Permaculture pioneer Ryan Harb to speak March 8
UMass Amherst garden model for sustainable food supply earned White House recognition

DANBURY, CONN. Ryan Harb, whose pioneering work in promoting sustainable food supply has earned recognition from the Obama administration, will share the experience and lessons of transforming grass lawns and neglected plots into community gardens at the University of Massachusetts Amherst in a lecture on Friday, March 8, 2013, at Western Connecticut State University.

Harb will discuss “Leading by Example in Sustainability: The UMass Amherst Permaculture Initiative” at 2:30 p.m. in the Student Center Theater on the WCSU Midtown campus, 181 White St. in Danbury. The lecture will be free and the public is invited.

Recipient of an M.S. in Green Building from UMass Amherst, Harb serves as coordinator of the university’s Permaculture Academic Program, campus permaculture design consultant, and sustainability manager for university dining services. Since its launch in 2010, the Permaculture Initiative has mobilized more than 2,000 volunteers to develop and maintain three community gardens on the UMass Amherst campus that have yielded fresh produce to supply university dining halls and a farmers market.

Under Harb’s leadership, the UMass Permaculture Committee composed of students, faculty and staff has designed and implemented gardens based on principles and patterns found naturally in healthy ecosystems. Harb’s website describes the initiative as a “cutting-edge campus sustainability program” that seeks to turn unproductive landscapes into “edible, educational and ecologically designed gardens while building community. In short, it’s hyper-local food production with a social and environmental responsibility for regeneration.”

The UMass program received national recognition in 2012 when the Permaculture Initiative received the most votes among 1,400 university projects across the United States competing in the Obama administration’s “Champions of Change” challenge, earning Harb a trip to the White House to speak at a ceremony hosted by the President. The Permaculture Initiative has been featured in the New York Times, Boston Globe and Huffington Post, and Harb has shared his passion for promoting sustainability in food supplies, ecosystems and social structures as a lecturer on the Internet and internationally at universities and other public forums. More than 25,000 visitors have come to Amherst over the past three years to learn more about the program, which has become a model for other university and community organizations seeking to establish gardens based on similar ecological principles.

The inspiration for the Permaculture Initiative came from Harb’s graduate practicum project begun in fall 2009 exploring the theme of “Lawns to Gardens: Growing Your Own Food for Economic and Environmental Savings,” which led to development of the first community garden from a section of grass lawn at a highly visible location on the UMass Amherst campus.

Harb follows permaculture principles for organization of sustainable communities in his daily life as a resident of Sirius Ecovillage in Shutesbury, Mass.”While gardens and food production are typically what people think about when they hear the word ‘permaculture,’” Harb explained in a posting on his website, “the permaculture design process is also widely used to create efficient, well-designed and sustainable towns and cities, campuses and businesses as well.”

Harb’s March 8 lecture will be part of a daylong visit to Western that also will afford opportunities to meet with students, faculty and facilities services administrators, as well as participants in the Roots & Shoots program at WCSU sponsored by the Jane Goodall Institute.

For more information, contact the Office of University Relations at (203) 837-8486.


Western Connecticut State University offers outstanding faculty in a range of quality academic programs. Our diverse university community provides students an enriching and supportive environment that takes advantage of the unique cultural offerings of Western Connecticut and New York. Our vision: To be an affordable public university with the characteristics of New England’s best small private universities.


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