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Our Garden: Permaculture, Sustainability, and Deliciousness

By Erin Altschule, MS, Education Director

Cornerstones of Maine sits on ten acres of beautiful forested land.  It has a pond fed by a wetland and a beautiful long rock wall surrounding an open sprawling lawn planted with flowering trees.  Besides our residents, it is also home to a deer trail, a fox den, mallard ducks, hawks who fly overhead, and at least one, very large groundhog.  This means that in order to grow any food at Cornerstones, seeing this land as a system, an ecosystem, is fundamental.  Our goal is to learn from and use permaculture principles. Permaculture is a design method and set of skills for creating resilient human habitats and healthy ecosystems.


Our use of permaculture principles goes beyond just our garden. We see these principles as providing some of the foundation for our culture and program.  These principles start with the core beliefs of care for the Earth, care for people, and fair share. They are applicable to all areas of our lives from how we relate to each other to how we structure our food purchasing and preparation. 


We elicited the help of a wonderful permaculture designer to work with our residents to use the design process to envision a plan for making use of the unique features of our property.  The rock wall holds heat from the sun and is perfect for growing along it.  In order to avoid having all our veggies eaten by our groundhog we have planted perennial vegetables like sea kale (with flowers smelling of honey, loved by bees) and hablitzia (a vine with leaves tasting of tender spinach), lovage (celery), and strawberries (among other things).  We planted all these in the sheet mulched bed we created by layering cardboard, leaves, seaweed, hay, and compost which will break down and build soil. The hill is just the spot for a future food forest with fruit and nut trees and polycultures (groups of plants that help each other grow).  We planted a patch of elderberries at its base. Espaliered fruit trees are planned to soak up the south facing sun along the front of the house. We have a compost system going. We just built a raised bed for the front deck.  The projects to engage residents are limitless.

                  “One of the most important things about permaculture is that it is founded
                 “on a series of principles that can be applied to any circumstance—agriculture,
                  urban design, or the art of living. The core of the principles is the working
                  relationships and connections between all things.”

                                                           -Juliana Birnbaum Fox

From Garden to Table


At Cornerstones we work to help residents to develop nutritional and
ecological awareness, while working directly with staff to learn how to
cook. The bulk of our organic veggies come from Wolf Pine Farm, a
local CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) program. We work with
our residents to develop a menu plan based on the recommendations
of our consulting nutritionist as well as our staff. Our residents then go
shopping and use recipes to cook their own dinners with staff support.
Our program teaches residents:

  • Nutritional awareness and meal planning

  • Culinary skills

  • Organic growing

  • Permaculture principles

  • Group collaboration

  • Confidence and self-reliance

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