Permaculture program grows at Jasper Place High School

Permaculture Project at Jasper Place
Teacher Dustin Bajer prepares Earthboxes recently donated to Jasper Place High School as part of its permaculture project. Photograph by Claire Theobald

By Claire Theobald

Despite Edmonton’s freezing winter weather, students at Jasper Place High school are enjoying year-round indoor gardening.

It’s all thanks to the efforts of Dustin Bajer, a science teacher and avid horticulturist, who spearheaded the Jasper Place Permaculture program and leads the student horticulture club.

Combining the words “permanent” and “agriculture”, permaculture is defined when man-made gardening techniques are used to create gardens modeled after natural ecosystems. After starting at Jasper Place at the beginning of the school year, Bajer teamed up with school principal Jean Stiles to create a program that would let students apply what they’re learning in other subjects through hands-on gardening.

“We’re still covering what we are required by law to teach, but we’re able to do it with just a different approach that I think appeals to a lot of different students,” said Bajer. “And it’s an approach that isn’t always seen or manifested in schools.”

Until Bajer has his permaculture curriculum officially approved by the government, he will be tying permaculture lessons in with Aboriginal studies, creating a new Indigenous Permaculture class. In it, students ditch the traditional textbook and lecture style of teaching, and learn about Aboriginal culture and customs through gardening. Bajer hopes to begin construction of a medicine wheel garden, where he will plant native flora and use it to teach students about the Aboriginal people’s spiritual connection with the earth.

“There’s a lot of freedom given to the students so that it becomes their own, as opposed to something that they are told to do.”

Thanks to a $5,000 grant provided by EcoTrust’s Young Environmental Stewards Grant, Bajer was able to purchase supplies to revitalize the rooftop greenhouse at Jasper Place – which, according to an email sent to Bajer from a student who attended Jasper Place from 1968-1972, was at one point a school smoking room. On top of that grant, Alberta Agriculture recently gave the school 10 Earthboxes (self contained indoor gardening boxes) complete with supplies, so students will now have access to gardening projects year-round.

“We try to find out what would make them excited, what kind of projects would they really be interested in pursuing, and then we kind of weave our other outcomes through that,” said Bajer.

Permaculture Project at Jasper Place
It’s February 22, and flowers are in full bloom in the rooftop greenhouse at Jasper Place High School. Photograph by Claire Theobald

In addition to indoor gardening, Bajer has turned one of the courtyards at Jasper Place into a student-built permaculture experiment, including an arrangement of plants like grape and kiwi vines. These plants are self-sustaining perennials which, if all goes well, will continue to grow year after year with little or no human intervention.

Students have already seen the fruits of their labour, as they have grown food for the culinary arts program.

“If kids can learn about ecology, and learn about how it applies, not just in that ecological context, while at the same time kind of getting some hands-on learning with some plants and growing food for the culinary program, (that’s) awesome.”

Bajer hopes his efforts at the school will cause communities to start adopting these techniques, using them to develop more eco-friendly practices.

“I think we could do a lot more then we do,” said Bajer. “It’s a noble goal to move in that direction.”

For more information about Permaculture, or the Earthboxes project, visit the Jasper Place Permaculture website.