The Shenandoah Permaculture Institute is a collection of competencies whose mission is to "inoculate communities with the tools and strategies for health and resilience, 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.
In 2010, 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 Permaculture Design Course 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 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 co-leading 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, 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 is certified in Permaculture Design and is a permaculture 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 is also co-founder of Soul Valley Cider Co.- a hard cider beverage company currently in the start-up phase. 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 and permaculture designer from the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia. The big questions that drive his work are those at the heart of good permaculture design: How do we live happy, healthy lives in harmony with the earth? How can we blend traditional and modern knowledge to consciously design a better world? How do we move from where we are to where we want to be using practical solutions?
In 2017, after many years of learning, planning, and working on other farms, Trevor and his wife Jenna started Wild Rose Orchard in Mount Sidney, VA – a diversified pick-your-own orchard producing fruits, berries, herbs, and pastured pork using organic practices. Their vision is to develop a living laboratory for permaculture design including a commercial-scale food forest, silvopasture system, passive solar greenhouse, farm-scale water catchment, multifunctional riparian buffer, and more.
Trevor holds a B.A. in History from the University of Virginia and received his Permaculture Design Certificate from the Blue Ridge Permaculture Network. He is a graduate of the Allegheny Mountain Institute fellowship program and has a certificate in herbalism from Sacred Plant Traditions. Trevor's 10+ years of experience in agriculture include managing multiple regenerative farms and training with some of the top designers in the permaculture field including Dave Jacke and Darren Doherty. Trevor’s favorite thing about teaching permaculture design is connecting with the fascinating and diverse students who are drawn to this incredibly important (and fun!) work.
Emilie Gooch Tweardy
Emilie Gooch Tweardy is a permaculture enthusiast, first generation farmer, mother to 1 little hobbit, and a 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. After school she spent a few years interning, volunteering and working on farms from New York to Costa Rica learning about Permaculture, fermentation, animal husbandry and sustainable living. After a 5 month Permaculture internship in 2013, 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 has now been a full partner since 2016. 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.
But, more importantly for him, he joined a diverse community. John participated in the SPI Fall 2021 PDC and later served as a TA for the Spring 2022 PDC. He continues to advance his studies in food forest design, herbalism, homesteading, and more.
John is a consultant for SPI and is also the author of staffordpermaculture.com, where he seeks to assist residents of his local community with information to help them take the next steps in permaculture design and implementation.
John received his J.D. from the University of Tulsa, and his MA from the National Defense University.