Field trip a lesson in permaculture

AFP Correspondent

ASBURY — Wanda Knapik teaches and learns on her trips to ComeBack Farm.
Knapik teaches at Seton Hall University and brings her students in the permaculture design certificate progam there on field trips to the Hunterdon County organic farm. While on the farm, she and her students learn about organic farming as she helps out and instructs the students in permaculture techniques.
Permaculture is exactly what it looks like, Knapik said on a hot, sunny morning in the fields on the farm which is on a windy slope between Asbury and West Portal.
“Perma, for permanent, meaning sustainable,” Knapik said, “and culture for agriculture, but also for the culture, meaning all of us working together.”
She further explained permaculture pertains to urban and suburban spaces as well as farms and encourages the use of natural ways to take care of natural areas.
“Like chickens eating bugs and weeds, around the vegetables,” she said. Her students have created rooftop permaculture gardens on Seton Hall’s campus and at the New Jersey Institute of Technology.
Most of the students in her program are biology or environmental science majors, but several have turned to farming.
“A couple of my students took farming internships because of the class,” she said proudly.
“What’s missing in our culture is sharing,” Knapik said. “We need to change our cultural systems, to teach people we can all grow food. We need to change our value system to value nature. We need to teach people to grow food sustainably, then change the economic and social system away from corporations running the world, rather than the government.” 
It’s a tall order, but she’s doing her part by inviting new farmers and gardeners to her Warren Township farm to learn about sustainable agriculture.
She knows about everyone growing food. Knapik spent her childhood summers in Poland visiting relatives who farmed and saw everyone had a backyard garden.
Knapik also knows about corporations. She has a degree in engineering from NJIT and an MBA from Seton Hall. She worked in the corporate world for Dun and Bradstreet, but left for a job in the not-for-profit sector with the New Jersey Conservation Foundation.
“They are the premier conservation group in New Jersey, but they are into just preservation. I wanted to grow food on preserved land.”
In 2008, she started “My Local Garden” to teach about backyard gardening. She has taught more than 100 gardeners about permaculture at community colleges, libraries and other venues.
But, she’s still learning. “Mark (Canright of ComeBack Farm) is a celebrity in organic farming, I’m learning a lot from him.” On this visit, her nieces, Dominique and Monika Altegano of Leesburg, Va., were also learning about staking tomatoes.
Knapik also consults with farmers and does permaculture design. She plans events for schools and libraries and anyone who asks. “I charge for things, but I do a lot for free,” she said. “But, usually, the free events bring me more people interested in learning about permaculture.”