By Manny “The Mulch Hugger” Reyes
For 20 years I have enjoyed working with awesome students at North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University, where I am making myself known as the ‘mulch hugger.’
I grew up in the Philippines totally unconcerned with nature. I vividly remember my enjoyment in shooting beautiful tropical birds and collecting their eggs and my vision of converting forests into monoculture agriculture.
Well, my passion has turned 180 degrees. Today I am working to promote the integration of natural systems into urban landscaping.
Thanks to funding provided by EPA’s People, Prosperity and the Planet (P3) program, my students and I have began natuculture. What’s “natuculture,” you ask? The term, coined at North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University (NCA&T), refers to any human-made system that mimics nature in “human disturbed landscapes,” such as your typical college campus. We introduced the term at the 2011 EPA-P3 conference.
We ‘natucultured’ a typical lawn (that is a monoculture of turf grass) into a vibrant, chemical-free ecosystem with at least 150 flora and visited by multiple kinds of fauna. I dare say that this place can be the coolest student hangout on campus. Adjacent to it, the University recently razed a building and has designated the area to be a ‘green park,’ which we intend to landscape exclusively with native North Carolina flora.
We are actively spreading ‘natuculture’ in several K-12 campuses. Yup!!!! We designed and built a raingarden in an elementary school and installed six rainharvesters in six high school campuses. We are now establishing biologically engineered experiments to help us learn how to improve soil health while producing chemical-free vegetables.
Furthermore, we are developing lesson plans to integrate natuculture in K-12 science courses and organizing a natuculture scientific conference for high school students. NCA&T faculty and students are actively partnering with K-12 faculty and are mentors to K-12 students.
About the Author: Guest blogger Manuel R. Reyes is a Professor of Biological Engineering at North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University. He helped start Kingfisher Park, ‘a haven of biodiversity;’ in the Philippines, and works to advocate agroecology in Southeast Asia through agroforestry and conservation agriculture technologies.