Thinking inside the box

Maggie McProud, Garden Manager and Farm-to-Table Teacher
Wednesday, June 3, 2015

"Our garden quietly affords our community with a space for reflection, inspiration and guidance through these metamorphoses, simultaneously providing nourishment to support our path forward."   – Maggie McProud

We are on the cusp of summer and already we have much to be grateful for in The Woolman Educational Garden. For those of us who live and learn here, Woolman inspires transformation and adaptation. Our garden quietly affords our community with a space for reflection, inspiration and guidance through these metamorphoses, simultaneously providing nourishment to support our path forward. The garden has recently reminded me that the path to discovery and adaptation demands a willingness to digest and decompose ideas we have come to rely on in order to breathe new life into the systems and cycles that support us.

In our Farm to Table class this semester, we discussed one of my favorite concepts – Permaculture Design. Roughly, the concept is this: we cannot truly solve the challenges we face using the same form of consciousness that created said challenges. Einstein succinctly captures the potency of this concept in one of his famous quotes, yet it has taken many years of farming to comprehend the massive implications of this idea and to employ this concept as a strategy to make positive change.  It is this very form of ‘consciousness evolution’ that we aspire to engage with in our farming practices but can also be applied to personal development and to community living. In Quakerism and Quaker education, this process is beautifully captured as Continuing Revelation.

Our mild winter and rain shortage has dramatically increased pressure from ‘pests’ this spring. This change begs new approaches and adaptations to our farming practices. When faced with problems in the garden, we encourage our students to ask: How have we played a part in this dynamic instead of assuming this phenomenon is happening to us? The weather is obviously out of our control, but it doesn’t take us long to realize we have been catalyzing natural processes for our benefit and are partly responsible for all the outcomes whether or not they were intended.

One of our biggest obstacles in the Woolman Garden is the presence of symphylans (read more here). This soil dwelling arthropod lives off organic matter and root hairs, virtually stunting the majority of plants growing in their presence. In fact, their populations thrive with most ecologically literate farming practices! Incorporating compost, minimizing tillage and mulching are just a few of the techniques we use that support and spread this organism. We have found solutions that reduce crop damage but nothing to eradicate the problem completely. With the increase in symphylans this Spring, we are being forced to think outside the box, especially when it comes to composting our green waste – symphylans have always found their way into our finished compost piles no matter what we do. In response, we have actually decided to think inside the box and compost using Vermiculture! (Here are a few pictures of Tyler's beautiful craftsmanship on the new worm boxes!)

"By facing our original challenge creatively, we have been reminded that adapting from old systems to new methods of problem solving truly supports resiliency both in our garden and in our community."

This new solution provides us with the same function and meets our needs while simultaneously adding countless benefits to our program.  Our new worm bins provide more biological diversity, richness to our soil, educational opportunities and craftsmanship to our garden.  By stacking functions, we have designed our worm boxes into our preexisting vegetable processing station and upgraded these systems with additional improvements.  By facing our original challenge creatively, we have been reminded that adapting from old systems to new methods of problem solving truly supports resiliency both in our garden and in our community.

Thank you to everyone who helped to create this new system, ‘pests’ and all!

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