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Tuesday, December 11 , 2018, 6:01 pm | Fair 62º


Quail Springs a Living Lesson in Permaculture


Remote retreat provides hands-on sustainable life experience with a practical application.


As sustainability takes on a growing role in today’s society, the concept of permaculture has become an important focus for those seeking to improve the quality of our lives. For the last few years, Quail Springs has been a living laboratory for those developments.

“Quail Springs is an important place to have because people need a place to learn permaculture,” 13-year-old Cody Leeds said of the 450-acre farm in the picturesque upper Cuyama Valley, in Santa Barbara’s backcountry.

Co-founders Warren Brush and Cynthia Harvan started the nonprofit Wilderness Youth Project in 1997 to teach youth from diverse cultural and socio-economic backgrounds various outdoor earth skills.  The organization’s charges spent much time learning these skills in the Cuyama Valley.  In 2004, Brush and Harvan were able to buy the Quail Springs site in New Cuyama through the generosity of a local Santa Barbara family foundation.

Now the sister organization to the Wilderness Youth Project, Quail Springs has become a living study of a working permaculture design.  The emphasis in a working permaculture farm is to ensure the land is used in a sustainable way by maintaining diversity, stability and resilience of natural ecosystems.


“This nonprofit organization focuses on education and hands-on work,” noted Paul Swenson, Quail Springs’ applied ecologist and caretaker.

Workshops, residencies and internships are offered to both youth and adults. The Quail Springs Web site sports a healthy list of programs, including the Art of Permaculture, True Nature Intensive Permaculture, Nature Awareness and Permaculture Design Certification.  The latter course, which runs Aug. 16-27, will be taught by Geoff Lawton, a renowned permaculture designer and director of the Permaculture Research Institute of Australia.  The tuition for most programs includes meals and camping on-site.

When asked why it’s important for the general public to learn about permaculture, Swenson offered that one of the top five environmental issues we should be aware of is how our modern-day agricultural system works. With the use of pesticides, soil loss and a severe water table drop, our business-as-usual approach to growing food is affecting the environment in negative ways that can only build upon each other.  Swenson hopes that when people are more aware of choices, they will support farms that produce food in a sustainable way.


Cody, who was first introduced to Quail Springs through the Wilderness Youth Project, now enjoys spending some of his weekends there to learn even more about working the land.  An environmentally spirited young man, he says he has appreciated learning how to mulch, work with trenches to water garden beds, and plant vegetables so close together that there’s no room for weeds to grow.

In just two hours, his mother drives him from Santa Barbara to Quail Springs, where he says he loves the way the land is so different — from arid terrain to cool, deep ponds.  One day, Cody experienced the sight of several hundred swallows circling and diving around the pond by cattails.  This, he shared, is part of the magic of Quail Springs.

Click here for more information on Quail Springs. Upcoming events include next weekend’s free garden preparation and planting. Those curious about permaculture are invited to receive a tour of the farm and learn about site design while enjoying the company of community. All ages are welcome and no experience is necessary. Click here to request more information.



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