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Sustainability Studies Students Use Environmental Knowledge to Build Gardens with FSA


Jason Lee grew up gardening in Brooklyn. Without a backyard, he planted wherever he could find open plots of soil.

Now the Environmental Studies major is seeing his hard work and passion for gardening pay off, as the Sustainability Studies Program works alongside the Faculty Student Association (FSA) to create permaculture gardens across campus.

Creating a raised bed for permaculture gardening.

“It’s fulfilling to grow your own food and to personally make it,” Lee said.

Lee, like many of the other seniors in the Sustainability Studies program, worked with FSA to research campus gardens around the country and analyze proposed garden sites on campus. They learned the opportunities and challenges to designing, building and operating a successful campus garden. Then they converted underused grass lawns on the campus into edible, low-maintenance, and easily replicable gardens.

“The goals of the project were to create a garden that would enhance the visual beauty of the campus, provide healthy ingredients for campus dining, facilitate educational and research opportunities and provide opportunities for social interaction,” said Angela Agnello, FSA’s Director of Marketing and Communications.

Permaculture gardening is based on identifying and growing plants that thrive best in the prevailing climate and local environment. One benefit of Stony Brook’s permaculture garden for students is fresh herbs and vegetables, such as flat-leaf parsley, escarole, bibb lettuce, spinach and peas, which will be used at dining locations on campus.

The project was the brainchild of a group of Environmental Planning, Policy and Design majors in the School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences Sustainability Studies Program.

Permaculture gardening
Permaculture gardening on campus combines hard work with fun.

The students, in a capstone class for the major, spent the Fall 2017 semester working individually and in teams to help the FSA think about everything involved in the success of the proposed campus gardening, including the physical design, branding, marketing, management and logistics.

“With the USG Sustainability Committee, we were looking for ways to get more involved with the campus garden,” said Sean Deary ‘19, one of the students who helped plan the project.

The students encountered some obstacles during the research process, but managed to meet them head-on.

“When I was analyzing the site and designing the proposed garden, I had to work around the existing infrastructure that was already on the site,” said Madeline Schoenfeld ‘19.

Alongside her classmates, Madeline conquered a myriad of challenges: drains that were in awkward locations, utilizing existing underground infrastructure to help with drainage, and the ever-so-slight elevation of the site.

The project began with building ground level beds. Students assembled the beds, filled them with weed blocking film and added two soil types – organic garden soil and peat moss. After they mixed the soils, they then added organic fertilizer and finished the beds with river pebbles around the base to optimize drainage.

But ensuring the project’s longevity will be a challenge. To maintain the permaculture gardens, the FSA will need to train new students each semester. Students can apply for these positions through Handshake.

“Educations starts at the college level by getting young students involved  because their passion grows and spreads like wildfire,” said Anthony Gentile, FSA’s Sustainability Coordinator.

FSA wants to partner with all students interested in sustainability and gardening, to help build on the success of the three successful gardens already underway at Simons Center Cafe, East Side Dining and the Student Activities Center. A fourth location is also being planned.

“The more we open up our eyes to better ways of gardening and farming, and becoming a more sustainable culture, we’re changing habits; I think the better off we’ll be as a community, as a culture, as a society,” Gentile said.

— Kevin Wu

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