Permaculture in the halls of the academy

While in Hamilton, I spoke with Chris Eames, department chair and faculty of Waikato University’s Center for Science and Technology Education Research.  Chris has a background in environmental education, and currently advises PhD student Nelson Lebo, whose research focuses on integrating permaculture into New Zealand’s secondary science curriculum.

When I learned there was PhD work being done on this topic I was eager to learn where it was all going.  I spoke with Chris about his view of whether permaculture fits into the academy, and how he sees the Sustainable Backyard addressing environmental education.  I also interviewed Nelson, which I will post, pending revisions.

“Prior to working with Nelson, I didn’t know very much about permaculture.  He came to me because I have a background in environmental and science education, but he really brought a lot of expertise in permaculture.  His interest is in how we can use principles of permaculture to teach science education.  Through his PhD work, he has developed a framework for using permaculture in science education, and has piloted an intervention built with the principles of permaculture at a local school  using observation, interviews and questionnaires.”

The reality is I’m interested Education for Sustainability, and anything we do related to the environment has a scientific underpinning.  There’s no difficulty in fitting permaculture into a scientific framework, and certainly no difficulty with fitting it into an ecological framework.  And there are no issues there from an academic perspective with fitting permaculture into education.

Regarding the Sustainable Backyard, it’s a great start but they could do more in the demonstration garden.  They could be doing more interpretation to explain to the public that this is a holistic approach to gardening and the benefits that can accrue not only to gardening but all thinking about sustainability.  What visitors don’t see is that this is a completely different way of setting up a garden than, for example, the Kitchen Garden next door.  Certainly this one and other public gardens are missing lots of opportunities to help people make these connections.

Nelson found that teaching using permaculture requires different approaches to traditional chalk and talk in the classroom.  Somehow or another we need lots of professional development in order to facilitate this shift.

In translation, what does that mean for traditional public visiting a public garden?  How can we expect people to make fairly massive leaps from traditional gardening practices to permaculture?

There is plenty of literature in informal learning to suggest providing information is not necessarily enough to change people’s behavior.  Many gardens are designed to showcase plants and how they grow, or garden design, as with the Hamilton Gardens.  What’s missing is the reasons behind why a garden is planted in a certain way.  People need to go away with information and what they can do about it.

How can you recreate a more natural environment that enhances biodiversity, nice living environment, clean water, clean air, etc, especially in this very built urban environment?  How do we create more natural environments in our urban areas?

Tell people what they can do.  How do you cater to the 4 bottom lines:  knowledge, attitude, values and action?  How do you create an emotional response to that?   How do you provide easy access, then get people to go, “yeah, I’m going to do something about that.”

Permaculture in environmental education is certainly an area of burgeoning research.

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3 responses to “Permaculture in the halls of the academy

  1. That was kind of interesting. My experience at the Sustainable Backyard is that lots of visitors do have an emotional response. However, this often relates to ideas of family (my grandfather’s garden), liberation (you mean you really can have chickens in the city) or that vague notion of “common sense”. I guess it leads to a discussion about whether people have to understand the ecological reasoning before changing their ways, or whether changing their ways (due to other motivators) leads to greater ecological reasoning. Personally I think that I have moved from the first school of thought to the second.
    Robin (Hamilton Permaculture Trust)

  2. Thank you very much for these posts. Its great to see that there are working examples of permaculture in other areas of New Zealand. The community in Palmerston North is looking to establish a similar permaculture community garden. Can you please inform me about any literature, contacts, ideas, working with councils, education and designs that have been successful in establishing permaculture? Any help would be very much appreciated.

    Regards,
    Jared Gardner.

  3. Hi Jared, I work for the Hamilton Permaculture Trust and will be coming to Palmerston in the next few weeks. Can you send me a contact number so we could perhaps meet up and discuss ideas. I can be contacted through the Trust, permaham@actrix .co.nz

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