A Permaculture Garden In The Making In Onex:

La Ferme Permacole des Evaux


Are you aware of a permaculture garden being developed at the Parc des Evaux that just might be a wonderful place to spend time with a group of students?


After spending some time, last summer, visiting La Ferme Permacole des Evaux, I left with the feeling that this could be a wonderfully rich learning experience for a class that decided to visit this area multiple times over the period of a school year. In fact, it could easily be part of their curriculum.


Recently, I reached out to Robert Heslip, landscape designer and volunteer at the Ferme Permacole des Evaux, and asked him if he would share with me information about his work at La Ferme Permacole des Evaux, and its benefits to visitors.


The idea and concept for this garden came from Mrs. Karine Aubin and Mr. Daniel Whittle, for whom Robert volunteers. Robert has been applying his knowledge and skills and his love for nature in working with Mrs. Aubin and Mr. Daniel Whittle in the designing and in the planning for this garden. The team places a great deal of thought into ensuring that each component is an integral element of a circular approach to agriculture.


Permaculture is a philosophy for a sustainable, holistic lifestyle, living-in-harmony- with-nature, working with, rather than against, nature. Listening to Robert tell how each element benefits another aspect of the permaculture garden leaves me thinking how much we can learn from spending time in this garden.

 

The initial aim for this permaculture garden at La Ferme Permacole des Evaux is to supply nutritious food to the restaurant in the park scheduled to open in the spring of 2021, using no pesticides and no herbicides. While waiting for this to happen, the produce grown is sold to individuals and to other restaurants. Another aim is to introduce permaculture, and how to work with nature, to a diverse audience, in and
around Geneva.

 

 There is a school in Onex that is taking advantage of the development of this garden. A group of students, along with their two teachers, visit the Ferme Permacole des Evaux every other week. The class is divided into two groups with one group assigned to work with Robert and the other group works with the teachers and then the groups alternate. The students are applying principles of mathematics, art and the sciences as they work in the garden. For instance, they have drawn to scale a portion of the park. They plant and attend to plant growth and learn which plants can be associated so that one brings to the other what the other needs. The children learn which plants are incompatible with one another and therefore should not be planted near each other. The sciences can be embedded in the exploration and discovery in this garden. As an example, building a compost bin can be an introduction to organic chemistry. Children develop their knowledge of the natural world, through nature-based encounters where their naturalistic intelligence is nurtured.

 

The sustainable design connects elements in the system to trap as much energy as possible on this site, a key component in a permaculture garden. The reflection of the sun’s rays from the ponds will heat the greenhouses, the heat from the compost can also be a source of heat for the greenhouse while the compost itself is recycled back into the earth; the backdrop wall between the greenhouse and the amphitheater will ensure that the amphitheater is a comfortably warm area for musicians and possibly for yoga session; the dead logs laid in the ground, and buried under mulch and soil, help hold in moisture, generate heat as they break down and carbon and nitrogen are steadily released into the soil and taken up by the plants. Trees around the garden serve as a windbreaker. There is a plan for a labyrinth for meditation purposes.


The children love to come to the park, and they are genuinely interested in the plants. This was a surprise to Robert. Why?

 

We may spend more time in primary classrooms speaking of animals and their habitats than researching plants in our classrooms. Why is that so? Perhaps it is because plants do not move much, and seem non-threatening. Animals, however, move. The human brain picks out movement around the immediate environment so it seems reasonable that animals may be of higher interest to youngsters than plants are.

 

Although we are likely to find that children’s understandings of plants are focused on their knowledge of plant growth and photosynthesis, the hands-on and enriching discoveries outdoors provide fertile ground for discovering first-hand the importance of plants in the web of life. Understanding which beneficial bugs, fungi and weeds are allowed and nurtured in the garden, we can learn to say no to pesticides, no to fungicides and no to herbicides, agreeing to work with nature’s systems. The children who benefit from these outdoor experiences are learning to see the importance, the relevance, and the beauty of plants in our daily lives.

 

Concern about the environment develops through formative, nature-based experiences and it is encouraging to see children in classrooms around Geneva spending time in woody areas, attending to their classroom gardens, with an aim to reconnect with nature and recognizing the importance of that contact. As children develop their knowledge of the natural world, through nature-based encounters, children are cultivating their attitudes and their concerns towards nature. Bonding with nature, as Robert has done, is good for the future of our planet’s ecosystems.

 

There are a lot of fertile conversations and ideas that can arise when exploring a human’s place in nature, another rich source for critical thinking or for philosophical dialogues.

 

Perhaps you might like to explore how visits to La Ferme Permacole des Evaux may enrich what is being taught in class or inspire your students in making improvements in the care of their own classroom gardens.

 

Marcia Banks
Retired Vice Principal and Curriculum Coordinator Geneva, Switzerland
Former classroom teacher, USA & Germany