The Office of Creative Inquiry held a LearnX event focused on permaculture at the South Side Permaculture Park on Oct. 18, providing both Lehigh and Bethlehem community members with the opportunity to learn more about sustainable agricultural ecosystems.
Permaculture is the development of agricultural ecosystems in order to improve sustainability and self-sufficiency. Bill Whitney, the director of the Office of Creative Inquiry, said the park, which started as a Mountaintop Project this summer, has since been sponsored by the office.
He said the students’ passion for permaculture and educating others led him to believe they should host an event.
The event offered 20 attendees an educational tour of the park — which is located on the corner of Summit Street and Montclair Avenue — and a chance to learn about various plant species and gain insight into future plans for the permaculture project.
“Permaculture is a holistic design philosophy for creating integrated, self-supported, regenerative systems,” said Andrew Goldman, ’19, one of the few students who developed the idea for a permaculture project. The group is taking an environmental studies class created specifically for the effort.
Goldman said ecosystems are able to recreate the necessary conditions to continue functioning. This self-regenerative philosophy is particularly resilient to climate change and supports over 50 different species the group planted this summer.
“There are a lot of different avenues for work and research here,” Goldman said.
He said there is something for everyone who wants to get involved.
While touring, the group pointed out the various species growing in the gardens and described some of the plants’ functional uses.
“I think it’s really cool how all of the elements work together and that (the park is) like a really big puzzle,” said Sam Agro, ’22, who attended the event.
The park features several plant beds and an herb spiral, which Goldman said is the most common permaculture design. Herb spirals, constructed by layering bricks in a spiral shape, create varying microclimates to optimize plant growth. He said the spiral at South Side Permaculture Park has functional advantages, such as reducing species competition.
Plans for the park include designing a calitheather, which Goldman said is a multipurpose structure that would serve as a children’s playground and adult workout space, intended to help facilitate social gatherings. It could also be used to hold lectures and musical performances. Ultimately, Goldman said the purpose is to bring South Side residents and Lehigh students together.
“It seemed like a really good opportunity to have students teaching something to other students that they are really passionate about,” Whitney said.
Agro said he has taken a special interest in permaculture and plans to continue learning about it and getting involved.
“I’m an engineering student and I find myself gravitating towards sustainable energy, so this is definitely something I want to get involved with someday,” Agro said.