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Graduates in Action
Greg Norrish completed the PDC in 2011. Transitioning out of a small organic farm in Davis CA, Greg sought to learn alternative sustainable agriculture principles that could be applied to the urban setting of Sacramento. His experience at RDI has rippled into the greater Sacramento area.
In June of 2012, Greg began working at Sacramento Food Bank & Family Services as their Garden Coordinator. SFBFS’ mission includes not only providing temporary relief for those in need, but also helping those clients move towards self sufficiency and financial independence. It is the importance of promoting self sufficiency that lead the organization to open a ¼ acre Demonstration Garden. The Demonstration Garden, that Greg now manages, offers free classes twice a week, resources, materials and a vibrant urban setting to explore agricultural education.
In its first year, the Demonstration Garden has graduated over 60 clients through the Intro to Gardening four week series, connected community organizations at a popular “Garden Start Up Day”, and played an important role in the conversation about Sacramento’s Farm to Fork identity as it pertains to all community members. Greg’s experience at RDI has provided him an essential stepping stone in his career. The focus that RDI places on thinking creatively has helped Greg create a unique program that gets people back on their feet and into the garden.
Check out this article featured in the Huffington Post and NY Times.
Click here for more information about Sacramento Food Bank & Family Services.
PDC - 2008
EOL - 2010
During both the PDC and EOL, my life was drastically changed. I was ripe for large shifts to occur in my inner and outer world and what transpired during my short time at the farm was literally life changing. I will always bow in great honor and respect for the work that Penny and James have done and the space that they have created. I went from having lived my entire life in some of the largest metropolitan cities to now living in an incredible community in a yurt! I truly believe that my time at RDI re-awakened my need for living in community and in communion with nature. A drastic shift that has only strengthened my direction in my life and my purpose on our beautiful planet.
The knowledge base that I was able to walk away from gave me a visceral and experiential knowledge base of permaculture. This is something that I was able to to incorporate into my foundation as an ecological interior designer to create a whole-systems approach to design. I have continued to nurture the knowledge that I gained in my two-week intensive and now apply it where I live as well as in our heirloom seed company.
I am hoping to weave the importance of seed saving and overall seed knowledge with the permaculture community. There is significant lack of this awareness amongst permculturists and something that is inherently integrated in all the basic principals.
I believe that in the work that I am doing in my ecological interior design firm, Astrid Design Studio and in my heirloom seed company, The Living Seed Company, I am making big strides in bringing awareness to many realms of peoples lives that may go unnoticed - their home/work spaces and the food their eat. It has been a dream of mine to be where I am in my life and truly believe that it all started with intention and a lot of hard-work. I believe this work will continue to unfold and manifest and many different ways as the need for my expertise continues to call me in different directions and to different places.
With The Living Seed Company, we have created The Giving Seed Program, where we donate one collection for every ten that we sell. This is one of the ways in which we give back to our community here in the Bay and across the world.
Owner of: Astrid Design Studio
Ecological Interior Design and Sustainability Consulting
Co-Founder: The Living Seed Company
Purveyors of Heirloom Seeds
Press: SF Chronicle
Longtime friends and graduates of many RDI and 8 Shields programs, Scott Davidson and John Brossard make a great team as trackers and mentors. They are graduates of RDNA Essentials and Native Eyes, Ecology of Leadership, Art of Mentoring, and Bird Language Intensives.
Now they are gracefully integrating practical animal tracking skills, holistic routines of awareness, as well as permaculture design principles into their teaching and leadership in our community. Read more about Scott and John in their bios.
For John, “the many years of working with nature immersion programs through RDI brought me back in touch with a fundamental life need, as well as a passion, to be and feel connected to Nature in energetic and practical ways. This period of my life really put me on track with my life vision. It has truly been a gift. When I finally participated in the Ecology of Leadership program two years ago, like a catalyst, it appropriately pulled me through my resistance to bringing my vision into reality, and suddenly I was creating what I wanted - a way to creatively facilitate nature connection for others.”
“I first came to RDI as a wild wanderer longing to save the world, looking for skills,” Scott smiles, remembering. “And now, after diving deep into a rich array of nature connection, permaculture design, inner ecology and leadership, village building and healing, guided by truly awesome teachers, now I wholeheartedly belong here, within my self, and upon the Earth, in community. I belong to these coastal hills. And I’ve been guiding others into deep connection ever since, with wild passion, purpose and play!”
John and Scott teach the Tracking & Nature Connection Series through RDI in autumn and spring. The next series begins on Saturday, March 24th, 2012 - click here for details and testimonials.
This series focuses on a holistic approach to the art and science of tracking that, while skill driven, strongly cultivates a reverence and connection to nature that re-instills a sense of belonging and community, place and purpose. Scott and John believe that there is no difference between our true needs and our connection to nature - they depend on each other.
Tracking can open doors to this experience in powerful ways. “Our experience of finding and being in the presence of wildlife creates a sense of aliveness like no other. Developing relationship with local wildlife and the land in our area is what tracking is all about. And it naturally expands into more and more practical - as well as potentially mystical - ways of interacting with nature, ways of tending the land.”
In addition to teaching this series, Scott gleans organic foods in community for schools with Marin Organic while connecting kids to wild nature and thriving soils. John cultivates sustainable leadership and work culture as Personnel Manager at Good Earth Natural Foods.
“We are deeply grateful to RDI and our teachers, Jon Young, Penny, James and Christopher. For both of us, the work these great mentors offer brings us more fully into our life vision and our path of putting it into action. Our service now is to carry this vision and practice of deep nature connection forward to share this wealth with others.”
To quote Emerson, Lake & Palmer (and we paraphrase)...
Welcome all you friends, to the show that never ends
We’re so glad you could attend,
Come outside, come outside...
On the other side of glass, stands a real blade of grass
be careful as you pass.
But feel it glow and say hello!
Moving underneath, is a vole at your feet,
It’s abundant as can be
Have you seen? Know what it gleans?
There down in the creek, is a red fish, sometimes pink
It’s an indicating link
What does it mean for our streams?
Quietly you sit…, or quietly you crawl,
It’s the routine to see all
What a gift, what a prize.
Come-out-side, the show's about to start
Guar-an-teed to blow your mind and heart!
You’ve got to see the show…
It’s a dynamo…
You’ve got to see the show…
It’s just a stone’s throw…
Matt and Rachel Berry arrived at the Regenerative Design Institute in 2005 – the institute’s first summer at Commonweal Garden.
“We signed up for a six-month internship and ended up staying for almost four years. We arrived when it was a nearly feral garden with little infrastructure and few classes, and left when it was busy with classes nearly every week and landscaped with maturing permaculture gardens.”
Matt and Rachel now live in the Sierra Foothills, about two hours east of the bay area. From what they learned and experienced during their time at Commonweal Garden, they are both passionate about teaching others how to be more self-reliant through the partnership and thoughtful use of local plants.
As it is understood in Permaculture, humans are an integral part of the natural landscape and we become better stewards when we strengthen our relationships with the natural world around us. Matt is passionate about exploring this relationship with wild edible plants, and Rachel with medicinal and nutritive herbs.
“One of the things we’re most excited about right now is a unique format we created to help people connect more deeply with their local landscape – its a wild food and medicinal herb CSA.” They borrowed the concept of distributing seasonal plants from the ‘Community Supported Agriculture’ model, but are calling their work ‘Community Supported Awareness’, because of the emphasis on experiential education in how to identify, process and use abundant local plants for food and medicine. Their first CSA season begins this spring and is sold out.
“It’s hard to imagine how we would have arrived at this point – doing work we are passionate about, that feels like play and helps reconnect people with nature – without our experiences at the Regenerative Design Institute. We definitely used techniques we learned in the Ecology of Leadership to map out what we wanted to create in our lives when we moved to the foothills.”
In addition to their CSA, Matt teaches permaculture, wild foods and primitive skills for several local organizations; continues with some biological surveys, and is developing more skills in natural building. Rachel sells locally made herbal products, teaches herbal do-it-yourself classes, and works with a local non-profit that helps create more local farmers and more local farms.
“We feel blessed for the time we spent with the Regenerative Design Institute. We had the opportunity to help create and live within a developing permaculture center, learn from some of the top instructors from all over the world, build our own home with our friends from the earth around us, and be a part of a solution-based community that celebrates the abundance in every day life. The experience has changed our lives, and helps us create a better one for our daughter Amara, who was lucky to have spent her first year of life at Commonweal Garden.”
Both Matt and Rachel are instructors in the RDI Re-skilling Series.
You can read more about Matt at www.SierraLivingSkills.com and more about Rachel at www.SierraBotanica.com
In 2008, Temra Costa was working with CAFF (www.caff.org), the Community Alliance with Family Farmers.
"I was at a point in my career in the nonprofit world when I had leadership responsibilities, but not a lot of training in how to be an effective leader," she said in an email interview. "That's when I decided to take the class."
"A Fundamental Change in How I Was Able to Lead"
She signed up for the five-month Ecology of Leadership program at RDI, not knowing precisely what to expect.
"The class had us work on some fundamental concepts, perceptions and fears that typically rule our lives and interactions," Temra explained. "Powerful stuff. What surprised me about EOL was that processing my childhood reactions to life and people could make a fundamental change in how I was able to lead in the world.
"What has stuck with me the most was a comment that a co-worker said to me while I was taking the course. She said, 'I don't know what they're feeding you, but your workshop is amazing.' She noticed a difference right away in our interactions."
These days, Temra is an author, speaker (she spoke at Bioneers), consultant and radio host. Her book Farmer Jane: Women Changing the Way We Eat (Gibbs Smith, 2010) profiles over 30 women who are reforming the food system.
"I could use some more EOL!" she says. "It's an interesting time. I'm working on my second book proposal at the moment. But more deeply, I'm thinking about relationships, family, land and how I want to spend my time. Good stuff."
"It's Never Too Early to Start Growing Again"
To someone considering taking EOL, she advises, "Just do it. It's never too early to start growing again. But really, just the act of taking the time out of your schedule to focus on what you need--time to reflect, maybe--is part of growing, of healing old wounds and of learning to see your world in new ways.
"If we all prioritized our own personal growth, the world would be a better place. And it is. One person at a time."
Tara Smith, 50, credits RDI's Ecology of Leadership (EOL) program with helping catalyze a major life change: "jumping into organic farming." She is the proud co-owner of Tara Firma Farms, a thriving all-natural farm and education center in Petaluma, Calif.
"Trusting that I am worthy."
Tara learned about the Ecology of Leadership through the Internet. After participating in a free introductory session, she was inspired to sign up for the full course--EOL 2 in spring 2008--which met one weekend a month for 5 months. Tara came into the program with a clear vision of what she wanted: a life immersed in organic farming, education and community. Her major edge was learning to trust herself and her vision.
Believing in herself was a challenge, she says. "Trusting that I am worthy regardless of my perceived 'facts' to the contrary." She was surprised to learn "how much we all listen to the voices in our heads--much to our detriment."
A major aspect of the EOL journey is designing and taking action on a project that helps bring forth one of your ideal visions. Tara's project was to work out the "how" of her organic farming dream--namely, the business plans.
"While I didn't finish all of them, I was able to move structurally through most of it and deal with the pressure and stress much better," she says, "learning to understand what drives me and how I can enjoy that process much more."
"Fear I can deal with. Regret I can't."
Almost three years later, Tara Firma Farms is a bustling reality, a place offering CSA shares, fresh produce, eggs, pasture-raised meats, farm tours, holiday events, farm-to-table dinners, and a daily "sunset experience" by the pond.
"The thing I learned through EOL that has stuck with me the most is that I live without fear," Tara says. "Fear I can deal with. Regret I can’t.
"EOL is worthwhile if you are really interested in moving forward in your life. And even if you're not, at least a glimpse or a beginning of telling yourself the truth is worth the time and money."
Ecology of Leadership:
Tara Firma Farms:
I just finished my third year teaching seventh grade life science at Greensboro Day School in Greensboro, NC. I have my M.Ed. from the University of North Carolina in Greensboro (UNCG) in middle grades education. I have also taught outdoor education, which is what brought me to teaching.
My interest in permaculture came through my encounters with Dr. Charlie Headington at UNCG. He has been integral to bringing permaculture to Greensboro through his courses at UNCG gardening program, the Greensboro Montessori School, and designing gardens around town (including the garden I use at Greensboro Day School). Charlie has been newly appointed to be the director of the Edible Schoolyard at the Greensboro Children's Museum.
In June 2009, inspired by Charlie, I was fortunate enough to receive a grant from the Parents' Association at my school to attend took the summer intensive Permaculture Certification Course at Commonweal Garden.
As I returned to the 2009-2010 school year I made it a goal to elevate the 7th grade garden to new levels. I had a goal to achieve higher yields while using the garden in more meaningful ways in my curriculum. I also have been working the lower school science teacher to develop a more complete gardening curriculum for our school.
Some of the things I have focused on upon returning:
- Making functionality a priority as a way of improving how I ask students to work in the garden.
- Making efforts to organize the students, materials and resources has greatly improved the student personal interest and investment in the garden.
- Organized shed and made it so student know where things are
- Added a water line (city water, unfortunately) to the annual beds to improve accessibly
- Hosted a family pruning day to help with our old, unkempt food forest
- Built new annual beds
- Worked with our school cafeteria and come up with a plan for growing for the cafeteria
- Exposed my students to new foods
- Offered students the opportunity to connect with the natural world on a daily basis
If you would like to contact Clarissa, you can reach her at email@example.com.
My name is Shawn Berry and I participated in the 2009 PDC at RDI. It was my first in-depth encounter with permaculture.
Well, let’s back up a bit. Actually I had quite an introduction to working with the land when I was a kid. And I hated it. Launching and maintaining the ¼ acre, family vegetable garden my large family put in every spring was a total bust on summer break fun for us kids. Of course back then no one had ever heard the word permaculture and we certainly were guilty of accosting the land and bending it to our will as opposed to “listening to the land.” But we also inadvertently harmonized in some ways simply because nature will also bend us to her will as well.
In most ways for me, and I suspect for anyone who comes into an awareness with the ideas of permaculture, it’s less about learning something new and more about a process of deep remembering and even a deeper knowing that there is something true about acknowledging our individual and communal relationship with nature and the earth. Indeed, as much as many of us are immersed in our modern metropolis with a growing number of electronic devices that give us up-to-the-minute abundant information about the world around us—yet shield us from the actual world that it is all happening in—it’s difficult to really stop and think about how and where our food comes from and the incredible magic that this earth creates with plant life.
Think about it. Drop a seed in the dirt. Add water. Make sure there’s enough sun so you can see what is happening. And what is happening? A miracle is happening. If you didn’t know the potential an apple seed had, do you think your imagination would be big and wild enough to imagine that this lone tiny, dry object could transform into a massive structure that would have it’s own micro ecosystem and provide food and materials for three generations or more? Not only that, it cost nothing, it can operate efficiently with no maintenance and it can proliferate itself 100 times over with virtually no effort. It’s a miracle.
I digress. What excites me most is that there are communities out there like RDI who have been pioneering the forums to expose others to the miracle that is our earth. Creating a space for a community of curious and courageous minds to gather and explore our truest expressions together; remembering the ways of harmony and becoming re-awestruck at the miracle of this world as we peel off our facades one at a time until our innocence of naked humanness cowers before the revealed face of nature. What a gift!
In the permaculture design course at RDI, we created a community with 30 complete strangers for 2 weeks straight; eating, sleeping, working, laughing, learning, questioning, angering, crying. Ultimately, it demonstrated to me the immense capacity we as humans have to do this thing called “connect.” The capacity to know and understand, to communicate and share experience with another amazing glorious fascinating, complex and complicated being! I mean, we are these conscious beings walking around on this planet! We can SEE INSIDE each other and have the miraculous ability to consciously acknowledge each others existence of self through a myriad of emotive expressions capable of bringing us into a space of such intimate contact that it can be downright, gloriously terrifying!
How is it then that we often move through our days in monotone thoughts and muted expressions, feeling more alone that connected? Interacting with perhaps dozens of other conscious beautiful wonderous beings a day with out realization of the miracle of their existence? Seeing them only as obstacles or objects to be manipulated or handled? How is it that we wolf down a meal without even thinking about the absolute miracle of the vegetal world and that without the magic or miracle of seeds and photosynthesis, we would cease to exist? How did we become so recently concerned about the fragility of this planet without having been intimately and consciously acquainted with it?
My permaculture experience was one of the final gentle shakes that have brought me into being fully awake. I think it is gently shaking a lot of people awake. We are realizing that we’re dreaming if we think we can continue to live, thrive and evolve the way we have been living; particularly in first world economies - the dream is over!
So what to do with this wakefulness? Take action! How? By taking the initiative! That is to say, by becoming initiated to move forward in a direction with affirmation, blessing and expectancy by a group of ones peers and mentors. Many people become concerned with how to keep the fire alive that was experienced in a transformative experience and bring it back into their day-to-day life. It is difficult to carry a passion alone by yourself. The support and anticipation of a community who is present to your journey and is ready to welcome the gifts that comes through building and living your vision that was sparked by a personal transformation is an invaluable asset to that same community.
Ancient tribal peoples, and even healthy modern ones, address this issue through “initiating.” That is to say, they would watch for when a youth starts to become inspired by something apart from the games and frivolity of their adolescent peers and was ready for the challenge and adventure of living as an adult. The premise involves creating a space for the adolescent to have a transformative experience in which they become present to their inspired vision, which is both unique and fragile, apart from the support of a community.
Being an adult meant that you were committed to pursuing your vision and enacting it on the earth for the people to see. It was a gift in return to the people that had cared for you since the day you were born. A gift that is essential and necessary to the health and wealth of the community. In these tribal cultures, rites of passage, community and regenerative, respectful living on the land were absolutely inseparable. They were born out of one another and the failure to uphold the integrity and importance of any of these components would result in the demise of the people.
Looking back I can map the process of this discovery and passion for this direction in my life within these three concepts. I remember when I first had fleeting thoughts of interest in organic farming and living off the land. I entered the initiating threshold space when I chose to participate in the permaculture certification course at RDI. This was my transformative experience and when I returned to my regular life and struggled with how to apply this newfound enthusiasm, I realized I would need the support of a specific community to fully realize the potential of the vision that I was beginning to see.
I am now preparing to enter into the 9 month RDNA course also offered by RDI. I consider these new experiences as a trial run, or “R&D”—research and development for how to begin giving and living my true gift.
I was raised in a family who practiced urban homesteading, although they probably would not have called it that. When I moved out on my own, I kept trying to garden and compost, but wasn't able to actually put that in practice until I ended up in rental house with an indulgent landlord and housemates. I kept feeling that just practicing organic gardening was leaving out a lot, and some exploring led me to Gaia's Garden, Toby Hemenway's book.
I started up my own organic gardening business, which led quickly to taking 4 Seasons 1 at RDI. After that, I was hungry for more depth work in permaculture, and started shifting my business over to following the permaculture ethics and principles. It already was headed that way, but they gave me a language to use when talking to clients.
Other courses I’ve taken at RDI include the water harvesting and food forest design courses with Geoff Lawton (separate courses); two keyline design and soil building courses with Darren Doherty; the Water Wizards workshop that Penny did with Art Ludwig and Brock Dolman; and an advanced permaculture design course with Robyn Frances. I also took Ecology of Leadership 1, in 2006, and was very active in its leadership circle for a while after graduating.
Through a desire to read landscapes more effectively, I participated in the Integral Awareness Training Series for four years, and have worked very hard to bring nature awareness and permaculture together. I think they are inseparable, greatly enhancing and deepening each other. I have also taken the advanced bird language training a couple of times, maybe more, and have been acorning in the 4-seasons courses for years.
Currently, I work as the chief steward at Arastradero Preserve, doing, among other things, perennial grassland and oak woodland restoration, water harvesting, and soil conservation. I freelance doing permaculture design and consultation, volunteer in the transition movement, and do some environmental education on the side. I have recently become involved with the transition movement, and am part of the steering committees for both Transition Palo Alto and Transition Silicon Valley. I am also on staff for the Santa Cruz 4 Seasons course, starting later in the spring.
In the future, I plan to continue practicing and teaching permaculture design, and I hope to see it incorporated into the broadacre restoration work being done throughout this state and the rest of the world. I think incorporating permaculture ethics and principles into everything we do is critical, going into this next phase of our relationship with the world outside of our species. That is probably a lot of what is drawing me into the Transition movement. That and reskilling. I want to see permaculture practice become financially sustainable for a wider audience, and to see a web of transition towns and permaculture communities creating a resilient network that will help heal the world and its peoples.
Before, during, and after that, I'll be dancing, singing, playing music, eating fresh fruit, listening to birds, and watching creatures, wind and water moving on the landscape.
I am always looking for clients and collaborators, and am best reached via e-mail at: firstname.lastname@example.org, or by phone at 650-380-7030. Both are intermittently reliable, so it's best to try both and to follow up if you don't hear back right away, as I might not have received the message!
Growing up, it turns out my parents practiced many tenets of permaculture: organic gardening, seed saving, raising bees and rabbits, composting, food preservation, people care, and sharing the surplus (it seems like we supplied the whole county with rhubarb).
Despite the example set for me by my parents I soon found myself chasing the elusive “American Dream,” forgetting this slower more resilient way of being. The wonderful thing about forgetting is that we still have the ability to remember. A series of synchronistic events led me to RDI in June of 2007 where “re-membering” seems to be the name of the game.
It seemed odd at the time, telling my co-workers that I was going to spend my annual 2-week vacation sleeping in a tent and learning about “organic farming” (aka, Permaculture Design Certification or PDC). The PDC not only opened my eyes to a new way of being and gave me a renewed sense of hope; it also introduced me to a community where I felt completely safe. It was within the safety of this new found container that I was able to begin processing the tremendous grief that came up for me around chasing such an unsustainable, unfulfilling dream for so many years.
RDI played a significant role in helping me to open my heart and see the possibilities that lie far beyond what a consumer-based society had always expected of me. Six months later, I made the commitment to participate in the Ecology of Leadership (EOL) program. Again, I had little idea what I was getting into! What EOL continues to be is another amazingly safe container in which I can continue to heal. I was given a set of tools and a new “operating manual” for creating a life vision that empowers me to take my gifts back out into my community. During the second month of EOL, I resigned from my 17+ year corporate career with the clear intention of pursing a livelihood that was more meaningful to me.
While the PDC held space for grieving, and EOL for healing, the Art of Mentoring (AOM) was a living example of how 150 loving and lovable human beings can truly “be” in community. AOM was one of the most beautiful experiences of my life. It was a strong call to action for me: a reminder to follow my heart, pursue my passions, and live a more authentic life.
In the short time I have been involved with RDI, I have become active as an Awakening the Dreamer (ATD) facilitator and embrace the vision that “together we can bring forth an environmentally sustainable, spiritually fulfilling and socially just human presence on this planet as a guiding principle of our times." I am also serving on the Steering Committee for the 2010 Sustainable Enterprise Conference which is held in Sonoma County each May.
Last but not least, I am excited to be on staff at Transition US where we are supporting the growing number of Transition Initiatives that are sprouting up across the country. My work within the Transition Movement allows me to take an active role in what Joanna Macy calls the ‘Great Turning’ and to begin helping others to “re-member.” It is all part of an “ideal scene” that began at RDI, and continues to unfold. I have it on good authority that we are alive at a time like no other in human history and I am eternally grateful for RDI helping me realize the profound responsibility that goes with it. Please visit my website if you would like to contact me for any reason.
RDI Courses Completed
Permaculture Design Course - June 2007
Ecology of Leadership – 2008 & 2009
Art of Mentoring - 2008
Kambria (my partner) and I enjoying the benefits of a new earthen clay oven we created along with Allan Hogle in Sebastopol this past summer.