Jane Goodall Center : What is Permaculture?

How it all Began

The seeds were planted to start a garden initiative after the Jane Goodall Center at WCSU hosted two campus visits and public talks given by Ryan Harb. While a student at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, Harb was responsible for launching a nationally recognized permaculture garden program at his university and was presented with a Champions of Change award from President Barack Obama. “The UMass garden earned eight national awards in its first 18 months and has been a tremendous drawing point for the school,” Harb said.

After Ryan Harb’s visit, the word permaculture became a buzzword on our campus and a topic of further exploration and discussion by students, faculty and staff alike.

The Garden: An Overview

In June of 2014, several members of the Jane Goodall Center at WCSU, along with Roots & Shoots club members attended an important conference at UMASS Amherst in order to learn more about sustainability and the principles of permaculture. The Revisioning Sustainability Conference was an opportunity to prepare for the launch of a permaculture garden on the WCSU midtown campus during the 2014-2015 academic year. Attendees connected with others who were initiating permaculture principles on campuses across the country.

The permaculture garden project at WCSU, sponsored by the Jane Goodall Center for Excellence in Environmental Studies. Our Garden Advisory Board is made up of WCSU faculty and staff from many different disciplines and offices. In addition, representatives from local businesses and organizations were invited to participate. Mr. Ryan Harb and Mr. Bill Bean, of Green Planning & Coaching, both certified permaculture garden designers, acted as consultants and assisted with strategy, design and implementation plans.

Dr. Laurie Weinstein, Chair of the WCSU Jane Goodall Center at the time, stated, “Our mission in creating the garden at Western is to reconnect our community with the land. Many of our students, and the population in general, are naïve about where our food comes from and how it gets to our plates. We want our students and community to learn about healthy and humane eating. We want to give them skills that they can incorporate into their own lives.”

The Jane Goodall Permaculture Garden was planted in a space designated near the Science Building,  a space originally intended for such use. The garden lays the groundwork for engaging many more students, faculty and the wider community. There are also plans to maintain large permanent planters around campus that can be filled with a combination of flora and edible plants. It is also hoped that additional gardens will be planted on the Westside campus as this permaculture initiative grows.

Dr. Andrew Oguma, former Adjunct Professor of Biology, utilized the garden space for a class in the fall semester of 2014. His students conducted soil testing for lab work and submitted designs for planting in Spring 2015.

Design and Prep

On November 12, 2014, a group of 25 permaculture enthusiasts made up of WCSU Roots & Shoots Club members, students, faculty, staff and community volunteers turned out to help prepare the garden area.

The group composted, placed a cardboard layer and mulched approximately 1,000 sq. ft of space in three hours time under the guidance of our friend and consultant, Ryan Harb and permaculture expert Sam Billings, from Treetops.

Our gratitude goes out to everyone who turned out to help, donated supplies and lent equipment. Everyone looked forward to the spring and planting time.

Permaculture – Design Team – Spring 2015
Back: Bethany, Andrew, Ryan, Stephany, Drew, Amanda, Madelyn, Zach, Jono
Front: Jasmine, Gentry, Laurie


On April 27, 2015 the garden plants finally went into the ground after several very fruitful design sessions led by permaculture design consultants Ryan Harb and Jono Neiger. Students and faculty participated in the process and the end result was a 900 square foot garden space that included herbs, flowers, kale, arugula, garlic, chives, onions and several types of berries. We also included Asian Pear trees and an entire section that featured Native American companion plants; corn, squash and beans, known as The Three Sisters.

A large contingent of volunteers; students, faculty, Roots & Shoots Club members and community members offered their time and talent for that afternoon to spread compost, get the plants and trees in the earth and lay pavers along the outer edges. Our sincere thanks are due to Trader Joe’s and Whole Food Market Danbury, New England Compost, Sodexo, Dom’s Nursery, Ryan Harb and Jono Neiger and WCSU for donating plants and materials.


Links to press coverage from first planting day:

Westconn to Plant Permaculture Garden on Midtown Campus – Danbury Daily Voice
Westconn Community Plants Permaculture Garden in Danbury – Daily Voice
WCSU Plants Idea of Sustainability With New Garden – Newstimes

We were thrilled that State Representative David Arconti Jr. reached out to us via email in response to the front page coverage published in The Newstimes:

” I read the article in yesterday’s Newstimes regarding the Sustainability Garden that was recently planted at WCSU. I am the vice chair of the Legislatures Environment Committee. The subject of sustainability is of great interest to me. I would be happy to visit the garden in the Fall when the students are back for a tour and to learn more about the project. Thanks, take care!”

Planting herbs with students from Danbury’s Academy for International Studies

Another goal for the garden is community outreach by working with young students and local school groups by using the garden as a teaching tool to inspire them. The Roots & Shoots Club from WCSU visited students at Danbury’s Academy for International Studies to talk about permaculture gardening and  plant herbs during the visit.

The Harvest

The garden offered many opportunities for students and community members to participate in activities and learn more about permaculture.

And, the JGC at WCSU were thrilled by the news that Dr. Jane Goodall would once again pay a visit to the university to celebrate her latest book,   Sowing the Seeds of Hope and afterwards join us for the dedication of The Jane Goodall Permaculture Garden.  The outpouring of admiration for Dr. Jane Goodall was evident on the faces of all who attended. Sodexo incorporated produce from the garden for a special menu served at the reception that followed.

Throughout the fall semester, Sodexo worked Jane Goodall Permaculture Garden bounty into their recipes and the garden also brought us more community connections. Our association with a volunteer team from Trader Joe’s led to our introduction to The Danbury Food Collaborative.  One of our harvests benefitted Hillside Food Outreach, a local organization dedicated to feeding our hungry neighbors.

We continue to look forward to planting again and to another spring to gather, plant, learn, taste and grow along with our garden.  We hope you’ll join us!

The university currently offers a senior-level course, “Anthropology 400 “Roots & Shoots,” which will focus on the garden environs and hands-on service learning opportunities.
Faculty across many disciplines, Science, Business, Philosophy, Literature, Biology, Anthropology and Sociology are developing courses that utilize the garden as a hands-on learning space.

The garden will also serve as a backdrop for lectures, events and university tours.

Other WCSU Sustainability Efforts on Campus

There are many completed and ongoing projects in the works at WCSU to increase building efficiencies in regard to energy use such as lighting, heating, air conditioning and insulation. The installation of a 400KW fuel cell on the midtown campus allows us to purchase electricity and hot water at a discounted rate. Most recently, electric fueling stations were added to the Midtown and Westside campus garages.