Permaculture, School-Yards, and Mindfulness...


We recently returned from Punta Mona, Costa Rica, where we completed a 72-hour Certification in Permaculture Design. Part of our certification required a collaborative group project, and so we teamed up with some great minds to develop a design plan for installing and maintaining elementary school gardens through permaculture principles. Part of the fun and challenge of our project concerned taking systems-based thinking that is usually applied to physical landscapes, and overlaying it on to a social landscape. In our case, the social landscape was a public school system. Each school system will be different, but identifying limiting factors, establishing procedures for site analysis, and developing timelines, are all important and necessary to any permaculture project.

Installing a garden at a school is full of challenges. There are many policy, safety, logistical, financial, motivational and educational needs which must be met. Our friend Ryan has installed a raised bed at the high school where he teaches. He says it is difficult to organize multiple class participation in the garden, and very difficult to maintain it over the summer. We are trying to learn from Ryan's experience. Over and over again, the same question keeps surfacing: How can a school garden, practically and theoretically, integrate with the education system and foster community development.

While our group in Punta Mona came to the table with different geographic locations for school gardens in mind, we all agreed on the importance of the language of mindfulness in framing our proposal. As our colleague Andrew articulated, “mindfulness is the ability to be aware of one’s self and one’s surroundings, as well as how these two things affect each other.” Mindfulness reminds us that what matters most is the process, and the willingness of people to think in terms of process-orientation, whole-systems, and vastly enlarged time scales. Institutional evolution takes time, patience, and fortitude. It involves team-work and building community day by day. Permaculture teaches us to engage in a virtuous process, the products of which will heal and nourish across generations. Community involvement is life work.

We are incredibly grateful for our new friends Hillery, Caitlin, Hanna, Andrew, Dan, and Kevin (as well as Stephen, Sarah, Itai and all the other amazing Puntamonians) and their passionate commitment to a thriving, regenerative future.