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High Schoolers Bitten by Permaculture Bug

Taking the Next Step


Saturday, March 12, 2011

There’s gardening, and then there’s permaculture. And while it may not be so uncommon these days to see a Santa Barbara teen working the earth to produce some delicious organic veggies, it’s not so often you see one building a house out of mud and straw or tilling his or her entire backyard into an oasis of eco-friendliness.

At the top of the S.B. earth lovin’ hierarchy are Bill Palmisano and Julian, his 19-year-old son, who have been sharing permaculture power with the Central Coast for the last several years. In 2009, Bill—an organic gardener since the original hippie movement, with an easygoing attitude well-suited for working with teenagers—became the first leader of the unprecedented sustainable gardening project at Carpinteria High School.

Avery Hardy

Out back of the school, between the baseball fields and the tennis courts, stand the fruit of his labors: 46 garden beds of organic and sustainably grown produce that goes back into the Carpinteria school system to feed students, teachers, and administrators. Palmisano and his partner, Adam Carmadella, even attracted the attention of none other than food crusader supreme Jamie Oliver, who shot a segment of the new season of his show Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution at the CHS farm.

Although it is still just getting off the ground—er, into the ground—Palmisano has high hopes for what the garden can contribute to the school. There’s currently no class in organic gardening or sustainable agriculture available to the students, but Palmisano is working eagerly to develop the curriculum for one. Carp High students who get in trouble with the administration can sometimes complete their “punishment” by putting in hours at the garden, and there are a lot of potential tie-ins with CHS’s other agri programs: Surrounding the garden on two sides are the steers, chickens, and sheep of the farming program, which provide the garden with manure and composting material.

Meanwhile, back in Santa Barbara, Julian has also made a name for himself in permaculture and sustainability. He started out working with the Wilderness Youth Project, eventually developing a strong connection with Quail Springs, a “learning oasis” and permaculture farm in Maricopa. In his mid-teens, Julian even lived in a tipi in his Riviera backyard for a period, and he camped at Quail Springs for six straight weeks once. In his family’s sprawling yard Julian has created a rambling garden that includes everything from fruits and vegetables to chickens to a greenhouse. He lives and breathes the fires of sustainability and permaculture, eating a diet that he says can be up to 70 percent foods he’s grown himself and sharing his knowledge and experience through the Wilderness Youth Project.

There are others, too. At just 16, Cody Leeds has focused nearly all his energy on learning permaculture and the science behind it. Starting out at San Marcos’s permaculture program, Cody quickly moved on to work at Quail Springs, where he’s been working in natural building and planting for the last two years. He’s good friends with Julian, too. Julian even gave Cody his old bee boxes while he builds new ones on his own.

But you don’t have to pack your bags and move to Quail Springs if you want to get involved with sustainable agriculture and animal husbandry. Back in Carpinteria, people like Kristin Van Der Kar are sharing a passion for the environment person-to-person. Kristin grew up on Green Tree Farm, but her family owns more than half a dozen other plots of land in the area, where they cultivate avocados, cherimoyas, and lemons, and raise chickens and even goats. At the Green Tea Farm, Kristin learned from a young age that being outside chasing the animals and picking fruit straight from the trees was the best way to spend time. Even today, the family doesn’t have a television—a distraction Kristin says she isn’t interested in. And although Carpinteria already has some serious agriculture energy, Kristin said she makes a point of sharing her love of all things homegrown with her fellow students at Carpinteria High School. (She’s also known as an anti-littering fascist, she explained with a laugh.)

Getting started is easier than most teens think, what with the access Santa Barbara has to resources like Fairview Farms and Quail Springs. More than ever, high schoolers are playing amateur apiarist (that’s beekeeping to those not well-versed in earth lingo) or chicken-keeper or organic gardener in a time when more than ever, the small actions are what are making the greatest difference.

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