Derek Weiss '12

Bozeman, Mont.

Co-founder, Perpetual Green Gardens

“After my first year of college at HWS, I had decided against my initial thoughts of pursuing medical school. Likewise, after a week of upper level physics courses, which consisted of concepts like 'time dilation' and heady algebra lessons, I was turned off of the engineering path. I was in a tight spot, and didn't quite know what to do.

After some supportive conversations with the deans and my family, I decided that I wanted to pursue my passion for biology. Thankfully I was able to join my adviser-to-be, Associate Professor of Biology Meghan Brown, in her aquatic biology class, a full week late.  From the new beginning of my college career, freed from concerns about med school or graduate school, I was able to bond with my professors, and learn from them more holistically, far beyond what they taught in the classroom.

In my studies I focused on ecology, which lent well to my interest in environmental studies, and in what I would learn to call deep ecology, a philosophical and spiritual engagement with nature and the wild. Classes like "Buddhism," many environmental studies courses, and "Environmental Ethics" further supported this developing connection with the natural world. Through various study abroad experiences, including a semester in Australia and New Zealand, an outdoor education course in Wales, and a sustainability program in China, I gained a global perspective on the environmental crises with which the planet is presented.

Toward the end of my college career I realized the vital importance of developing a more sustainable food system, and I recognized some severe flaws with our current system of mechanized and global agriculture. After winning a grant from the student governments, I installed a vegetable garden on campus with cold frames to provide an extended growing season. My hope for the garden is to provide students with the opportunity to grow their own food and develop a deeper connection with our food system.

Coupled with my understanding of ecology and connection with the natural world, this concern about our food system LED to my interest in permaculture, a practice deeply rooted in observation of and connection with nature. Since graduating, I have been pursuing an education in permaculture design.  Permaculture methods can provide us with a truly sustainable food system, while concurrently providing a great benefit to our surrounding ecosystems.

Once I returned from the Sustainable China program, I packed up my car and drove to Montana where I partnered with my brother who had started a business called Perpetual Green Gardens, which is focused on installing permaculture systems and earth powered greenhouses. Since then, I have been experientially learning the quintessential methods and principles of permaculture, as we work as stewards of a 50-acre piece of land in Belgrade, Mont. We are working to convert it from an arid grassland, flattened by centuries of plowing and mechanized agriculture, into a healthy, diverse, productive, supportive ecosystem. Once it is established, the land will provide plenty of food and habitat, and support the surrounding wildlife. In addition, we have been attending a number of permaculture-focused conferences and design courses.

In college, I struggled with the concepts of environmental conservation versus preservation. The high rate of detrimental human impact on our planet warrants greater action than simply conservation or preservation. We must actively take measures to enhance our surrounding environment. I believe that permaculture, coupled with a significant behavioral shift, is the best way to return the landscape to a more ecologically sound state, while concurrently producing food locally and sustainably.

In this way, the methods of permaculture have allowed me to combine my knowledge of ecology with my environmental beliefs, and still work toward my goal of creating positive change in the world. I have HWS to thank, in large part, for challenging me to develop my environmental views, and for being able to incorporate a wide array of fields of study in this development. In the coming years, we will continue to work to convert this land into a place of healing and eventually attend permaculture design school. As I continue to learn, I hope to spread the knowledge and practice of permaculture techniques as far as possible.


Preparing Students to Lead Lives of Consequence.