Sustainability Research and Demonstration

Permaculture is an ecological design science drawing inspiration from natural ecosystems and permanent cultures from around the world. The term permaculture originated in Australia in 1978 – originally a combination of the words permanent & agriculture. It has since been expanded to mean permanent-culture and includes all aspects of what makes a human culture successful, from where we obtain food, fuel, fiber, medicine, energy, water, building materials and even expands into the connection between people and how we organize our social interactions and rely on one another. The resources on this page offer a glimpse at many of the exciting permaculture features that are installed and utilized at the Gibbs House for programming, education and research purposes. 

Annual Garden

The Gibbs site annual garden is an educational and research space located near WMU’s Parkview Campus. Vegetables are grown intensively, using organic growing guidelines and ecological gardening techniques. On the Gibbs Site, with the help of student employees and volunteers, we grow everything from greens to ginger to garlic. Volunteers are welcome on site – contact us to make a visit!




 Food Forest

grassy pathway in a lawn full of native plantsIn the spring of 2015 the West Field of the Gibbs Site was converted from turfgrass and a 50 foot wide gravel driveway into a seven layer temperate food forest. The design mimics the native savanna prairie that existed at the farm prior to settlement by Europeans in the 1800's. An overstory of nut trees, along with an understory of fruit trees, shrubs and bushes, herbacious plants, groundcover, tubers, and vines spaced at thirty year maturity and approximately 60% tree cover make up the structure of the food forest. Three patio spaces and a pathway create points of interest, pergolas for kiwi fruit, and access into the garden space. Hops and grapes vine over the perimeter pest fencing and several hügelkultur mounds create micro-climates and seed dispersal zones for native wildflowers.


two hoophouses with white siding and the roof off exposing the metal skeletonThe Gibbs Site has two 30’ x 48’ hoophouses used for annual vegetable production and other projects, including vermicompost. This unheated indoor growing space allows for crop season extension, winter production, and hothouse summer crops.





Large mound of soil covered in plants and groundcover.

In the spring of 2014 invasive Siberian Elm trees along Parkview Avenue were removed to clear the power lines, increase visibility into the Gibbs Site and make room for the cherry tree plantings along the entire road front of the property. The wood generated by the tree removal was used to build several large five foot tall hügelkulturs (hugel), or wood mounds, within the East Field. Perennial honeyberry, goji berry, strawberries, horseradish, blackberries, semi-dwarf apples and rhubarb were planted in the micro-climates around the hugel. As the wood decomposes, nearby plants make use of the nutrients released and water stored by the decaying wood. After 5-8 years the piles will have settled to one-half their original height, around three feet, and will be fully broken down into a dark rich humus. Hugels strategically located along the property parking lot  serve to intercept rainwater runoff from the hard packed parking surface while the fungal mycellium in the hugel wood filter out any oil or other vehicular contaminant.


Solar Dehydrator

solar panels attached to a wooden rig with a chamber to dry foodsBeginning in 2017 the Gibbs Permaculture Team began a collaboration with WMU Engineers Without Borders to create a high-capacity solar dehydrator. This dehydrator uses a sliding glass door as the collector, standard construction material available throughout the world, is insect tight so it doesn't need to be unloaded each night and is mobile, making positioning easy for one person. We built two units over the winter and have begun testing and collecting temperature and humidity data on the design.



Pollinator Garden

tall and thick plants flowering abundantly An integral part of any organic or permaculture garden is the inclusion of native and pollinator friendly plants. We have a large variety of native and pollinator friendly plants, including a Monarch Waystation, next to our annual garden, as well as smaller plantings throughout the site. Increasingly, we are including native and pollinator friendly plants near the food we grow, as a way to attract beneficial insects.