permaculture education

SEEDS, Regenepreneurs, Ithaca College, & Finger Lakes Permaculture Institute

SEEDS, Regenepreneurs, Ithaca College, & Finger Lakes Permaculture Institute

Guest post by Dr. Roslynn Brain McCann. She traveled the USA in 2019 interviewing leading permaculture figures and we will be sharing many of those interviews over the course of 2020.

How can we play a more active role in reversing the degenerative patterns of inequality in gender and race within our society? What are our internal and external dialogues, and how can we shift those in a way that cultivates regeneration? In the weeks after my interview with Karryn Olson, I have been thinking through these tough yet important questions.

The people care ethic in permaculture is front and center for Karryn, where her grounding question is “how do we support, especially women, to move boldly forward as permaculture leaders and into permaculture-related careers?” This question stemmed from her personal life experiences, but especially from her role as a Permaculture Design Certificate (PDC) teacher with the Finger Lakes Permaculture Institute: “I would prep really hard…and I would feel like I would show up and I would teach a knock-out section and the comments at the end of the day would be things like ‘Karryn’s such a good mom.’” It was exhausting.

Karryn made it a goal to change this, “I really wasn’t going to the ‘it’s because I’m a woman’ or the ‘victim place’.  I literally did this experiment where I tried different things for three years. First, I would prep twice as hard as the year before. My next thought was, oh, it is because I go home at night to my family. I’m going to stay, I’m going to be here at the course, so I was the first person who greeted people, and I would be there 16 hours on my day teaching. I made sure to teach really great technical content, too. Then I literally had a man make a comment to me that he was going to ask my two male colleagues a question that helped me understand he didn’t see me as a leader of the organization. It was actually a wonderful moment, because I was like ‘it’s not me!’, ‘IT’S NOT ME!’. It was so liberating.” And I kept wondering “Am I the only person going through this?’ It makes you feel crazy, it really does.”

She then put out a call to interview 20 women about their experiences in permaculture. Across the board, difficulties were encountered ranging from sexual harassment to belittling, regardless of how incredible the women were. This was not in an effort to put down the permaculture movement, but to name ongoing degenerative patterns in our society.

Although being a good mom is a compliment, so is being a good teacher, a good leader, a knowledgeable expert. And women have a lot to bring to the leadership table. “Studies talk about how women are actually really even better leaders because we are better at creating alliances. When we have more diverse people at the table, women are better at bringing in people and building bridges with people who have been disenfranchised, you get more innovation when you are more diverse. All of those types of skills are super important.”

Yet, as Karryn highlights in her Permaculture Activist publication from 2013, “According to the White House Project, in their ‘Benchmarking Women’s Leadership’ report, women receive the majority of all college degrees, make up almost half of the workforce, and are well represented in entry- and mid-level positions in most sectors of the economy. However, women occupy on average only 18% of top leadership positions (and numbers are lower among women of color). Further, the wage gap for women means that they make 78.7 cents for every dollar earned by men, and that gap widens with age.” In our interview, she elaborated, “leadership, we see as an archetypically male thing. So, women are judged negatively if we are too male, and negatively if we are too feminine. We get this double whammy…micro-disadvantages.”

The solution is not in putting men down – that would be a degenerative approach. Instead, we need to be having conversations about why is this the case, and how do we change this? What are the invisible structures at play in our body language? In our internal dialogues? Our external dialogues?

At 30%, something wonderful happens with leadership dynamics. As stated in her article, “when 30% of the people at power tables are women, organizations reach a tipping point. Women can then change agendas, inform goals, allocate resources, and impact the style in which goals are achieved. Cultural stereotypes are altered so that women are no longer seen as women, but as professionals…‘What is the landscape for women in permaculture in our circles?’ If not at parity, we can set policy to have 30% of our boards, teaching teams, speakers lists, etc., occupied by qualified women. They are out there, and we can find them by replacing the question, ‘Who do I know?’ with ‘Who don’t I know?’”

“It’s not just about how strong our skills are or how professional we are…when you try super hard over a period of time and you can’t get traction, it erodes your confidence.” So Karryn applies her skills in various ways to help others, especially women, rebuild their confidence. In addition to co-founding Finger Lakes Permaculture Institute, she teaches at Ithaca College and started SEEDS and Regenepreneurs. The following is a summary of each:

  • SEEDS: Strategy, Education, & Ecological Design for Sustainability “combines coaching services with the typical consultation approach.  Instead of just “dropping knowledge,” and leaving folks to struggle, Karryn works with people (often her clients are women) to deepen their understanding of design and permaculture, so they can create their own, robust permaculture design for their site, but with the support of a professional.”
  • Regenepreneurs: This is Karryn’s main focus now—because in talking with women, they were doing great work but too many weren’t earning a living from it. So Karryn dove into learning all she could about entrepreneurship, and supports people to learn those skills but from a deeply regenerative approach. She does this through group programs and one on one coaching.
  • Ithaca College Permaculture: Karryn designed and installed with students Ithaca College’s first permaculture garden, located near Williams Hall. She teaches the associated course Gardens, Ecological Design and Practice.
  • Finger Lakes Permaculture Institute (FLPCI): Karryn co-founded this in 2005. Over the years, FLPCI has offered workshops, study groups, apprentice programs, and Permaculture Design Certificate courses, all based around sustainable and ecological design. FLPCI became a 501c3 a few years ago, and is building board capacity and focusing its efforts on an annual Permaculture Weekend.
Food garden at Ithaca College

At Ithaca college, Karryn’s 1-credit course on Gardens, Ecological Design and Practice gets students outside of the classroom. Homework involves working in groups in the gardens. In another course, students made a “business case” for permaculture on campus, given the stronghold of campus mow-blow-and-go landscaping. “We actually did the math…the average lawn mower running one hour is the equivalent to running seven cars at 55 miles an hour…then we talked about ‘what is the embedded energy of the pesticides, herbicides, fertilizers’…[referencing adjacent typical campus landscaping] all of this is put in and ripped out multiple times. They bring in huge loads of mulch and for a while, they were actually raking up all the mulch from last year and putting in new mulch. It’s kind of nuts…if we were ever to have a carbon tax, this is a liability, this approach. It’s actually a mismanagement issue.” Through this type of work, she is helping students rethink our standard mode of operating.

But it is through her newest consulting endeavor, Regenepreneurs, where she is currently dedicating the most time, excitement and energy. Karryn created Regenepreneurs as she was encountering numerous people with amazing skills, but without the know-how of how to apply those in a way that is most strategic given their life situations. “We need to fast-track regenerative solutions.”

The concept of a regenerative right livelihood is adapted from E.F. Schumacher and his work Buddhist Economics. “A lot of people are trying to figure out ‘What is my path? How do I do the good work?’ I know when I took my first permaculture course back in 1994 it was like ‘oh, I’ll become a teacher, a designer because that was all I saw as the possibilities and I started realizing ‘wow, you can take these skills and you could apply them in unlimited amounts of directions if you understood the entrepreneurial parts of it.” Helping others understand those entrepreneurial applications of permaculture lies at the heart of Karryn’s current work, developing “skills to co-create a regenerative future.”

Her ultimate goal? “I want people to walk away being like ‘we can do this.’ So it’s really about their own thriving, but then also having an audacious vision of what thriving could look like for our communities and our future, our kids’ futures.”

As a woman, I connect with and am touched by Karryn’s efforts, not to mention her magnetic personality. She is an inspirational leader working to shift deeply rooted degenerative paradigms. Something she said in the interview resonated deeply with me; During her undergraduate studies, a male professor walked in carrying a baby and she thought “how cool!” But then, she asked herself how she would react if it was a woman: “What, couldn’t you find childcare?” That opened her eyes about how “gender schemas” are deeply ingrained in all of us. These are hard realities to face and they are things we all in some way or another have experienced and personally furthered, and we need to be awake to it in order to set regenerative patterns for people care in our culture. These conversations and issues show the potential of permaculture beyond the landscape – fostering regenerative hope in a time where we need it most.


To discover more about Karryn, visit Regenepreneurs’ website, or, or the Finger Lakes Permaculture Institute at

Jason GerhardtSEEDS, Regenepreneurs, Ithaca College, & Finger Lakes Permaculture Institute
Hopi Tutskwa Permaculture Institute

Hopi Tutskwa Permaculture Institute

Guest post by Dr. Roslynn Brain McCann. She traveled the USA in 2019 interviewing leading permaculture figures and we will be sharing many of those interviews over the course of 2020.

The high winds blow sand across AZ-264 as we travel through the Hopi reservation and land at Kykotsmovi Village, site of the Hopi Tutskwa Permaculture Institute. Lilian Hill and Jacobo Marcus-Carranza founded the institute in 2004, and since then have been guiding mainly Navajo and Hopi youth through internships teaching essential skills in natural building, permaculture techniques, local food production, solar installation, harvesting and selling at local farmers markets, and youth empowerment.

I had visited Lilian and Jacobo last spring as part of a permaculture workshop and partnership with Community Rebuilds, a natural building program and original collaborator with the Hopi Tutswka Permaculture Institute. Since then, I was excited to return. At the workshop, a group of 25 or so from Moab, the Hopi and Navajo Nations all began in a circle, introducing ourselves and tossing a ball of yarn to the next person. There were so many of us that we ran out of yarn and had to move in closer, further demonstrating the interconnectedness between us all – both by the yarn web we created and the closeness to our peers left and right. We spent a large amount of time that day discussing sustainability failures at the local, regional, and national level, broken out in groups with various topic areas such as energy, water, etc. These came to mind easily and within minutes our group’s flipchart was full. When we flipped the story, and had to write down sustainability successes, however, these flowed a little slower at first. They exist, but we can become focused so closely on the problem that solutions thinking is overshadowed; an important realization for all of us. We know the problem – the planet is warming and we have a limited window of about a decade to enact large scale change. However, we haven’t been discussing hope, solutions, and empowerment with the same urgency.

Celebrating Hopi culture

The experience last spring had a lasting impact on me and I was excited to return as part of this research tour. We had eaten delicious, healthy food, connected with each other across cultures and environments, and discussed what we can do to be part of the solution.

Hopi Tutskwa translates from the Hopi language to the life ways and knowledge of the land and soil. Lilian and Jacobo are helping their communities and beyond to reconnect, relearn from, and reshape our relationship with the environment that sustains us, our “Earthmother.”

When I asked Lilian and Jacobo who the main students are that attend their program and what they are looking for, Lilian answered “our main students we are designing programs for are within our own community – so both within Hopi and the surrounding Navajo reservation. We have opened up our programming to other people as well, but mostly very young people who live in the community who may or may not have graduated high school but who for one reason or another have not left. They have stayed and a lot of them remain within their own family structure too – with their parents or grandparents. A lot of the students who come to our program are in an interesting place, in their early 20s and don’t know what they want to do with their lives.”

Jacobo added, “We wanted to design programming to really help folks strengthen their lives in meaningful ways. A lot of the students who are part of the program are just here in the community and a lot of times they don’t have meaningful interactions…I guess with the home they live in, a disconnect between the home they live in and how they can contribute to the home. We are trying to develop programming to help folks have applicable solutions to where they can feel empowered to build their own home, grow their own food, and to catch their water. It’s really important for us to pass that on.”

Adaptive strategies for sheltering plants from the harsh climate on Hopi land.

Their vision “is to strengthen community through the continued intergenerational practices of traditional Hopi farming and gardening, rainwater harvesting and spring restoration, natural building, and orchard-keeping while applying applicable Permaculture principles, methods, and techniques.”

Lilian and Jacobo are working to create a world where:

  • Communities practice cooperation in all aspects of life, continuing the traditional Hopi values of Sumi’nangwa and Nami’nagwa which means to help others selflessly for the good of everyone.
  • Communities learn to value, care for, respect, protect, and manage the natural environment while ensuring adequate resources for the future generations.
  • Communities will learn innovative ways towards creating sustainable communities locally and regionally.
  • Communities have clean water, good nutritious food, and thriving ecosystems and watersheds.
Lilian and Jacobo

Discover more about Lilian, Jacobo, and the Hopi Tutskwa Permaculture Institute at:  

Jason GerhardtHopi Tutskwa Permaculture Institute
The Potential of Taking Two Books to Heart

The Potential of Taking Two Books to Heart

When I learned Permaculture almost 20 years ago, there were few books one could learn from for applying Permaculture Design to specific subjects. Two years after my Permaculture Design Course, Brad Lancaster, one of my original instructors, published his water harvesting books, and I dove right in.

The first edition of Rainwater Harvesting for Drylands and Beyond Volume 1 was a groundswell for my life. It allowed me to take my practice of Permaculture into the world of water systems. I lived in Central Arizona then, and water harvesting was badly needed to grow much of anything in that parched landscape. I built rainwater capturing swales and basins in different contexts, put trash cans under my downspouts during monsoon season, and even constructed one rock dams across erosive rills and runnels on hikes in the national forest. The book guided me in the mindset, details, and joyful approach of opening oneself up to downpours that Brad Lancaster taught with. It imparted the preciousness and potential of each raindrop.

A couple of years later, Rainwater Harvesting for Drylands and Beyond Volume 2 was released and I knew I would continue with water system work. I felt so alive thinking about and working with water in the landscape. I had also just moved to Colorado where water harvesting was legally prohibited. I set myself on changing that, and to do so, had to build a lot of rain gardens in a confusing legal landscape, however undeterred.

Volume 2 was all nuts and bolts for passive water harvesting via earthworks. I referenced the book in the field constantly. I remember constructing water harvesting basins and terraces on a grassy slope at 8,500 feet in the Rockies —the pages still bear my soiled handprints. As I worked, I noticed how the terrace rocks held the sun’s warmth, which would keep my garden warmer in that cold climate. I reveled in finding additional functions from what I was doing. In Brad Lancaster’s words I began to “do more than just harvest water”.

The water work was transforming me to make connections that were not obvious. Just harvesting water was no longer enough, so I learned Colorado Water Law to understand the history behind the prohibition of capturing the rain in hopes of making further connections. The reasons for prohibition were understandable, mainly that it was important not to impede the flow of rain so downstream users were ensured water. On the surface I could understand how one would think intercepting the flow of runoff from an upstream rooftop or street would reduce downstream flow, but what was less obvious was what happened to precipitation once infiltrated into the ground.

It turns out infiltrated precipitation is what keeps streams perennially flowing as opposed to surface runoff. Logically then, increasing infiltration could be viewed as a good thing, especially considering the high evaporation rate for surface water in drylands. I took it to the streets so to speak, and confidently built more and more rainwater harvesting gardens, armed with data from studies commissioned by the state itself that showed 97% of all surface runoff wouldn’t even make it to the stream before it evaporated.

With this new confidence, and seeing the oasis-like results of my work, I sought out opportunities to teach municipal water managers, sometimes to dismissing comments that I was promoting illegal behavior. Unfazed, I spoke at conferences, put on workshops with conservation organizations, eruditely challenged the governor in a town hall, and eventually persuasively presented my work and information in a special session of the state legislature.

It was a pivotal time in Colorado water history. The historic basis for water harvesting prohibition in the state was eroding, and I, along with many of my colleagues and students, were pushing from all sides. We made headway. New laws permitting rooftop runoff were written, greywater reuse was legalized (even though it’s still in limbo), public opinion was shifting via education, and the work continues, in no small part to the hard work of Brad Lancaster in compiling his books.

Eventually I moved away from the drylands back to my home city of St. Louis, Missouri, a much wetter climate, where I looked forward to working with water in a different context. I moved into the seemingly nebulous “Beyond” that the books titles referred to. It wasn’t nebulous at all however, because almost everything I learned about water harvesting in the drylands worked for flooding in this region of 40 inches of annual precipitation. The techniques work to reduce nutrient pollution in the mighty riverways of this land too, a co-benefit of water harvesting and an environmental issue of incredible importance for the Mississippi River Basin.

There’s a lot more work to do managing water resources for the health of people and ecosystems. Perhaps we just need a lot more people to read Brad Lancaster’s books and put the information to use. As a practitioner and instructor of this work, I can honestly say there is no better time to learn water harvesting green infrastructure practices than now. For one thing, we need it more than ever. For another, it’s a rapidly growing field. But even more so, those learning this work have a better-than-ever resource at their fingertips in the new all-color editions of Rainwater Harvesting for Drylands and Beyond. The books might just change your life and the world around you.

Jason GerhardtThe Potential of Taking Two Books to Heart
Permaculture Ethics: A Touchstone

Permaculture Ethics: A Touchstone

The permaculture ethics were presented in my first Permaculture Design Course as the touchstone of designing towards sustainability – whether as a landscape designer, as an architect, urban planner, as a farmer/gardener, as a teacher or activist, or as an urban dweller seeking to find balance and create an ecologically-sound life. I was amazed that I hadn’t been presented with a statement of ethics in any other discipline I had studied; I had known about the Hippocratic oath taken by medical practitioners, but not for professions that deal with the health of the land, of our communities or our cities and ecosystems.  Since that time I have realized how critical ethics are in my permaculture design work and my teaching of permaculture.  Ethics guide my work and my daily activities.

Scott PittmanPermaculture Ethics: A Touchstone
Founding a Journey Through Permaculture

Founding a Journey Through Permaculture

I came to permaculture, in a very convoluted way, through my friend Ali Sharif, (a late renowned permaculture activist and organizer, working in Mozambique, Africa).   We became friends when I was helping him find a small farm to purchase, and later to remodel an old adobe house.

One day Ali asked me to watch his place while he went to a training program called permaculture. Ali didn’t make clear what this training was all about, and I agreed to take care of his home.

Scott PittmanFounding a Journey Through Permaculture