April 2014 - Abrah Dresdale: Building Resilient Food Systems through Permaculture
“So what is Greening Greenfield?” asks a tall, vibrant young woman in hiking boots and shorts as I am tabling outside the post office for the 10% Challenge. It’s 2010, a bright sunny Saturday in July, and instead of us calling out to passers-by, here is someone coming up to our table. It’s Abrah Dresdale. Little did I know that this new face in Greenfield would within 2 years be a dynamic leader in our town, our community college, and the whole region of the Pioneer Valley in Sustainability and Permaculture Design.
Abrah honed her skills studying architecture as an undergrad at Wesleyan University, followed by study of trees, plants, and medicinal herbs through the Wildflower School of Botanical Medicine certification program in Austin, TX in 2008, and graduate study at the Conway School of Landscape Design which she completed in 2010. From 2004-2011, she was a Senior Instructor and Program Coordinator for Wild Earth Programs in New Paltz, NY, where she taught survival skills to children and adolescent girls. Over four summers, starting in 2004, she helped in the development of a teen program focused on experiential learning at The Omega Institute, Rhinebeck NY. That year she also attended the “The Art of Mentoring” at Vermont Wilderness School, where she would join the staff the following year, and be introduced to an adjunct instructor from GCC, Walker Korby, and permaculture experts Dave Jacke and Jono Neiger. Contact with Korby gave her a strong impression of GCC as a progressive school with equal and affordable access to higher education—two strong values of hers. She was also attracted to the community engagement of that venue. She sent her resume but nothing came of it until President Bob Pura hired Sandy Thomas to investigate possibilities for a new program for the college in sustainable agriculture. Sandy came across “Feed Northampton,” a food security report for the city of Northampton which Abrah had co-authored for her Masters Thesis while at the Conway school. BINGO! Abrah was hired to develop and pilot 2 classes, Intro to Food Systems and Permaculture Design. So what exactly is permaculture?
“It is the practice of observing patterns and processes found in nature, and then mimicking these beneficial relationships in the design of systems that meet human needs while regenerating the land.”
“Landscape literacy” is seeing what is around you—soil, water, sun/shade patterns, micro-climates— reading the landscape as a new language. Abrah’s students have real clients from the community where they interview clients about their goals, read the landscape of their site, and then make design recommendations using permaculture strategies. The course description and student blogs are on the program website www.gcc.mass.edu/farmandfoodsystems. In addition to the 2 mentioned courses, the Farm and Food Systems program offers the hands-on “Re-skilling Series” with classes such as Beekeeping and Mushroom Cultivation that can be taken credit-free, for-credit student internships, a new Farm and Food Systems Entrepreneurship course starting Fall 2014, and a student-initiated Permaculture Garden and Club with drop-in work hours open to the community on Mondays 12-1pm during the academic year and summer drop-in hours (to be posted), working with perennial vegetables, berries, root crops, herbs, and annual veggies on 1/8th garden acre.
Abrah hopes the new SAGE (Sustainable Agriculture and Renewable Energy) Education Center at the college will become a regional hub for best practices, professional development, and conferences for academics and community members. For the SAGE Spring event, she will be delivering a presentation at GCC about her Bird Fellowship in India where she implemented a tropical permaculture project. The event is open to the public and will be 7-8:30 pm on Wednesday, May 7, with an optional Permaculture Garden tour at 6pm.
She is also excited about a new collaboration with the Franklin County House of Corrections who recently received a Federal Perkins grant to offer Farm and Food Systems “Inside Out” classes for GCC students, Community Education students, and incarcerated men to take alongside each other in the jail, starting Fall 2014. A GCC student intern is currently helping to establish an organic garden and composting system at the jail. The grant also supports men in the low security program to receive GCC internship credit at the Just Roots community farm to develop vocational skills. Abrah oversees these initiatives as Coordinator of the Farm and Food System program and is the person in charge of good community relations.
For all she has contributed to GCC and our wider community in bringing us closer to an aware, vibrant and productive relationship with our natural world, Abrah Dresdale is our Green Hero for April.