2011 Progress Report: Enhancing Urban Sustainability through the Application of Permaculture Principles

EPA Grant Number: SU834758
Title: Enhancing Urban Sustainability through the Application of Permaculture Principles
Investigators: Reyes, Manuel , Alvarez, Carlos Montoya , Hayes, Randall
Institution: North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University , EARTH University
EPA Project Officer: Nolt-Helms, Cynthia
Phase: II
Project Period: August 15, 2010 through August 14, 2012
Project Period Covered by this Report: August 15, 2010 through August 14,2011
Project Amount: $75,000
RFA: P3 Awards: A National Student Design Competition for Sustainability Focusing on People, Prosperity and the Planet - Phase 2 (2010) Recipients Lists
Research Category: P3 Challenge Area - Agriculture , P3 Challenge Area - Built Environment , P3 Challenge Area - Energy , P3 Challenge Area - Water , Pollution Prevention/Sustainable Development , P3 Awards , Sustainability


The objective is to establish multipurpose permaculture laboratories in three campuses for:  (1) course instruction and experiential learning, and (2) demonstrating the multifaceted benefits provided by permaculture to people, planet and prosperity. Note as will be explained in the summary, the term permaculture was changed to "natuculture."

Progress Summary:

Natuculture:  In the process of implementing permaculture, the team found out that it will take several years to establish a permaculture system. Therefore, the team defined a new term. It is called natuculture. Natuculture is "making the unnatural natural." Natuculture is any human-made system that mimics nature in human disturbed landscapes. The term is derived from "nature culture." Nature means natural world as it exists without civilization. The word culture had roots which meant: "the tilling of land" or “tend, guard, cultivate, till.” A rain garden is, for example, a natuculture. It is constructed in a human disturbed landscape. It mimics some natural functions of a forest, which is to increase infiltration and filter water. It does not need artificial fertilizer and has drought and flood resistant vegetations. Conservation agriculture is another example of natuculture. It is production of food in a human disturbed landscape, which also mimics a forest because its three attributes are characteristics of most forests, and they are minimum soil disturbance, continuous mulch, and diverse species. Furthermore, it promotes nutrient recycling through planting of deep rooted cover crops. Ripping invasive plants out of a park is natuculture as well; it is assisting disturbed landscapes to maintain natural functions. Natuculture can be a transition term for permaculture. When several natuculture systems stably synergize, the site is transformed into a permaculture system. "Permaculture" is the conscious design and maintenance of agriculturally productive ecosystems, which have the diversity, stability, and resilience of natural ecosystems. It is the harmonious integration of landscape and people—providing their food, energy, shelter, and other material and non-material needs in a sustainable way. The philosophy behind permaculture is one of working with, rather than against, nature and of protracted and thoughtful observation rather than protracted and thoughtless action (http://permaculture.org.au/what-is-permaculture/)." It will be very difficult to set-up permaculture small business enterprises; however, it is feasible to set-up natuculture small business enterprises. Unless our system becomes a business enterprise its benefit to society is very limited.

  • Established strong partnership with K-12 campuses and a health care facility for the underserved. NCA&T established strong relationships with General Greene Elementary School (GGES), Neal Middle School (NMS), Southern High School (SHS), and CAARE, a non-profit organization that promotes a holistic and community approach to health and seeks to address disparities in health care access. All of these campuses are underserved with predominantly African-African and Hispanic populations.
  • Additional funding. A proposal on permaculture to recruit agriculture students was written and funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA)-Capacity Building for $150,000. A team of 19 natuculture scholars and a Ph.D. graduate student was formed to promote natuculture.  Furthermore, funding to procure rainharvesters was provided through other USDA funds and by NCSU.
  • Installed raingarden. The first and only raingarden at NCA&T was installed at Sockwell Hall, the biological engineering building. The drainage of about ¼ of the building was diverted to the raingarden. It was found by Kori Higgs as part of capstone senior design in biological engineering, that the raingarden was 100% efficient in preventing rainwater from running off to storm water drains. Before the raingarden, 100% of the rainwater went directly to storm drains. The raingarden is populated by several native North Carolina plant species. A bird feeder was installed in the raingarden and at least 7 species of birds are visiting the site.  There is an obvious increase in butterflies, bumble bees and other insects populating the garden. A ground-hog named "Arnold" frequently visits the garden and brings delight to many NCA&T students. No artificial chemicals have been used in the raingarden since March 201, when it was constructed to replace the lawn landscaping.
  • Installed rainwater harvesters. A 3,000 gallon rainharvester donated by partners at NCSU was installed at Sockwell Hall. Rainwater from the Sockwell roof was diverted to the rainharvester before the water goes to the raingarden. The tank was painted with a natuculture theme and with a big A&T sign and logo. Rainharvesters also were installed at Neal Middle School, Southern High School (funded by USDA), and CAARE (funded by USDA). Rainharvesters were installed by NCSU-Cooperative Extension partner Mitch Woodward.
  • Installed erosion control in playground. A significant amount of sediments was going into stormwater drains from the playground of General Greene Elementary School (GGES). The team took the opportunity to construct an erosion control system to illustrate a sediment control structure to the elementary school kids. The faculty and principal of GGES are determined to use this structure as part of educating the students about the importance of arresting soil erosion in urban areas. Landscape architect, Avery Telligman, was the one who designed and installed the system as a capstone senior design under the supervision of Professor Howard.
  • Designed and constructed a green roof. As part of biological engineering senior design, Annette Sparks led the design and construction of the first and only green roof at NCA&T.   Annette partnered with Tariq Walker who drew the structure design and insured its stability. Annette designed the green roof itself. The roof is on a porch and experiments are now being conducted to determine soil media and planting materials for the roof under controlled irrigation and drainage. The roof is unique because it is drained by siphoning and then a small pump.
  • Community garden. Through partnership with NC-Cooperative extension and funding from USDA and EPA, vegetable natuculture gardens were started at Sockwell Hall, General Greene Elementary, Neal Middle, Southern High, and CAARE. They are called "Oasis Sofas" with a theme of bringing nutritious food in home deserts. "Home deserts" are households with meager healthy food and "Oasis Sofas" are 6 foot by 3 foot sofa size raised vegetable beds. These vegetables will be produced with minimal use of artificial chemicals like mineral fertilizers and pesticides. Oasis sofas are natuculture because their principles are based on forest mimicry.
  • Solar powered bird pond and bird feeders. A solar powered bird pond was purchased and installed.  It is a shallow pond powered by a solar pump. Two sets of birdfeeders were installed at Sockwell Hall and birds visit the feeders daily. It is the only site on campus visted by so many birds of various species.
  • Training on rainharvester. NC-Cooperative Extension, a partnership between NCA&T and NCSU, conducted a rainharvester training held at the NCA&T campus. This training was facilitated through this project and the trainees visited the natuculture laboratory at Sockwell Hall.
  • Visiting the natuculture laboratory. Several students in elementary, middle and high school visited the natuculture laboratory.  Students at NCA&T also are visiting the laboratory as a "field trip." The laboratory clearly illustrates the differences between an all brick landscape, a lawn landscape and a natuculture landscape. International visitors and guests of the Department of Natural Resources visit the natuculture site as well. 
  • Undergraduate and graduate researchers involved. Two biological engineering capstone designs and a landscape architecture capstone design was done and built through this grant. Several studies led by undergraduate and graduate students are being conducted.  Through an NSF grant that funds undergraduates at NCA&T, three students committed to conducting research on the green roof and on monitoring biological diversity. Furthermore, another undergraduate funded through another grant is contributing to the oasis Sofa research team. Both green roof and oasis sofa researches are being led by Ph.D. graduate students funded by USAID. 

Future Activities:

Completion of raingardens. Raingardens are planned to be installed in Green Elementary and Neal Middle School through funding from this project. Constructed wetlands are planned for Southern High School and CAARE through funding from the USDA.

Studies.  As relayed in the summary, several studies are being conducted by students at NCA&T. There are several other research and design projects that are needed for natuculture and because of interest generated by natuculture, more students are anticipated to participate through funding from other sources. In addition, Oasis Sofa studies are being started at GGES, NMS, SHS, and CAARE. The students at all levels will be taught on the steps of scientific method. Faculty and staff mentors are involved in each campus. We all are committed to inculcating a participatory approach in the application of natuculture to the students at these campuses.

Spread natuculture. Natuculture discourages lawns, but there is a bias in U.S. society towards lawn landscaping, which if continued is obviously not sustainable. The lawn is basically a drug addicted carpet. Hence, natuculture will be promoted and more pilot natuculture systems to replace lawns will be installed in partner campuses.

Business enterprise. The natuculture team is convinced that unless natuculture becomes a business, it will never be adopted. This is the "Prosperity" part of P<sup>3</sup>. A business student already is interested in doing a business plan for natuculture. He will likely start with the "Oasis Sofa" or raingarden natuculture systems. A new paradigm in urban landscaping is the vision, and provision of training in the natuculture model is an important step in the creation of natuculture business enterprises.

Journal Articles on this Report : 1 Displayed | Download in RIS Format

Other project views: All 4 publications 1 publications in selected types All 1 journal articles
Type Citation Project Document Sources
Journal Article Gengenbach L. Putting theory in practice: the green scene--biological engineering students pursue sustainability on campus, turning North Carolina A&T blue-and-gold into green. Resource: Engineering and Technology for a Sustainable World 2011;18(4):7-9. SU834758 (2011)
  • Full-text: ASABE-PDF
  • Supplemental Keywords:

    natuculture, raingarden, rainharvester, conservation agriculture, green roof, urban biodiversity

    Relevant Websites:

    http://permaculture.org.au/what-is-permaculture/ Exit

    http://aggieswalkgreen.org/ Exit

    Progress and Final Reports:

    Original Abstract
  • Final

  • P3 Phase I:

    Enhancing Urban Sustainability through the Application of Permaculture Principles  | Final Report