DANBURY, Connecticut — The Jane Goodall Center for Excellence in Environmental Studies (JGC) Permaculture Garden at Western Connecticut State University has again been the beneficiary of a grant from the Fairfield County Community Foundation. The $3,000 grant will be used to pay student interns to care for the on-campus garden, as well as for the maintenance and development of the garden itself. The garden also received a Grow grant from the New England Grassroots Environment Fund in the amount of $3,000, and from the Danbury/New Fairfield Women’s Club for $200.
Professor Emerita of Anthropology/Sociology Dr. Laurie Weinstein, who originated the Permaculture Garden, said, “Last year, the Fairfield County Community Foundation gave us a wonderful grant that enabled us to hire then-students Charla Beauvais and Astrid Sundberg to work in the garden. Because of Covid, what we had planned to do, and what we did, became two different objectives. Charla and Astrid, along with Holly Pais and Ashley Kenney, became real troopers and we managed to harvest a lot of produce to bring to the pantries, which were so in need of fresh food.”
Weinstein continued, “Despite the hardships last year, by early June, we were harvesting berries, lettuces and arugula, followed by kale, tomatoes, ground cherries, celeriac, Brussels sprouts, squashes and a variety of herbs and Asian pears. The Daily Bread Food panty in Danbury became our go-to donation center for our garden produce. We gave them produce one-to-two times per week from June through the last week of October last year. Many of the people served by Daily Bread are from the Danbury region and are lower income, Hispanic, Black and/or elderly. We also gave food to the Senior Center Program, Market Boxes, which offers delivery and pick-up through the Danbury Food Collaborative.”
Weinstein has handed the reins of the Permaculture Garden to Assistant Professor of Sociology Dr. Manoj Misra, who has been very involved in the activities of the garden, including making sure all the interns are paid from the grants the university has received. “He is a sociologist who studies food systems around the world, so the garden is an obvious outlet for his talent and expertise,” Weinstein said.
Garden team members include:
Beauvais, who graduated in May with a dual major in anthropology and sociology. While at WCSU, she was able to encourage the Student Government Association to take an interest in the garden; and as past chair of the Roots & Shoots club, she managed to motivate members to become active gardeners. Beavais had regular meetings with faculty and students, traveled weekly to the garden from Brooklyn (where she lives) and became the face of the garden. Of her work at the JGC she said, “My passion is for helping others succeed and becoming a positive role model in the community is very important to me. We have numerous resources here on campus, available to all, and some of which students are completely unaware of. Being a part of the permaculture initiative is my way of sharing my gift and love for planting, and to inspire and empower my fellow peers to understand the connection we have to Mother Earth.” Despite her graduation, Beauvais will continue to work in the garden.
Camryn Schilling, of Brookfield, who will be a sophomore Anthropology/Sociology major this fall. She became very involved with the garden this past year, and is passionate about food and growing food for the community. “Food is a big part of culture and people’s day-to-day lives,” Schilling said. “The local plants that we are growing have important historical roots, and the garden is a way to fight back against industrialized farming and the carbon expensive transportation of food globally.”
Newtown resident Astrid Sundberg attended WCSU for a year as a transfer student before re-enrolling in the Biological Anthropology program at Boston University and finishing her degree there online. She has stayed faithful to the garden after being one of the two student interns chosen for last year’s Fairfield County Community Grant to work in the garden. Sundberg said she loves being able to give back to the Danbury, Newtown and Ridgefield communities. “Giving people in need fresh produce is important to me,” she said. “Being surrounded by plants in the garden and watching them grow and thrive is a very fulfilling experience.”
Former garden manager Ashley Kenney worked closely with the students this year, and provided the kind of expertise that was needed to prepare the garden for early spring, including designing the garden, choosing appropriate plants and serving as the general “go-to” person for all things permaculture. Kenney has been hands-on in the garden for more than four years, and its continued success is due to her ongoing support.
Professor of Anthropology Dr. Rob Whittemore also has been a great team resource. He manages the irrigation system and electrical needs of the garden. Weinstein said, “We had an irrigation system put in this year and an electrical outlet was run out to the garden so we could weed-whack and prune. The irrigation system saves us so much time, because now we don’t have to lug heavy hoses out to the garden and spend hours weekly ensuring that all the plants are fed water. Rob has also worked with our compost person, Jeff Demers from New England Composting, to assist in the regular delivery of compost to our garden.”
Other members of the Jane Goodall Center who have worked in the garden include: Professor of Biological and Environmental Sciences Dr. Mitch Wagener, Assistant Professor of Biological and Environmental Sciences Dr. Hannah Reynolds, Assistant Professor of Philosophy Dr. Anna Malavisi and Ruth Haas Librarian Christina DiCarro.
The students have put a great deal of effort into reaching out to new food pantries this year. The permaculture team is doing “resource mapping” to identify new pantries, especially those that service Black and Hispanic families with food. According to Weinstein, “The students are not only the backbone of our garden, but they also come from underserved communities struggling with food insecurity.”
It was this important work that prompted the New England Grassroots Environment Fund to support the Permaculture Garden with funding as well. According to its website, Grow grants are “geared towards groups who have some experience implementing a project in their community. Grow grants support groups to deepen their work by further developing a community vision, lowering barriers to participation, identifying new stakeholders and working to bring more voices and lived experiences into core decision-making processes. … The Grow grant program is focused on community-based, local initiatives. For the Grassroots Fund that means that: The group is doing local, grassroots work in CT, ME, MA, NH, RI or VT; the group is volunteer-driven or has no more than two full-time paid staff.”
The Jane Goodall Center for Excellence in Environmental Studies, founded more than 20 years ago, hosts public speakers and, according to the website, “fosters service learning projects for students throughout the community by reaching out to help with after school programs, animal shelters, the Women’s Center of Greater Danbury, nursing homes, food pantries and soup kitchens.”
Western Connecticut State University changes lives by providing all students with a high-quality education that fosters their growth as individuals, scholars, professionals and leaders in a global society. Our vision: To be widely recognized as a premier public university with outstanding teachers and scholars who prepare students to contribute to the world in a meaningful way.