St. Pete Ferments : Success Stories from Volunteers Past

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    Greetings! This is the second in our “Success Stories” series, in which we catch up with some of our past volunteers and course participants and share what they’ve been up to since their time with us. We’ve been honored to host many amazing, inspiring, and inspired people over the years and lots of them have gone on to form businesses, projects, and social enterprises using their knowledge of permaculture. If you’ve ever studied or worked with us and have gone on to form your own initiative, we’d love to hear about it! Drop us a line and catch us up on what you’ve been up to.

    Today we’re hearing from Sarah (though we’ll always think of you as Sarita!), whom we had the pleasure of hosting here at Atitlan Organics back in 2016 when she came to spend a couple months as a volunteer on the farm. Since then she went on to found St. Pete Ferments–the first and only business in the area which honors the traditional way of fermenting –in St. Petersburg, Florida. If you’re ever in the neighborhood, check them out!


    Atitlan Organics:  Tell us a little about yourself and your permaculture inspired project.
    Sarah: I was born and raised in St. Petersburg, Fla. My dad was an immigrant from Guatemala, and my mom is from South Carolina. They met at night school, where my mom taught my dad English. 

    Our first home was in south St. Pete. It was a small house and at that point in the 90s, it was a rough neighborhood as well. But what we lacked in fancy possessions, we thrived in locally grown food. I remember being a toddler, eating fresh fruit from the backyard. We had papaya, avocado, lychee, loquats, and carambola. 

    Atitlan Organics blog, St. Pete Ferments

    Through life, I was brought up in academia. My dad was a surgeon in Guatemala, and my mom was an English teacher in the local school system. I had pursued a public relations career for a few years after college, but then my desires changed. At this time (2013) I had begun fermenting kombucha, although I didn’t even realize at the time I was practicing fermentation. Once I learned there was a whole world of fermented foods I could create, I never stopped. After some time in corporate jobs, I quit everything and started traveling and working on organic farms. 

    I had never really met anyone else interested in fermentation until I began my travels. While working on farms, I saw the farm to ferment process. It was also the first time I had seen a fermentation business (Love Probiotics in San Marcos). I had been told by people for years that I should sell my ferments, but I always shrugged it off. Once I began researching other fermentation companies, I felt like it was something I could do. 

    Flash forward to 6 months of pure hell with the department of agriculture, I was finally legitimate and licensed to sell ferments. I spent my very last dollar getting my business together, which was both terrifying and thrilling all at once. 

    We’ve now been running for just over a year and share a kitchen space and retail store front near Downtown St. Pete. We make a variety of sauerkraut, kimchi, seasonal pickled veggies, kombucha and beet kvass. As part of creating awareness and implementing knowledge of fermentation, I also co-host the annual Florida Ferment Fest in the fall. 

    Atitlan Organics blog, St. Pete Ferments

    AO: What excites you about the work you do?
    I literally get to bring life to food. We’re the only company in the Tampa Bay Area doing what we do, making fermented food and beverages the ancient way. When people find us, they get so excited that they finally found a product that resonates with them, both for flavor and for health. 

    But the thing that excites me most about this company is teaching workshops. To be able to extend this passion beyond just a product being sold has been so fulfilling. To be able to teach someone how to extend the life of their fruits or vegetables is just amazing. You can tell how grateful people are to learn this lost practice of fermentation. 

    AO: How do the ideas of permaculture live in your life and your enterprise?
     Living in a metropolitan city definitely proposes some challenges. Our farm season has suffered because of hurricanes that hit us last fall, and we don’t have very many local farms to begin with. So sourcing locally in big quantities has been difficult, but we always source from local farms whenever possible. I’ve met a lot of growers along the way, and many of them have become good friends of mine. Despite the concrete jungle, I believe there is a great network of permies, farmers, and all types of ecologically like-minded people here in St. Pete. 

    One thing we really strive for is zero-waste. We compost all of our food scraps to a local school gardening non-profit, implement a bottle return program, and we only use compostables at markets. We live in the most densely populated county in Florida, so to reduce as much waste as possible is extremely important. 

    Atitlan Organics blog, St. Pete Ferments

    We also like to share knowledge about what’s in season and highlight the ebb and flow of the Florida farm season in order to support our local economy and local farm workers. A lot of people believe you can’t grow very much here, which just isn’t true. I like to tell the stories of the seeds, tend to my plants and propagate them, and have been fostering compost volunteers since I came back from Atitlan. Plants are amazing, and I want more people to realize that.

    AO: What did you do with Atitlan Organics, and what did you get out of your time with us?
    I volunteered for a couple months, learning about natural building, plant propagation, growing mushrooms, how to harvest chickens for meat, animal farming, how to be zero waste, how to compost… I could go on and on. Even though I didn’t do a PDC, I walked away with so much thanks to my time at Atitlan Organics. It is honestly one of the highlights of my life, one I always tell people. 

    AO: What advice would you give to someone who is dreaming of starting their own sustainable project or business?
    Oh, ’tis what the world needs! There are so many needs when it comes to sustainability. Always reach higher and ask those who are in your sustainability circles to challenge you. Remember it’s easier to be negative than to be optimistic. So many people said I was silly for starting a business with no business background. I did not listen to them. It may take a while and it sounds cliche, but if you keep going just know that it will happen. Not all days will be easy, but having “stick-to-itness” will really take you far. There is nothing like waking up and doing exactly what you want to everyday, knowing that it’s going to improve the lives of those in your community. 

    AO: Is there anything else you’d like us to share?
    One of my main points of focus for 2018 is addressing food justice issues in our city. More and more people are living with food insecurity, and it is a growing problem. And about 25% of children in this county are food insecure. It is especially bad because when kids are off for the summer, they are most vulnerable to be without food and not much is growing here during that time. We just have too many people living in food deserts, and it breaks my heart because many privileged people don’t even understand what exactly that entails. 

    Atitlan Organics blog, St. Pete Ferments

    We have many migrant workers within 150 miles of us who are not being treated fairly and are having a hard time earning citizenship and fair wages. These are issues that keep me awake at night, so I’m currently working on a publication platform to address this in our city as well as working with other local businesses and food justice groups to figure out what we can do as a business in helping this problem. I urge people to be conscious about these problems and offer solutions because it is something that is much bigger than us.

    Bravo, Sarah! We admire the passion, energy, and hard work you put into making your dream a reality. Keep up with St. Pete Ferments on Facebook!

    Atitlan Organics blog

    Studying Permaculture and Natural Building in Central America offers amazing opportunities to learn from indigenous cultures, rich natural patterns, and enormous diversity. Permaculture in Central America is representative of the edge effect or Edge Valuing Principle of Design. As one of the world’s centres of biodiversity, Guatemala attracts people from all over the world interested in learning through nature. Permaculture practices and can be seen in action via the surviving indigenous traditions that are common in Guatemala. Studying permaculture and natural building in Central America offers designers great opportunities to learn from diverse groups of people in incredibly diverse natural settings. 

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    If you are interested in arranging a visit or tour, volunteering, or ordering products from the farm, please fill out this simple form and check your inbox for more details

    Nicolas Hernandez Chiyal

    Born and raised in the town of Tzununa, which lies right below Atitlan Organics, Nicholas and Shad have worked since Day 1, helping to craft the this amazing landscape. Nichloas is a supreme ninja farmer with skills beyond explanation. Visitors are endlessly impressed with his resourcefulness, ingenuity, and sheer motivation. Nicholas now owns and operates Las Ensaladas de Atitlan Organics, a business that sells organic produce to over 50 restaurants, hotels, and stores around lake Atitlan.

    Neal Hegarty

    Neal is originally from Ireland. He grew up on a dairy farm and has been around animals all his life. He studied agriculture in Ireland and has worked as a permaculturist for the past 10 years. Neal was the Volunteer Manager at Atitlan Organics for 2 years before co-founding his own Permaculture-based enterprise, Abundant Edge Farm, in Tzununa. He brings a wealth of experience, enthusiasm, and energy into each Intro to Permaculture Course and Permaculture Design Certification Course and we’re happy to continue to collaborate with him!

    Rony Lec

    Rony is one of the world’s leading experts in permaculture and Mayan ancestral knowledge. Rony has spent the last 20 years teaching and implementing permaculture throughout Central, South and North America focusing on promoting food sovereignty and preserving biodiversity for the survival of Indigenous communities.

    Through his extensive work with Indigenous communities on traditional ecological knowledge, seed saving, native plants, local/global food movements, livelihood security, and the interaction between communities and the environment, he has made a key contribution to the empowerment of Indigenous people around the world. Rony is a co-founder of IMAP.

    Zach Loeks

    Hailing from Ottawa, Canada where he and his partner run the 50-acre Kula Permaculture Farm, Zach brings a wealth of knowledge and experience to the course. He works as an educator, designer, consultant and farmer, with an emphasis on integrating diversity, conserving soil and maximizing farm ecosystem services while maintaining high productivity.

    Last year Zach published The Permaculture Market Garden, which explores ways that permaculture can be scaled up be a profitable whole-systems enterprise. Zach is a leading figure in permaculture, who brings a new and exciting vision of how it can be integrated into the wider community and marketplace.

    Ashley McDonnell

    Ashley’s work focuses on resurrecting our relationship to the natural world through the development of earth based skills that deepen our connection to place while increasing our sense of sovereignty and resilience. Devoted to the arts of permaculture, natural building, herbalism and birth work as her mediums, Ashley explores with humility the diverse modalities that support us in living in right relationship with the world around us. She views permaculture as a practice that not only creates healthy ecological communities but one that helps to reweave the very fabric of who we are as people. Her work is an offering to the future.

    Holly Mech

    Holly fell in love with yoga because of the sense of connection she felt every time she came to her mat. She began teaching yoga in Chicago in 2011. Her desire to deepen her teaching and personal practice led her to continue her yoga education in California, Bali, Australia and Guatemala. Holly now travels around the world teaching yoga and facilitating yoga teacher trainings. She enjoys helping new teachers sequence yoga classes and incorporate philosophy into their teachings. Her classes are creative and dynamic with an emphasis on making yoga accessible to everyone.

    Holly studied English at the University of Illinois at Chicago and frequently draws inspiration for her classes from literature and poetry. When she’s not on the yoga mat she enjoys exploring nature, singing, dancing and working with textiles.

    Laura Palmieri

    Laura ‘Lala’ Palmieri is a clinical herbalist, a biologist, plant and fungi lover and grower. She offers health consultations to balance body, mind and soul working with medicinal herbs and mushrooms. Her approach to health integrates the knowledge of many ancient traditions and teachers, fusing spirituality with nature, and science with alchemy through the transformation of the elements.

    Lala has spent her years in dialogue with Nature, which has fueled her passion to integrate scientific knowledge and the connection with all beings to help humanity. She integrates her practice with cooking, gardening, and exploring ecosystems. She teaches and facilitates herbal clinics and programs in permaculture, herbalism, botany, fermentation, and medicinal mushroom cultivation, with a regenerative earth care approach and techniques that are accessible to most. She and Sarah co-created the Envision and Cosmic Converge Herbal First Aid Clinics, other relief Clinics in Guatemala for the volcano eruption. You will find Lala crafting remedies for her diverse communities in Guatemala and Costa Rica, where she is actively creating a world with integrated healthcare.

    Sarah Wu

    Sarah is a clinical herbalist of 20 years, studying and practicing planetary eclectic, regenerative herbalism with a foundation in Wise Woman Reclaiming philosophies. Influenced by global traditions, Sarah focuses on local food-based healing and ethnobotanical traditions. She leads trainings and workshops in herbal medicine, Permaculture Design Courses, Therapeutic Deep Ecology, Social Permaculture, field-to-the-plate holistic nutrition, herbal first aid and Tarot. She is a passionate mentor and educator, who believes in the teacher’s role in unlocking the innate wisdom of the student. Sarah is the co-founder of the Village Witches project, and is a Co-Founder and Co-producer of Envision Festival.

    Don Fransisco Simon

    Don Fransisco knows the lands and waters of Tzununa deeper than most anyone alive. His intuitive handling of plants makes the whole system glow, and he is an avid duck enthusiast, maintaining the breeding flocks at Duck Willow, along with his own homestead flock. Aside from that, he oversees the establishment of the perennial agroforestry and aquaculture systems on Duck Willow Farms.

    David 'Brock' Barker

    Brock Barker was raised as an outdoorsman in the marshes and forests of south Louisiana, where he developed a passion for all things plants. After studying horticulture at university, Brock has worked in nurseries, landscaping outfits, and in the facilitation of a horticultural therapy program, and more. His primary ‘work’ for the last 12 years has been developing a 10 acre homestead which serves as personal garden of Eden and educational space for volunteers and workshops. Brock’s proficiency in areas such as mushroom cultivation/ foraging, fermentation, and botany, combined with his infectious enthusiasm make him an integral part of our team.

    Jeremy Dexter Fellows

    Jeremy has focused ten years of study, mentorship and implementation of permaculture design systems back home in Massachusetts. With many years of experience in botany and horticulture, he is fascinated by the world of plants. After working many years in Guatemala, Jeremy has dedicated his focus to land and water management systems that lend to ecological acceleration and social integration through food production. Jeremy now runs granja tzikin, works as a designer and consultant with Regenera and teaches in the Atitlan Organics teachers guild.

    Julia Forest

    Julia is an international yoga teacher, birth doula, women’s health advocate, and closet artist who is passionate about health, environmentalism and empowered birth. She is co-creator of the Sacred Birth Yoga & Doula Training, is founding director of Awakened Spirit Yoga and co-founder of the Wellkind Foundation, a non-profit that focuses on community empowerment and wellbeing through the lens of permaculture. She also created the Sacred Earth Yoga Training, the first yoga teacher training program that combines yoga, mindfulness, permaculture and leadership to transform lives and communities.

    Coming Soon

    Intuitive Plant Propagation

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    Your Curriculum

    Your curriculum for the Permaculture Design Certificate includes 20 short courses consumed over a period of 7 weeks, with a final design project to be finalised in the 8th week.

    Week 1: The Spirit of Permaculture

    Week 2: Design Methodologies

    Week 3: Water and Earthworks

    Week 4: Soil and Compost

    Week 5: Plant Power

    Week 6: Animals

    Week 7: Permaculture Niches

    Week 8: Final Design Project

    The Final Design Project Course Module becomes available after completing all of the Content for Week 1 and Week 2. The module serves as a guide for your final design project. We suggest that you work on this throughout the course. The 8th call is reserved for students to present their final design projects. Upon completion of the Final Design Project and all of the Course Content, a Permaculture Design Certificate is awarded.

    Shad Qudsi

    Shad Qudsi has over 13 years experience in organic and commercial gardening and farming. He is certified in Permaculture Design and has over 3 years experience in permaculture design consulting. After graduating from Johns Hopkins University with a double major in Applied Math and Psychology, Shad and his wife, Colleen, moved to Central America with only vague goals of farming at some point in the near future. In January of 2010, Shad and his wife bought and moved onto a very small farm located in the traditional Mayan village of Tzununa, which on the north shore of Lake Atitlan, in Guatemala. The farm developed into Atitlan Organics and now mainly focuses on greens and chickens, a large edible and useful plant nursery, a food forest, and training and education.  Shad is an enthusiastic teacher who truly believes in the work he is doing. Human resiliency cannot be erased from the landscape and now, it is coming back with a loving grace.