Student Research on Online Permaculture Resources Published in 'Inquiry' Journal

Claire Luchkina volunteered recently at a farm in Washington County. A research paper she wrote about online permaculture resources has been published in the spring edition of the undergraduate research journal "Inquiry," which is available online starting this week.
Photo by William Deaton

Claire Luchkina volunteered recently at a farm in Washington County. A research paper she wrote about online permaculture resources has been published in the spring edition of the undergraduate research journal "Inquiry," which is available online starting this week.

FAYETTEVILLE — A research paper by Claire Luchkina, a senior international relations student studying in the J. William Fulbright College of Arts and Sciences at the University of Arkansas, has been published in the spring edition of Inquiry, a journal that publishes undergraduate research at the university.

Luchkina, of Fayetteville and formerly of Kyiv, Ukraine, has been interested in sustainability for some time. The research for her article, "Online Permaculture Resources: An Evaluation of a Selected Sample," began as part of an independent study class with Carl Smith, an associate professor of landscape architecture in the Fay Jones School of Architecture and Design at the university. Through that research, she was able pursue her interest in sustainable solutions.

"This fantastic opportunity allowed me to focus on a sustainable design topic more in depth," Luchkina said.

Sustainability is about creating the kind of human presence where one's activities leave little to no environmental impact, Luchkina said. In getting to that point, making sustainable choices may mean different things to different people — such as reducing energy needs, reducing waste, conserving resources and being more mindful of one's ecological footprint.

"I think sustainability is important because it makes sense for the environment, for the economic benefits and even aesthetically," Luchkina said. "We tend to forget about the beauty of a healthy natural environment, something that is easily lost when it's out of equilibrium. And we forget we are often the cause."

She said her research focused on the quality of permaculture resources available online. Permaculture, a term coined by Bill Mollison, uses the inherent qualities of plants and animals, combined with the natural characteristics of landscapes and structures, to produce a life-supporting system for city and country, using the smallest practical area. As an example, a small-scale urban permaculture site might look like a multi-layer, tiered garden with plants, animals and built structures placed in specific ways to maximize their function in relation to each other, the soil and the surrounding landscape.

In her paper, Luchkina evaluated the online permaculture resources based on content and current best practices in web design. Creating the framework for this kind of evaluation required an understanding of the principles of permaculture, what is important and essential in design, and learning about the actual, physical permaculture sites located in different parts of the world, she said.

"Some of these case studies are briefly described or highlighted, mostly in the first half of my paper," Luchkina said.

The research sections that follow cover evaluative criteria methods and findings, with the summary concluding that the overall sample reflects a good quality of resources and viable online community support, she said.

"I think of permaculture as a small-scale, sustainable design system for creating biodiverse land areas," Luchkina said, "including high-yield food production and sustainable architecture of built systems. It is a set of guidelines, principles and ethics, achieving efficient design and intensive resource management of the components. This is accomplished through a combination of multi-level methods like resource cycling, utilizing renewable resources and creating symbiotic systems that maximize yields in production while generating biodiversity. Well-designed permaculture sites also show the potential for reversing environmental damage, not simply maintaining status quo, as we would see in a more typical sustainable garden or land project."

She said that the same general framework can also be applied to other aspects of life, so there are applications in social permaculture, education models based on the principles of permaculture, and so on.

Smith, who holds a doctoral degree, said that Luchkina's research made a unique contribution to and moved forward both the state of the knowledge in permaculture and its dissemination.

"It's no small feat for an undergraduate to put together such a comprehensive and robust research project," Smith said, "and we will be looking at further publishing opportunities. There is a lot of information available about the technical aspects of permaculture — it's a well-understood area. But this project found a unique angle to investigate the practice of permaculture — that is, how it is being communicated online."

Luchkina's inspiration for the paper came from a tree that stands in her front yard.

"I have an old oak tree in the front yard and nothing grows there, not even grass really," she said. "And I ran across an online forum thread on permaculture, discussing this very issue and some possible solutions."

Though she later ended up evaluating that particular website as part of her project, she didn't know much about permaculture at the time. A few months later, the subject of permaculture came up in discussion with Smith while considering possible research topics, and it ended up being her top choice for research.

"So while I have not created a tangible landscape component to accompany my research, the real issues of my suburban outdoor space definitely served as inspiration," she said. "I've also spent some time volunteering with local farms and have been inspired by their projects in sustainable methods."

Smith said that both he and Luchkina have an international perspective — both are from outside the United States — and share a mutual interest in global cultures. He noted that the topic of permaculture was of both an academic and personal interest to Luchkina.

"If a student sees their area of study through just an academic lens, I don't feel it has the same resonance. That's particularly the case with something like permaculture or any use of vegetation — be it functional or aesthetic — where experience of nurturing your own land and raising your own plants gives you the kind of investment a textbook simply can't," Smith said. "So Claire came with that perfect blend of academic curiosity, international scope and practical application. As an instructor, there's no bigger compliment than to say I became the learner — Claire's expertise in this area easily outstrips my own — so it was a pleasure to work on the project."

Inquiry publishes and celebrates research by U of A undergraduates working in various fields of study, Smith said. Luchkina found out about Inquiry from Smith, and he encouraged her to submit her paper for review.

"It is peer-reviewed, so it acts as an excellent introduction to a robust publishing process for students who may be thinking about graduate degrees or a Ph.D. where publication is more normative," Smith said. "Unlike most research journals, Inquiry has a broad scope and includes articles across all disciplines. It's a fantastic window into the kind of work going on across campus. You can have a paper on art history rubbing shoulders with one from microbiology. It's definitely a must-read for the intellectually curious."

Luchkina is both a part-time student in the Fulbright College and a full-time employee on campus. She works as the financial coordinator for the Honors College, managing day-to-day financials and overseeing some of the grants.


Mattie Bailey, communications intern
Fay Jones School of Architecture and Design

Michelle Parks, director of communications
Fay Jones School of Architecture and Design

Andra Parrish Liwag, director of communications
J. William Fulbright College of Arts and Sciences


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