Students Strive to Convert Lawns into Landscapes
Wesleyan University is about to undergo an environmental facelift. A group of dedicated students, headed by Miles Bukiet ’11 and Sam Silver ’11, have proposed a project for the University that will radically alter its landscape and place it at the forefront of the permaculture movement.
“The permaculture movement is developing an alternative model for how to design communities that promote social justice and environmental sustainability at the same time, while also providing spaces that are beautiful and productive,” Bukiet said.
Bukiet, Silver and other interested students have already started to contact designers, permaculturalists, and horticulturalists in order to create an alternative paradigm to the standard lawn.
“I was studying environmental science my first year here, and we learned a lot of very disturbing facts about the world and very surprising things about where we’re headed,” Bukiet said. “I started looking around and saw the landscape here as a massive opportunity for us to take a system that is currently destructive and wasteful and turn it into something that is productive and beautiful and healthier for people.”
However, this initiative to make environmental changes on campus is not unprecedented. Although the plans did not take off, two years ago a group of students attempted to create a plan to reduce grassy areas on campus and increase the presence of native plants and flowers.
“It’s been a matter of bringing the pieces together, finding those people who are passionate, creating a movement and building a collective of ideas,” Bukiet said.
Bukiet and Silver decided this past summer that they would be the ones to take the next big step and collect interested parties at Wesleyan for this joint effort.
“Having been around Wesleyan for three years now, I get a better sense of how things work,” Bukiet said. “As a freshman, I was very excited and very passionate about environmental issues, but I didn’t understand the system. But now, it’s great to have a mix of people in the group, some of whom are a little more grizzled and have been around to figure out what works [and] what doesn’t. Older students provide a little bit of grounding for the younger students who bring all their passion to the table. We’ll eventually be able to pass them the baton.”
Nate Repasz ’14 a younger, but equally passionate premaculturalist was eager to get involved in the project.
“I feel that the American obsession with lawns and lawn care is antiquated and wasteful,” Repasz said. “I thought it would be really meaningful to contribute to an organization that is devoted to changing that.”
The alternative landscape Bukiet and Silver are proposing will be one that protects and nourishes both the environment and the humans inhabiting it. The implications of this initiative reach far beyond campus.
“Different colleges have done little pieces here and there, like wildflower patches or leaf composting,” Silver said. “If we can do what we are hoping to, Wesleyan is going to be the first one to take an entire campus and redesign it.”
Silver is confident that one day, permaculture will be as ubiquitous as recycling is today because it’s ethically, aesthetically, and economically sound.
“When you look at the issues at stake, it would be impossible for Wesleyan not to be interested in what’s going on,” Bukiet said. “It’s an incredibly exciting thing to be on the forefront of reimagining a system like the lawn that’s so ubiquitous throughout America. I think we’re uniquely positioned to be leaders here. And really, if we don’t take leadership on an issue like the lawn then we stand to be total hypocrites when it comes to anything we say about sustainability.”
Bukiet and Silver’s proposal has a lengthy timeline where biodiversity will be phased into the everyday college environment in stages. The first step will be to take a few areas and transform them to serve as an example of the large-scale vision.
“Areas we have been considering include the area in between Usdan and Andrus Field, the space in front of North College and the circle by the observatory,” Bukiet said. “Hopefully, by the end of the year, we will have very detailed plans for a few of the spaces, and then a vision for how we can incrementally transform the rest of the campus.”
If everything goes as planned, over the next few years the University will produce crops and sustainable plants from these areas. Bukiet made it clear that this was neither a major goal nor a great concern for members of the project.
“Depending on where everybody within the group and the community wants to take the program, you could see it happening a number of different ways,” Bukiet said. “It could be folded in with Bon Appétit and Bon Appétit could use the produce, or they could just be available for students and members of the community.”
No matter where the products wind up, the group attests that the fact that they will be produced on Wesleyan soil is a huge step in the right direction.
“Wesleyan is hopefully going to pioneer things that other institutions are going to have to take on even to remain competitive,” Silver said. “Students who want to study the world aren’t going to want to study in an all-lawn environment.”