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UMass Amherst permaculture project wins White House award

WASHINGTON -- A UMass Amherst sustainability manager, Ryan Harb, will be honored at the White House on Thursday as one of five “Champions of Change” recipients for their outstanding leadership on campus, the White House announced Tuesday.

Harb, a certified permaculture designer, coordinates the university’s permaculture initiative, a sustainability program that transforms grass lawns and neglected landscapes into edible, educational and ecologically designed gardens.

“It’s great to bring this recognition to UMass Amherst because we are doing something so innovative and cutting-edge in the field of sustainabilty,” Harb said in an interview. “It’s students and administrators working together -- that collaboration -- that made it so successful.”


Harb, a 26-year-old Andover native, emphasized that 11 of his students will be with him on Thursday to accept the award on behalf of the university on Thursday.

Harb received a bachelor’s degree in business management in 2008 and a master’s in green building in 2010, both from UMass Amherst. Upon graduating, he created a job for himself as the university’s first sustainability manager and started one of the first student-led university permaculture gardens in the nation that supplies produce to its dining halls.

He and his students converted a a quarter-acre grass lawn into a productive, edible landscape that improves ecosystem health and provides education to the campus community, according to his biography on the university’s website.

“Permacuture is an emerging trend that I see many campuses beginning to do,” Harb said.

By establishing new gardens every year, Harb and his students demonstrate how permaculture can feed a growing population in an environmentally sustainable and socially responsible manner, according to the White House announcement.

The White House announced the launch of the Campus Champions of Change Challenge last fall and 15 finalists were chosen. The public picked the top five projects that they feel best embody the president’s goals for the future.


In addition to being invited to the White House, the winners will have the opportunity to work with MTV to create short features about their projects that will air on mtvU and be featured on MTV.com.

Each week the Champions of Change program highlights a different sector and groups of champions, including educators, entrepreneurs and community leaders.

Tracy Jan can be reached at tjan@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @GlobeTracyJan.