Western Connecticut State University’s Jane Goodall Center for Excellence in Environmental Studies (JGC) recently received grants to support operation of its Permaculture Garden on the university’s Midtown campus.
The funding awards include a $3,000 grant from the Fairfield County Community Foundation, $1,300 from the New England Grassroots Environment Fund and $400 from The Women’s Club of Danbury/New Fairfield. The grants 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 summer internship program at the JGC is designed to teach students about sustainability and permaculture. Among other things, the interns will learn the science and techniques behind permaculture, and will be trained to plan sustainable gardens, pick and plant seeds, understand the benefits of crop rotation, and identify plants correctly to avoid inappropriate weeding. The three student interns, Charla Beauvais, Holly Pais and Astrid Sundberg, also will be responsible for cultivation of the garden’s crop as well as distributing a portion of the harvest to local food pantries.
Beauvais, of Bridgeport, is a junior in the Social Sciences department, pursuing a dual major in anthropology and sociology. Of her work at the JGC she said, “As a student at WCSU, my passion for helping others succeed and become 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 peers to understand the connection we have to Mother Earth.”
Pais was born and raised in St. Albans, Vermont, surrounded by many agricultural farms. Upon moving to Connecticut, she graduated from Danbury High School and enrolled at WCSU. After only one semester at WCSU, she decided to work in banking full time for almost 10 years and then returned to her roots. Currently a junior majoring in Bioscience, she will graduate in 2021. “After WCSU, I plan on attending UCONN for its Plant Science graduate program and finding a career in agriculture, specifically organic vegetable growth,” she said. “I love working in the garden here at WCSU because it makes me feel at home. Being able to instantly identify plants makes me feel comfortable as a newbie. I can’t wait to see what the future holds here and look forward to this summer’s harvest!”
Sundberg transferred to WCSU as a junior and is majoring in anthropology. The Newtown resident is passionate about food, sciences and nutrition: “I've always been surrounded by gardens and nature so the JGC Permaculture Garden is joyous and relaxing, and I love getting to work with my hands.” She is Moroccan and Swedish so food and culture have always been central to her being and she hopes ultimately to share those cultural food differences and practices with others.
Ciara Carruthers, the summer 2019 intern and a recent WCSU graduate who will continue to assist in the garden, said permaculture goes beyond typical gardening.
“It’s the cultivation of a biological system that thrives almost independently by design,” she said. “It’s sustainable and reduces waste significantly. Our new summer interns will be a great help to the mission of practicing and promoting sustainability at WCSU.”
Carruthers trained under former garden manager and WCSU graduate Ashley Kenney, who worked with Professor Emeritus of Anthropology, Consultant and former Chair of the JGC Dr. Laurie Weinstein. After graduating, Kenney took her permaculture gardening knowledge to her position as garden manager and sustainability coordinator for Grace Farms in New Canaan. Kenney said, “I plan to help the JGC at WCSU this year by advising on the planting of some new trees, shrubs and fruit-bearing plants. Urban farming and gardening is an important tool in helping close the hunger gap and to help feed people in need.”
Weinstein said, “We’re very indebted to the Fairfield County Community Foundation, New England Grassroots Environment Fund and Women’s Club of Danbury/New Fairfield for giving us the opportunity to mentor some of our students for careers in sustainability.”
The Jane Goodall Center for Excellence in Environmental Studies, founded over 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.”
For more information about the Jane Goodall Center for Excellence in Environmental Studies, visit www.wcsu.edu/goodall.