The Hippo


Feb 19, 2020








 What are you really into right now?

Right now I’m also involved in a storytelling program in Portsmouth. … It’s called True Tales Live and we’re on PPM-TV.

Gardener of the Year
Local permaculture champion wins statewide award

By Ryan Lessard

 How did you react when you learned you won the Gardener of the Year award?

I was very surprised and just really honored. NOFA is an organization I’ve been involved with for going on 20 years and [I] have been a real fan of the offerings that it’s given. They’ve really helped me in my work. And then to have them turn around and honor me was really amazing.
Can you explain what permaculture is for readers who may not know?
Sure. Permaculture is a design system, actually, that aims to bring a lot more thoughtfulness into our planning of our whole … lives and habitats to create a more sustainable community. And gardening is just one part of that and it is a big part of it and sort of one of the first places it was implemented and really worked on.
How did you first get started with gardening and permaculture?
I went to UNH, not for agriculture or anything like that. I actually have a degree in women’s studies. But while I was there I joined a food coop and started to learn about health food and growing practices and just started to be exposed to this — something I hadn’t really ever thought of. And while I was working there, actually, we started working with some local farms to bring in fresh food and one of them sent a young woman about my age who had buckets and big mud boots and I was just sort of taken. … I had never really seen it as something that would interest me, but then, here is this woman really similar to me who is doing it. So I became intrigued and I started hanging out at her farm. … She worked at a local farm, which was organic and was in the process … of becoming the first CSA in the seacoast. … Community Supported Agriculture. … I had a working share and I would go and I learned to pick beans … and pull carrots out of the ground. [There] was this world I hadn’t known about and I really fell in love with it. … That was in 1995.
When did you start your own garden?
It was probably five or six years later. I was living in apartments. I didn’t have any space of my own and my day job by then was, in the growing season, I was at the farm itself. … Then I did have an apartment where I had the ability to have a garden and I started doing that. … I actually found that the gardening was even better. I just loved it even more. Then in … 2008, my partner and I bought our own land in Barrington and that’s when we seriously started … homesteading. We have a garden but we also have bees, chickens, ducks, dairy goats. We’re putting in orchards.
What is your favorite plant to work with?
I grow a great diversity of plants, and that is part of permaculture and organic farming. … I will say that one plant I truly love is nettles. … It’s stinging nettle. It’s a perennial plant, which comes up super early. Just as the snow is melting, we’ll be getting nettles up. It’s our first green vegetable of the season and it’s just packed with nutrition and just an awesome plant.
What are some of the most challenging things you’ve had to do to make your garden what it is today? 
In the place where we are growing, here in Barrington, we really didn’t have much in the way of soil. … A farmer would have looked at our land and said, ‘Can’t do it.’ But using the permaculture techniques, we have been building our own soil. It’s work. We have to bring a lot of materials in. … We actually had to take trees down. We had to do a lot of ground work before we could get to the point where we could plant a single thing. 
What are some things you’d like to add to your garden down the road?
Mostly, we just want to continue to expand. … What I want to learn next that isn’t really something I have skills at yet is growing our own grain. … I want to be able to grow our own wheat and other sorts of grains, oats and rye. 
— Ryan Lessard 

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