The South Side Permaculture project explores the role that gardens have in bringing the community together. Andrew Goldman, a Lehigh University senior, started the project after receiving a grant from the Green Fund. Goldman’s experience working in an environmental chemistry lab at NJIT the summer before his senior year of high school provided him the opportunity to investigate how we are changing the chemical composition of the atmosphere. His work in the program consisted of studying soot and aerosols and how they develop in the atmosphere. Goldman first started gardening casually in his backyard during high school. When he came to Lehigh, he immediately became involved in the Green Action club. He then went on to live in Lehigh’s Eco House during his sophomore year. It is hard to believe that the flourishing community garden outside of the Eco House started as just a single raised garden bed with only one source of funding. Over the years, the project received more funding through the bLUeprint grant, STEPS Environmental Initiative, Mountaintop, and the Strohl Grant. The South Side Permaculture project is now a course at the university that students have the opportunity to take.
Goldman describes permaculture in general as a “holistic design philosophy that focuses on relationships between elements.” The permaculture project demonstrates how various plants interact together to create a more stable and productive system. An example of this systems-based perspective is how nitrogen-fixing plants support the needs of other plants, while ground cover plants prevent erosion and evaporative loss of water. Permaculture is more than just growing food sustainably. This philosophy could impact climate change mitigation, community development, and economic autonomy. Likewise, it could play a significant role in creating the foundation for healthy and loving communities. Goldman states, “ the ways in which the plants interact also apply to people. These interactions encourage us to think about how we can create spaces where people have the ability to form beneficially mutual connections.”
Goldman mentions three ethics agreed upon in the community: “earth, people care, and fair share or surplus return.” We can apply these three ethics to anything regardless of whether it has to do with growing food. Observe and interact is another ethic that refers to how people should take time to reflect on how the systems that currently exist are behaving. Highly functional systems, such as forests, provide us with a deeper understanding of how nature interacts. The permaculture project team works closely with the Community Action Committee of the Lehigh Valley (CACLV), an organization that focuses on improving people in the Lehigh Valley’s access to economic opportunity and improving their quality of life. The permaculture project is an example of a creative way in which organizations like the CACLV can use agriculture to empower communities.
Currently, the community garden contains plants such as arugula, basil, chamomile, comfrey, mint, sea kale, strawberries, curly kale, dandelion, dill, lemon balm, etc. The permaculture park website has various food and medicinal recipes for the plants grown in the garden. Goldman emphasized the collaborative atmosphere of the Eco House, mentioning that the house often makes meals together using the plants from the garden.
One of Goldman’s hopes for the project is that he wants people to see the space as a hub where people can congregate. The Eco House and permaculture team want people to come to this space and share their skills with each other. The best part about this space is that everyone is welcome, whether you are affiliated with Lehigh or a member of the Bethlehem community. Goldman pictures this space as creative environment that promotes learning and creativity. He hopes to integrate music, art, and agriculture through this project, imagining this as a place in which people can gather, play music, and garden. Initiatives such as the South Side Permaculture Park have the power to positively impact communities because they allow everyone in the community to have a stake in the space. This project promotes unity and inclusivity, demonstrating that any city or neighborhood can implement community garden and permaculture initiatives.