As we enter a new era of wild weather, rising food prices and crisis, crumbling infrastructure and the associated cost of maintaining the built environment, Ithaca’s first permaculture park project addresses many of these issues and more. Permaculture design offers a way to create resilient landscapes and food production systems that can weather the extremes that Mother Nature sends us more and more these days. By planting a diverse array of hardy perennial food plants in groupings, or guilds, which form mutually supportive plant communities, we can begin to transform the way we grow food. Permaculture systems are more resistant to drought and other climate extremes, pest and disease outbreaks and lower maintenance than conventional agriculture systems (thus reducing maintenance costs). At a time our city is struggling to make ends meet, we can provide a great service by adopting and maintaining one of our city parks using a good deal of volunteer labor. Green spaces are a great way to absorb excess rainfall and by gradually replacing lawns with food producing landscapes, we can increase the ability of our green spaces to suck up extra water. Other environmental benefits include habitat enhancement and increased availability of food for our at-risk pollinators.
Resilient communities need smart environmental design, but they also need socially conscious design. Growing food in public spaces that can be picked and eaten by any and all is in itself a revolutionary act. We live in an era when essential needs like food, water and shelter increasingly are commodified and treated as a tool for profit. By decommodifying food, we provide a new model not just for growing food, but for organizing a compassionate society in which the needs of people come first. When we no longer are worried about where our next meal is coming from, we can turn our minds to other important societal questions. Most Americans have trouble getting enough fruit in their diet, so readily available fruit plantings near our homes also will increase our health, making us stronger, more clear headed and more effective in our communities. By working together as a community to build and maintain this project, we also are building camaraderie and engaging in important conversations while we work.
There is also one final goal being achieved by this project that often goes unnoticed and undervalued in our culture; beauty. In my mind, there is nothing more beautiful than a healthy, productive ecosystem with an abundant and diverse array of fruits, flowers and forms. There is nothing more beautiful than dedicated individuals working together to achieve a common goal and working toward the greater good. And there is nothing more beautiful than a community such as ours which embraces a project like this wholeheartedly, knowing that we can and need to be an example in this time of uncertainty.