Syracuse Real Food Co-op’s Permaculture Backyard

Footings are laid for the herb spiral bench in the backyard of Syracuse Real Food Co-op.

The following is a chronology of the Syracuse Real Food Co-op’s adventure in permaculture orchestrated by Frank Cetera, of The Alchemical Nursery and Thornpowered Ecological Consulting, member of the Syracuse Real Food Co-op and Project Facilitator. 

Let’s get one thing out of the way first, a definition. Permaculture is a systematic way of analyzing a landscape and organizing it to provide products and services in a holistic ecological form. The project is to turn the backyard of the co-op into a place to use and enjoy for staff and members.

Sunday June 16, 2013, marked the second meeting of the open design group, which uses a facilitated process to engage all attendees in the brainstorming and implementation process. The goals of which have been determined to be space for enjoying the flavors of food from the co-op, use as potential outdoor workshop space, and a place to enjoy the outside among flowers, trees, and herbs among other things.

More than just a design activity, this is a community action which builds social relations between members, and offers a chance for a cooperative learning experience relating to ecology, the arts, plant species, and natural and yummy food.

After progressing through a basic intro to Permaculture, some “Observing & Interacting” (Permaculture Principle #1), and initial analysis of the existing features, water and vegetation, access and other limiting factors, the next step is resource acquisition and plant selection phases. This occurred in July 2013.

On November 30, 2013, the permaculture group made raised planting beds and planted the dwarf McIntosh apple tree in temperatures in the low 30’s. The group persevered and the apple tree bloomed in the spring of 2014.

In April of 2014, the SRFC's backyard project—the "Permaculture Social Learning Garden" was a part of a Neighborhood Green Tour coordinated by local community benefits organization Greening USA. Participants were given mini-tours of the site, including the Winter Greens bed, the perennial vegetables and fruits bed, and the McIntosh apple tree polyculture.

In the summer of 2014, the backyard at the Syracuse Real Food Co-op took another step forward with the beginning construction of the herb spiral bench. Frank Cetera and local architect and artist Brendan Rose, installed the concrete footings for the bench which will receive wooden planking seating. Visitors will be able to sit "within" the herb spiral when completed and enjoy their snacks from the co-op, surrounded by herbs and flowers.

To move forward with the next steps of development, a larger group of volunteers and members is being proposed to form a landscape management committee. Three to five people will be required to help oversee future planning and implementation of the backyard, including the plantings, and additional infrastructure such as a set of steps on the grade from the backyard to the new alley entrance path along the west side of the building.

Most of the planting that took place in the spring and summer of 2014 were annuals that folks donated. Long term planting plans will primarily be done with perennials. The permaculture plan is moving ahead!