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Emi Day
Feb 4, 2012

ARCHIVE: O'brien: Permaculture teaches sustainable life

Feb 4, 2012 by Emi Day


Published March 7, 2011

“What do you see here?” University Instructor Judith Hobbs asks the students in her permaculture class. Despite the brisk, wet breeze blowing in, the pause for answers doesn’t last long. Huddled above a snake-shaped trail, like one that would flow from a grand sand castle, students add input about the swale they began building only a few hours before. To this group of students, the swale represents more than just a system to catch and store run-off rain water. The earth-made contraption is only a fraction of the ideas Hobbs and her students are working to implement during the course of the class, which is compiled of 20 students and community members.

The class curriculum circumvents sustainable living processes. But it is more than a class to these students; it is a way to educate themselves and the community on how to carry out a sustainable lifestyle.

This is what drives them to meet from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. every other weekend.

But Hobbs and her permaculture class are the not the only ones spending their weekends in the white house located on 18th Avenue and Moss Street. As the permaculture class works to mold and beautify the outside of the house, members and volunteers of the Center for Advancement of Sustainable Living and architecture case study students busy themselves inside the house. Each group tackles a different challenge in and around the allotted area. Although one person may be working below the porch while another experiments with different types of insulation, the independent efforts cohesively build the final product.

Granted by the University in early 2009, CASL got to work on renovating the building. With a large, drawn plan displayed in the area of the house that was once the kitchen, CASL envisions the house becoming a place to educate the community on how sustainable environmental techniques can be implemented by everyday people.

“It is really overwhelming to try and live a sustainable lifestyle, so this is a place to get hands-on experience and see how it works,” said Courtney Skoog, a second-year master’s student and CASL public relations coordinator.

They hope to build three bedrooms in another annex behind the house where three selected CASL advisers would live inside and run tours and workshops. The house would showcase innovative ways to live environmentally friendly — beyond just recycling.

“People are looking for actual tools of how to make change,” Hobbs said.

Lifestyles such as permaculture can be implemented anywhere in the world. With the vulnerable state of the environment, permaculture harnesses the earth’s resources and utilizes them efficiently.

Most Saturdays, CASL, as well as members from the permaculture class, converge at the house for work parties.

Members get together to do small jobs around the house. Skoog recalls digging for the sewer line in the backyard. It is far from your average Saturday night in Eugene, but participants take pride in that.

Although the house appears deserted, it has the potential to become a model for the community. Neighbors have already expressed interest by visiting during construction to see the transformation occur.

Permaculture student and community member Maggie Messerschmidt decided to take advantage of what the class had to offer. Besides college credit for University students, the first-ever permaculture class allows students the opportunity to get permaculture design certificate. This enables students to potentially enter into the professional realm of permaculture. It also helps put the University at the forefront of ecological and environmental thought and action.

The biggest benefit, however, will be the environment, which the creators of the house are working to help.

Permaculture has the potential to educate people on ways to live sustainability “with simple solutions that produce great effects,” Hobbs said.

“It is not just a vision that comes and dissolves,” Messerschmidt said. “It is a vision that sticks around.”