As Prince Charles spoke at Georgetown University last week on the importance of green practices and sustainable agriculture, the congregation at the in Reston prepared its own contribution to the environmental movement.
On Sunday morning, Rev. Erin Gingrich - standing amidst fledgling apple trees and finely-labeled berry bushes on three carefully-tended garden plots - led the inauguration ceremony of her church’s first permaculture garden.
"Permaculture," coined in the mid-1970's by Australian ecologist David Holmgren, is a contraction of "permanent agriculture" or "permanent culture."
Both meanings apply, as permaculture can refer to the human-built environment and the natural ecosystems surrounding it.
The practice uses systems of food production, housing, community development and technology that are integrated, can exist on a small scale and, according to Permaculture Activist, form self-contained energy and material loops.
Regarding the agricultural component, this means garden design based on the way nature actually works.
Alex Barrows, designer of the Unitarian church garden and owner of White River Permaculture, based in Colorado, says “everything is strategically planted to create gardens that take care of themselves.”
Permaculture is about creating a network of mutually supportive relationships among plants, minimizing the need for human intervention in the garden, “so that what each plant needs—pest control, fertilizer, beneficial insects—is ideally provided by its neighbor,” he says.
Ellen McClaran, head of the church’s landscape task force, helped envision the project.
“This will be an extremely productive garden,” says McClaran, “there will be tons of food to share, not only with the people of the congregation, but the community at large.”
Barrows explains that the ultimate goal of permaculture is to create ecologies that are self-sustaining and also yield to humans’ needs.
“You’re not going to have a sustainable culture without a sustainable form of producing your own food,” he said.