COARSEGOLD – A local high school teacher is quickly growing a favored dream into reality, as Minarets instructor Matt Powers has written volumes of text designed to teach the science of permaculture to teenage students, before they get to college.
When he couldn’t find appropriate material to teach the permaculture ecological design class he wanted, Powers went to work and literally wrote the textbook himself. He soon opened a Kickstarter crowd-funding account that quickly brimmed with donations, and today he has more than 400 backers and over $25,000 for the cause.
“I wrote a textbook and workbook set for Permaculture, a discipline which is spreading like wildfire in colleges in the United States and beyond, because nothing was available for kids in high school,” says Coarsegold resident Matt Powers. “I started a Kickstarter account on a Tuesday, and we were 100% funded by Friday afternoon!”
Powers’ Kickstarter account raised his initial request of $9,100 in just four days, and the outpouring of support didn’t stop there. More than $25,000 in pledges has been received, enabling Powers’ goal to nearly its fullest extent. Permaculture is a popular concept that Powers is certified to teach, and one he puts to the test in his own backyard and at Minarets in O’Neals, as well. Powers’ big idea is to make permaculture a viable field of study for students in grades 6-12.
“It’s all about spreading sustainable science in schools, so regenerative design becomes common sense among youth globally.”
Permaculture is an ecological design approach using natural systems to create sustainable and regenerative landscapes that benefit both humans and the environment. All of the elements of a garden, including the humans who tend it, can be considered part of the permaculture approach.
“We’re using the patterns of nature to provide for people sustainably,” says Powers. “In other words, instead of a monocrop field of just corn in hundreds of acres in all directions, you would have biodiversity that mimics an ecosystem. Permaculture gives humans a role in the ecosystem that’s beneficial rather than extractive. Rather than mining the earth, we take part in the cycles of the planet, and in that way we help regenerate the planet just like everything else does.”
It’s notably ideal for kids to know where their food comes from, and school-based gardens are gaining popularity for what they teach as well as what they produce.
“This gives kids the ability to survive and thrive sustainably in any climate on the planet where people farm and garden. The lessons in the text and workbooks cover universal principles that extend through all climates and include examples for each concept.”
Powers has been a teacher at Minarets for several years, originally as a substitute and now as head of the English Department, among other roles, including permaculture specialist. On the property around his own home, Powers tends a sprawling garden that’s abundantly productive and free of pesticides, with a vastly limited need for watering.
The married father of two boys is also a professional musician known for his skills on bass. Originally from New England, Powers graduated from New York University. He moved to California from the east coast in pursuit of a healthy lifestyle back in 2008, as wife Adriana was recovering from thyroid cancer and they wanted to be near her mom while that recovery took place.
Initially Powers played in a band in Los Angeles, but the touring schedule kept him away from his growing family. They moved to Coarsegold and he began substitute teaching. Now, Adriana is well and the family is thriving, including kids James and Oliver, ages 8 and 4. In addition to his English class duties at Minarets, Powers teaches digital music production and runs the Permaculture Club.
“We started off with an organic all-heirloom-seeded garden at the school, and as I was researching ways to make it more drought tolerant and to deal with the gophers, I learned about permaculture,” says the enthusiastic educator.
“Now, I garden without fences and water sparingly in the drought. We watered four times last summer, and even had one tomato plant that never got watered and yet produced fruit. We had food the entire season at school, and I eat out of the garden there almost every day. Kids see me go out there and pick something, cut it and eat it. I show them how to harvest.”
So how does a busy married father-of-two and teacher-of-many find time to write an essential permaculture tome?
Like any good session musician would approach laying down tracks, Powers isolated himself for two weeks, working eight to ten hours a day. When the deed was done, he began a process of having important mentors and experts in the field look at the book, commissioned artistic renderings to show scientific charts and zones, and swiftly took all notes to heart. In all, dozens of people have contributed editing to the book so far.
With just a few more editing sessions, and two days to go on the Kickstarter crowd funding push, Powers’ initial effort is done and the work of actually producing the book begins.
Powers isn’t limiting the knowledge to the foothills, the state, or even the country. He says the Permaculture books are being translated into ten languages, including Polish, Italian and Spanish.
What started as a passion has turned into a profession, and the outcome of Powers’ plan is outstanding. The amount of money the project has received in pledges enables him to produce color illustrated permaculture textbooks and companion workbooks available in both physical and digital versions.
He plans to develop Level 1 materials for middle school students and Levels 2 and 3 for high school students, both public and home schooled. The high school levels are intended to prepare students for collegiate level programs.
The current funding will provide for website design and hosting, and Powers plans to launch a non-profit to donate permaculture educational materials and build demonstration gardens for schools and organizations around the globe. Every penny still counts and contributions are welcome to facilitate the future plans.
Powers’ positive attitude remains at the forefront of the effort.
“This endeavor has been a miracle in our lives.”