Top 10 Ecology Centers & Permaculture Programs in California
In a world of limited resources, we are beginning to see the effects of a planetary environmental crisis. We need solutions in order to live more sustainable lives. Ecology Centers and Permaculture Programs are popping up all over the world to meet these needs. Permaculture is an environmental design science that creates sustainable architecture, regenerative habitats and agricultural systems modeled from natural ecosystems. The basic principles teach you to work with nature, rather than against it. Its ethics are rooted in caring for the Earth, caring for the people, and fair share of resources. Over the last year, I’ve talked with many educators and ecologists about the best places to learn about sustainability and permaculture in California. This photo essay is a list of all the best places I visited and the best programs I attended in 2014.
“We envision a world in which people, inspired by nature, create and maintain healthy and abundant livelihoods that enhance fertility and biodiversity on the planet. We envision humans as a positive, healing presence on Earth, creating more abundance on the planet than would be possible without them. Our mission is to serve as a catalyst for a revolution in the way humans relate to the natural world.”
The Regenerative Design Institute is a non-profit educational organization located just north of San Francisco in Bolinas on the California Coast. The educational center and demonstration site serves as an inspiration and possibility for how people can live in a mutually enhancing relationship with the Earth. Penny Livingston and James Stark are wonderfully creative people that are praised in the permaculture community as talented educators who live with integrity.
Their programs and courses teach the skills and technology people need to become community leaders and create healthy solutions to the current environmental crisis. Their innovative programs such as The Ecology of Leadership & The Ecology of Awakening are great additions to the Permaculture Design Course, Herbal Studies, and Apprenticeship. The instructors, resources, and environmental design were truly beautiful and impressive. From an artist’s standpoint, it was definitely my favorite.
“Our work is about remembering our way Home: about calling memory forward to restore and “re-story” cultures and economies for the care of all life. We help individuals and communities act as if they plan to stay on this planet, thriving and in good relationship with all living systems, for many generations to come.”
The Occidental Arts & Ecology Center is an 80-acre research, demonstration, education, advocacy and community-organizing center in West Sonoma County, California that develops strategies for regional-scale community resilience and the restoration of biological and cultural diversity. OAEC cultivates ecological literacy and builds the capacity of civic and social movement leaders and organizations to guide their own communities to an ecologically regenerative, economically viable, & socially just future.
Founded in 1994, the Center has developed a remarkably diverse yet interrelated suite of projects and partnerships that address the urgent crises of our time through permaculture and ecological design, biointensive horticulture, conservation hydrology, restoration ecology and traditional ecological knowledge, strategic organizing methods, and democratic self-governance. They train and support “whole communities” — schools, public agencies, Native American tribes, urban social justice organizations, watershed groups and others — to design and cultivate resilience to mounting ecological, social and economic challenges. They are the most established ecology center I’ve visited and host some of the best educators in California. My favorite part was their mother garden and grandmother garden (the surrounding forest).
Quail Springs Permaculture is an educational and land stewardship nonprofit organization located in the high desert of Maricopa, Southern California. The landscape is beautiful and unique, supplied with fresh spring water, where they grow gardens, raise animals, create natural buildings and utilize low-impact technologies.
They are dedicated to demonstrating and teaching holistic ways of designing human environments, and to facilitating deeper understandings of ourselves and one another through immersive experiences with nature. Quail Springs Permaculture integrates permaculture design into farm development and land stewardship while sponsoring educational courses and creating small ecological business models that share permaculture design with the greater community.
The Ecology Center, in San Juan Capistrano, is a colorful educational center, that engages individuals, families, and students in fun, hands-on activities that teach practical, environmental solutions at the household and community level. The Ecology Center seeks to bring all members of the community together in a solutions-based educational setting to inspire and create a healthy and abundant future for all of Southern California.
The Ecology Center offers educational programs for homes, workplaces, and schools. They engage you through hands-on sustainability solutions based around the five core areas of food, water, energy, waste, and shelter through skills workshops, field trips, good food, gardening, community festivals, and even a permaculture design certification course! This is by far the best example of an educational center aimed at youth and those coming from a more urban or suburbia type environment.
The mission of the Edible Schoolyard Project is to build and share a national edible education curriculum for pre-kindergarten through high school. The founder, Alice Waters, envisions gardens and kitchens as interactive classrooms for all academic subjects, and a free, nutritious, organic lunch for every student. She believes integrating this curriculum into schools can transform the health and values of every child in America.
“We’ve been so disconnected agriculturally and culturally from food. It’s hard to come into a new relationship with food unless you’re engaged in an interactive way at an early age; it’s hard to change your values. I really am at a place where I think we need to feed every child at school for free and feed them a real school lunch that’s sustainable and nutritious and delicious. It needs to be part of the curriculum of the school in the same way that physical education was part of the curriculum, and all children participated.” Alice Waters
The Edible Schoolyard in Berkeley is a one-acre organic garden and kitchen classroom for urban public school students at Martin Luther King, Jr. Middle School. For nearly 20 years, this leading model program for edible education has been fully funded by the Edible Schoolyard Project. At ESY Berkeley, students participate in all aspects of growing, harvesting, and preparing nutritious, seasonal produce during the academic day and in after-school classes. Students’ hands-on experience in the kitchen and garden fosters a deeper appreciation of how the natural world sustains us and promotes the environmental and social well-being of our school community.
The Edible Schoolyard Network connects educators around the world to build and a share a K-12 edible education curriculum. They also have an Academy that trains educators to create powerful and sustainable edible education programs in their schools and communities. Each June, they invite teachers, administrators, and advocates from around the world to spend five days behind the scenes at the Edible Schoolyard Berkeley. The ESY Academy participants learn and experience first-hand the core principles and practical tools for bringing academic subjects to life in the kitchen, garden, and lunchroom. They are also expanding their training programs and tailoring them for specific school-based groups, as well as healthcare, child-care, and youth development programs.
The Permaculture Skills Center is a 5-acre demonstration site and educational institution dedicated to sharing regenerative land development and management practices. They are located in the Laguna de Santa Rosa watershed just south of Sebastopol, in Sonoma County, California. They offer a diversity of programs for everyone, from those who are interested in home gardening to professional farmers, landscapers and land managers. Some of our offerings include: Day-long workshops, Open Design Consultation, the Ecological Landsteward Immersion and the Farm School. Their mission is to empower the next generation with the skills and knowledge needed to regenerate and grow vibrant, thriving ecosystems, communities and economies. They also have a daily farm stand on the land and host community events. Good vibes!
The Permaculture Academy, in cooperation with The Permaculture Institute and EarthFlow Design Works, offers a world-renowned Permaculture Design Course in Los Angeles, California. Lead by Larry Santoyo, Toby Hemenway, Scott Pittman, and John Valenzuela, the Permaculture Design Course has truly transformed the lives and enhanced the careers of thousands of people around the world, including architects, developers, social workers, city planners, teachers, students, gardeners, landscapers, homeowners, business owners and others. This course has a unique, urban approach where community comes together in critical thinking, discussion, and lots of good humor. Hands on workshops are also required outside of the classroom curriculum because the ultimate goal is to create a more sustainable city of Los Angeles.
Sierra Seeds Cooperative is a farm that offers a diverse selection of local, organic seeds that thrive in the Northern California mountain foothills. “Each year, we also offer our Seed Seva Immersion and full season internship as a prayer for what we hope to see for the future of our food. By empowering community members to reawaken seed stewardship back into their lives, we are seeding hope for more sustainable and beautiful agro-ecological foodways. A part of our vision is to see the Restory-ing of grace and beauty in our daily life and ways of growing food, so that sustainable and organic agriculture can evolve again to be exquisite and magnificently beautiful and offer us true sacred nourishment.” Rowen White, Director of Sierra Seed Cooperative, also teaches Seed Saving through Native Seeds/SEARCH, Rocky Mountain Seed Alliance, Seed School, and conferences around the world. Please watch our film about the program here: http://sacredecology.com/project/seed-seva-immersion/
The mission of SLOLA is to facilitate the growth of open-pollinated seeds among residents of the Los Angeles Basin. They are building a seed collection and repository, educating members about the practice of seed-saving, and creating a local community of seed-saving gardeners. They seek to preserve genetic diversity, increase food security and food justice in our region, safeguard alternatives to GMO’s, and empower all members through a deeper connection with nature and the experience of self-reliance. They strive for excellence, knowing the preservation of seed is a sacred trust.
TreePeople is an environmental nonprofit that unites the power of trees, people and nature-based solutions to grow a sustainable future for Los Angeles. They aim to inspire, engage and support people to take personal responsibility for the urban environment, making it safe, healthy, fun and sustainable and to share the process as a model for the world. They do this by training and supporting communities to plant & care for trees, educate schoolchildren & adults about environmental issues, demonstrate sustainable solutions to urban ecosystem problems, and work with government agencies on critical water issues. Their facilities are located & operated on a beautiful public park overlooking Coldwater Canyon which makes for a lovely days hike. Be sure to check out their cistern! It’s a a 216,000-gallon underground storage tank, where they save rainwater collected from the Center’s rooftops and Parking Grove; truly a wonderful example of how to create a more sustainable city of Los Angeles.
There are many more ecology centers, permaculture educators, organic farms, educational centers, and eco villages throughout California. These are just considered some of the very best within the community. Others that I’m interested in checking out include Starhawk’s Earth Activist Training, Ojai Permaculture, The The Growing Home, and many more! Some of my other favorites have not been included on this list yet, including the Ron Finley Project, The Learning Garden & the Seed Library of Los Angeles. Please leave suggestions in the comments below and I will consider compiling a more complete list to include them all at the end of this article.
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