The Shenandoah Permaculture Institute is a collection of competencies whose mission is to "inoculate communities with the tools and strategies for health and resiliency, from soil to self." The diverse and enthusiastic teaching team achieves this through teaching, writing, research, and design.
We teach real world, hands-on, practical Permaculture.
What is Permaculture, you ask? Read more on our "What is Permaculture" page.
5 Years ago, the Shenandoah Permaculture Institute began as an idea that sprung up from a conversation between Dr. Ted Butchart and Ryan Blosser. Their friendship spilled over from of a PDC that Ryan took through the New Community Project in Harrisonburg, VA. The course was led by Adam Campbell and Meghan Williamson, with Ted as a guest instructor. Throughout the course, Ryan and Ted found themselves engaged in conversations around how Permaculture can impact human health through smart design. Their dialogues continually spiraled back to the fascinating observation that Permaculture tends to be, as Ted would say, “a collection of competencies.” As their friendship grew, they kept returning to the idea of strengthening the approach to the human element in Permaculture.
Fast forward to 2 years later: Ryan was now working as Executive Director of Project GROWS in Augusta County, VA and was interested in training the Project GROWS farm manager in Permaculture. As we've all heard, necessity is the mother of all invention, and the need for local Permaculture training soon evolved into Ted and Ryan coleading their first course together in Staunton, VA in the Spring of 2012. From the beginning, the goal of this teaching team has been to grow more Permaculture educators, and so even in this first iteration of the course, a teaching apprenticeship was created. Enter Trevor Piersol. As he stepped into the role of apprentice, his talent, enthusiasm, and knowledge was immediately apparent. As a native Virginian with a wealth of local knowledge and hard skills, Trevor shone as a natural teacher with a sturdy presence. At the end of the course, Ryan, Ted and Trevor decided to launch the partnership of the Shenandoah Permaculture Institute.
Finally, in the fall of 2015 Emilie Gooch Tweardy, then new to Virginia, reached out to SPI to inquire about strengthening her Permaculture training, experience, and community. As it happened, another PDC was being offered soon after her inquiry. The SPI team was so excited about Emilie’s enthusiasm that they offered her the Teaching Apprentice role in the upcoming course. During the PDC, it became apparent that Emilie's ease of communication, honed leadership abilities and grasp of complex animal systems added to the dynamic of the team and fit in well with the spirit of feedback and collaboration. Although she'd intended only to dabble with teaching, she immediately felt a strong connection to the work, and quickly expressed her interest to continue teaching with the SPI team. Late in 2015 she was invited into a full SPI partnership.
Currently, the team is thrilled to be teaching and learning together throughout a variety of workshops and courses. They are proud to be teaching at an array of venues, from private institutions, to University sponsored courses, to farm-based intensives. They continue to focus on the original theme of improving coverage and understanding of the human sector in Permaculture instruction, as well as offering teaching apprenticeships that help to inoculate communities with competent, talented teachers.
Ryan is a writer, Farmer, Teacher and former child and family therapist living in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia. While in his 20’s, searching for something more authentic, he dropped out of the life of a Division I basketball player and along with his partner, Joy, moved to Hawaii where he encountered the natural world through surfing. This new sense of rhythm and the good fortune to stumble across the writings of Bill Mollison and Dave Holmgren while studying creative writing and cultural studies at the University of Hawaii drew him to farming as a profession.
In 2004 Ryan and Joy moved back to the valley to start a family and homestead. The homestead dream grew into a farm and in 2010 Ryan and Joy named their farm Dancing Star Farm. Ryan holds a teaching license in Virginia along with his decade long experience as a Permaculture Designer and Educator. In addition, he holds an MA, and Ed.S. in clinical mental health counseling from James Madison University. He joined the Project GROWS team in 2012 where he served as Executive Director until 2016. In 2016, Ryan transitioned to operating Dancing Star Farm full time.
Never one to stop moving, Ryan joined Staunton Public Schools where he taught permaculture design, computer programming/technology, and gardening for three years. After a year spent as a Social and Emotional Learning Coach working in Staunton Elementary schools, Ryan recently accepted a position with Waynesboro School System where he will be working on continued development of the Waynesboro Educational Farm. His primary mission is to integrate the K-12 core curriculum into the school farm experience. In addition Ryan continues working with the community in various professional roles in the mental health field. His training and experience in the human sector provides a great deal of inspiration and influence in how he approaches both instruction and curriculum planning at Shenandoah Permaculture.
Trevor is a farmer, designer, and educator who is dedicated to seeing regenerative agriculture thrive in his home state of Virginia. He is the founding manager of the AMI Urban Farm, a 3-acre fruit and vegetable farm and outdoor classroom located at Virginia School for the Deaf and the Blind. Trevor’s main farming interests involve the organic production of perennial fruits and medicinal herbs, with a focus on easy-care, native plants. He is a self-described plant geek who loves spending time in the forests of Appalachia, foraging, wild crafting, and continually learning from nature. He holds a B.A. from University of Virginia and is a graduate of Allegheny Mountain Institute’s Food and Farming fellowship. Trevor has been practicing, teaching, and writing about Permaculture Design since 2012.
Emilie Gooch Tweardy
Emilie Gooch Tweardy is a permaculture enthusiast, greenhorn farmer, fermentista and creative dabbler. After spending most of her twenties travelling and guiding whitewater rafting trips in central Colorado, she graduated Magna Cum Laude in 2012 with a B.S. in Natural Resources Management from Colorado State University. Since then, she's been working on farms from New York to Costa Rica learning about Permaculture and sustainable living. With a 5 month internship at a Permaculture teaching ranch under her belt, she went on to earn her PDC online under Geoff Lawton. She then earned a 2nd PDC and completed a Teaching Apprenticeship with the Shenandoah Permaculture Institute. After the apprenticeship, she was surprised and delighted to find that she felt strongly called to continue teaching with SPI. Discussions were held, arrangements were made, and she is now a full partner. She and her husband Logan own and operate ShireFolk Farm in Fluvanna County, VA where they are creating a merry and biodiverse farmstead. They focus on producing GMO-free pastured meats and eggs, as well as naturally grown produce, fruit and flowers.
Dr. Ted Butchart
Dr. Butchart recently retired from the Shenandoah Permaculture Institute.
Dr. Butchart has been teaching Permaculture Design for 25 years, starting at Central Rocky Mountain Permaculture, and on through class in the Pacific Northwest and the Mid-Atlantic.
He also brings two decades of experience as a professional designer to his teaching. Specializing in Straw Bale construction and other natural building materials, he was a founding member of the North American Natural Building Colloquium. He was a founding member of the Blue Ridge Permaculture Network and the Shenandoah Permaculture Institute, and is the Director of the GreenFire Institute, teaching Straw Bale construction to owners, builders, architects and building officials.
Dr Butchart is a Naturopathic Physician, treating complex medical cases, chronic diseases and psycho-emotional issues. He uses herbal medicines, homeopathics, nutrition and psychology in his practice. As a co-founder of CoherenceApps he helped invent a system for delivery of homeopathic remedies using cell phones, bringing cutting edge medicine to every village in the world.