The story

United Designers International project lead and permaculture educator Rhamis Kent partnered up with our Co-Founder Daniel Halsey to design and build a green space at Zaytuna College – a muslim liberal arts college – in Berkeley, California. Using cultural themes and geometry we filled the space with raised beds, a diversity of fruiting trees and a food forest with great diversity.

As with most institutional facilities, large sections of land are set aside for turf and the greenery of a European aesthetic. Better use of the land insulates the buildings from extreme or seasonal weather. Shrubs frame the buildings while fruiting trees and shrubs provide beauty in all seasons and food in most.

There is great potential to regreen spaces around institutions and create useful, edible landscapes. Universities own large areas of land. Churches, mosques and synagogues have the human resources and community connections to benefit parishioners and neighbors in need. Unused portions of parking lots and property can demonstrate and model the options for large scale urban farming and individual gardens. Institutions contributing to food security set a new possibility and acceptability of the culture to food sources in otherwise high maintenance and fruitless landscaping.

Zaytuna college is at the top of high Ridge overlooking the city of Berkeley and a view of San Francisco Bay. It’s position on the ridge allows it to have full sun 365 days a year with ocean cooling breezes and condensation. The campus has many other opportunities for ecological design to enhance the architecture, create outdoor classrooms and study spaces, and build a sustainable and harvest-ready landscape.

When the land was acquired, it was dry and barren. Exposed to the hot sun and seasonably dry winds, the soil needed protection and regeneration. It had been managed conventionally with large areas of turf and eroded hillsides. The facilities have been used for seminary and religious instruction for many decades. Following the initial community garden success, administration requested that the design team submit proposals for developing the entire campus as a food producing landscape. The intent is to bring agricultural practices into the curriculum and as part of the branding of the college. These resources will be used to offset food expenses of the staff and students while also creating a revenue stream and source of income for the campus.

All United Designer’s solutions are site-specific. We do an extensive site assessment and determine the ecological conditions of the site in which plants and practices will align with the best use of the landscape. With the heavily exposed area and compacted soils, our strategy was to use raised beds and create shade while also developing areas for people to congregate and enjoy the space. The raised beds were also incorporated with benches and an outdoor classroom area. Some of the lower benches are used for vegetable production while higher ones are planted with trees and shrubs. Along with a temporary deer fence, Vetiver – a perennial grass native to India – was planted along the parking lot edge to delineate the space of the garden and bring in the many benefits of the grassy habitat. The protected areas were used for fruit trees and landscaping to enhance the architecture. Steep slopes were planted with Vetiver, shrubs, and trees.

Not only does this beautify the land, it replaces a sometimes flammable landscape of Eucalyptus and dense dry shrubs of an otherwise unattended space. Humans occupy these spaces and learn the practices of plant care and harvesting. Student groups, in this case, care for sections of the gardens and learn to harvest, process, store, and cook the crops. Cultural changes start at two points: the institutional level influence with programs and initiatives, and at the local level as individuals and groups of people begin to change their own expectations. Visible manifestations of change influence those looking for ways to change or bring in those undecided citizens standing on the fence.

United Designers acknowledges that Zaytuna College, Berkley sits on the ancestral and unceded land of the Chochenyo (Cho-Chen-yo) speaking Ohlone people, the successors of the historic and sovereign Verona Band of Alameda County.


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