a larger population and though we don’t have access to acres of food producing fields, we live in an extremely productive ecosystem. If managed properly, we can transform our school into a sustainable food forest that abounds with perennial fruit, herbs, nuts, and vegetables. It would allow us to teach our children the same crucial lessons of a farm – we have a responsibility to care for the Earth, the Earth provides what we need, and animals, plants, and humans working together in balance create an ecological system that is self-regenerative.