The award will fund maintenance for the garden and provide educational programming both at the garden and in classrooms at the school.
The permaculture garden, which is designed to mimic natural systems in order to be self-sustaining, will help Stefanik Elementary School students connect with fresh food, says Lilly Israel, sustainability coordinator of campus gardens for UMass Auxiliary Enterprises. “This year all students will taste the food grown in the garden and a group of third graders will be stewards for the garden. Students, who may not normally have had the opportunity, will get a personal relationship with food; a local sustainable connection.” she says.
The garden is a part of Chicopee public schools local food initiative called ChicopeeFRESH, which was created to teach students about why local food is important.
The permaculture garden project will begin in the 2016 growing season starting with seed ordering, followed by planting and garden maintenance that will coincide with hands-on learning opportunities and classroom activities.
The WFUM Award will have a broad impact, says Xochiquetzal Salazar, a UMass Amherst sustainable food and farming major and student auxiliary sustainability coordinator. She says, “The best thing the grant will do is to connect the program to the rest of the community.” The garden project will bring together teachers, the school’s kitchen staff, 500-plus elementary-aged students and UMass Amherst students. It will give UMass Amherst students an opportunity to interact with the wider Pioneer Valley community, and foster connections between Chicopee students and their food.
UMass Amherst maintains five permaculture gardens, including the Franklin Garden that won the White House Campus Champions of Change Challenge in 2012. Both UMass Amherst and Chicopee Public Schools have increased their local food purchasing with the help of grants from the Kendall Foundation, which looks to create a local and sustainable New England Food System. UMass Amherst students have access to more than 300 courses that relate to sustainability including those that cover permaculture.