UMass Amherst Students Win Another National Award for Permaculture Gardens

AMHERST, Mass. – The University of Massachusetts Amherst’s student-led Permaculture Committee has won more national recognition, this time the first-ever Gold Sustainability Award given by the National Association of College and University Food Services (NACUFS), in the “outreach and education” category. Ken Toong, director of Auxiliary Services, and Ryan Harb, now a sustainability manager who brought the permaculture concept to campus as a graduate student in 2009, will collect the honor during the NACUFS national convention on July 11–14 in Boston.
NACUFS says the UMass Amherst Dining Services project demonstrates outstanding leadership in the promotion and implementation of environmental sustainability and best sustainable business practices by providing useful information to students, faculty, staff and visitors.Toong says, “We are humbled to receive this national award. It is for everyone, including volunteers and members of Permaculture Committee who worked with great passion to make it happen. I am so proud to be part of it all. I think permaculture will continue to grow on campus and the idea will spread to other campuses in the future.”
Harb, who led the permaculture committee to Washington, D.C. in March to receive the White House’s “Campus Champions for Change” award from President Obama, says no matter how many honors they win, it’s always a thrill and brings a sense of satisfaction that more and more people are learning about permaculture through the UMass Amherst student organization’s efforts.
Harb says, “Permaculture started out as a type of regenerative food production, but it’s evolved beyond that to regenerating culture. Essentially it’s a design approach for regenerative problem-solving.”
In Boston this week, NACUFS officials will also hand out an overall “Grand Prize Award for Excellence in Sustainable Dining” to one of the finalist colleges and universities in each of the four categories: Procurement Practices, Energy and Water Conservation, Waste Management, Materials and Resources, and Outreach and Education. The grand prize award winner will have “modeled exemplary excellence in the pursuit of a sustainable dining practice resulting in a significantly reduced environmental impact and providing a best practice model for the NACUFS membership” and will receive a living tree indigenous to the winning campus’ geography.
NACUFS will also name a Green Champion Student Award winner and give a $1,000 cash prize to one enrolled student from a member institution who has demonstrated “leadership in the promotion and implementation of sustainable dining on his or her campus.”
Permaculture is defined as a vision, design system and a community. The vision is of resilience and abundance, with vibrant local economies, healthy ecosystems and thriving communities. People support each other to provide food, energy and shelter, and to meet needs in a socially just and ecologically regenerative way. The community is a global network of over one million practitioners doing more than 5,000 projects in over 140 countries. UMass Amherst is one of the only public universities in the country putting new permaculture gardens directly on campus and using the food raised in its dining commons.
In fact, over the past two years, the UMass Amherst Permaculture Initiative has engaged more than 1,000 student, faculty, staff and community volunteers to transform a quarter-acre grass lawn near the Franklin Dining Commons into a diverse, edible, low-maintenance garden that supplies fruit, nuts, vegetables, greens and flowers to the dining commons. This spring the group started a second permaculture garden near Berkshire Dining Commons.
NACUFS says its new Sustainability Awards support the “triple bottom-line philosophy,” also known as “people, planet, profits,” a way to evaluate operational performance by measuring environmental sustainability and social responsibility along with financial success.
With the first awards this year, NACUFS says it leads the food service industry in recognizing the pivotal role that dining services play in the overall sustainability goals of a campus and the daunting challenge that the dining services staff face in satisfying customers and generating revenue while minimizing environmental impact.