UMass Permaculture Initiative

A bumble bee pollinating flowers in the UMass Permaculture garden. 

The UMass Permaculture Initiative is a cutting-edge sustainability program managed by Xochiquetzal Salazar that provides empowering hands-on education for students to learn about local, sustainable food systems. Now in its sixth growing season, UMass Permaculture has five gardens on campus that are home to nearly 300 different species of plants and supplies over 2,600 pounds of fresh food to the Dining Commons each year. The UMass Permaculture herbs and veggies can be found in all four Dining Commons and the University Club throughout the growing season.  

Conventional agriculture is extremely resource intensive, produces immense amounts of waste, and is one of the leading contributors to climate change. Permaculture is a set of design principles used to create resilient systems that mimic natural ecosystems. Permaculture can be used for any system, not just agricultural ones, including businesses, communities, or even households. UMass Permaculture works to combat these harmful forms of agriculture to transition our campus beyond sustainability and toward regeneration and resilience while producing food and medicine. The UMass Permaculture gardens help the environment by preventing soil erosion, providing habitat and forage for pollinators, remediating the soil, and sequestering carbon.  Additionally, the gardens are helpful to people by providing organic, affordable, and accessible medicinal plants and produce to the community. 

Picture An aerial view of the Franklin Permaculture garden. Picture UMass Permaculture’s freshly harvest rainbow swiss chard. 
Xochiquetzal (Xochi) Salazar manages the UMass Permaculture Initiative. She maintains the five permaculture gardens, coordinates volunteers, creates workshops and events, teaches courses, and manages the on-campus Student Farmers’ Market. “I always felt really connected to food, the earth, and gardening, especially as an indigenous person,” Xochi shared.  Xochi’s father empowered her by teaching her the beauty and responsibility of growing food and fostering life through Native traditions.  
Xochi’s passion for food inspired her to attend the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, NY. In culinary school, Xochi read the U.S. Farm Bill for the first time and the way she thought about food shifted. “That was the first time my eyes had really been opened to how truly broken our food systems were.” Following the completion of her Associate Degree in Culinary Arts, Xochi decided to go back to school and graduated from UMass Amherst with a degree in Sustainable Food and Farming in May of 2016.   
Picture Xochiquetzal Salazar, UMass Dining’s Sustainability Coordinator of Campus Gardens. 

Teaching the 1 credit Permaculture Practicum at UMass is Xochi’s favorite part of her job. “I love providing [people] with a platform to make meaningful connections with their food and change the way they think about where our food comes from.” UMass Permaculture engages over 2,000 people every year through volunteer hours, tours, workshops, and academic credit. As Xochi likes to say, “Education is our greatest yield.” The gardens have been designed to be a replicable model for institutions around the world to educate people about food and agriculture. 

Xochi leading a UMass Permaculture workshop and tour with the Girl’s Inc Eureka! program this summer. 

Xochi works tirelessly to make an impact on our campus community. What keeps Xochi going is the fate of future generations and being able to act as a role model in higher education for young women of color. Xochi explained that this is especially important because permaculture is largely considered a “white and affluent movement, even though a number of the practices that permaculture finds its basis in are from the practices of indigenous peoples from around the world.” 

Xochi’s advice for for people that want to start a home or school permaculture garden “is the Permaculture Principle to ‘Use Small and Slow Solutions.’” She explained that, “Permaculture by its very nature is something that requires us to be patient. The best, most productive ‘you’ is one that is nourished and not worn thin. By taking small steps, appreciating their impact, and waiting for that bigger pay off later, you won’t run yourself into the ground.” 

If you would like to get involved with UMass Permaculture, attend volunteer hours every Thursday and Friday from 9:30 AM – 11:00 AM. You can also request a tour of the Franklin Permaculture garden for classes, local groups, or interested individuals. For students interested in taking the Permaculture Practicum in the Fall or Spring, search for STOCKSCH 198P on Spire!  Visit the UMass Permaculture website for more information about their program, how to get involved, or to reach out for resources.   

Thank you so much Xochi, for spreading your knowledge, wisdom, and love to the UMass community. You are an inspiring woman and leader and UMass Dining is so lucky to have you on our Sustainability Team!