How To Realize Personal Metamorphosis In Two Weeks
By Theo Stephan


Welcome to my typical day: awake; weed, water, prune, make coffee and a smoothie, attend to daily admin, customer service, text family and friends requiring attention, try to think about making time for lunch, post to farm social media networks, open farm stand, engage customers, teach, do more admin, more emails, eat dinner, check social media networks again, sleep, dream, REPEAT.


I was ready for a change, but how, when, and where? I was intrigued when I learned about Quail Springs Permaculture Design Certification, but how could I ever take TWO WEEKS OFF OF LIFE?!


A bit of history: I became an organic farmer, growing olives for California Certified Organic (CCOF) olive oil after 20 years of growing a high-paced design and marketing business. Having founded my own firm at 23, I paid my dues early then decided to cut the corporate umbilical cord in my early 40’s, adopt two young girls from Nepal, and plant an olive farm in California. Not one day goes by that I don’t hear a random customer exclaim, “I want your life!” What do they want? Independence from the corporate world: CHECK. Freedom to make one’s own decisions: CHECK. The laissez faire life of a wine country property owner: NOT! Farming is hard work, long hours, no corporate paycheck…ah, but the benefits of freedom, hands-on harvests, and “that life” propel me deeper into the dirt.


I do love what I do, but something was missing. I plant seeds every season, pruning trees and parts of life as needed. Living is sustained by customers at our tasting bar, where I love to engage in all aspects of healthy eating. Raised by immigrant parents in the Midwest, moving to California with an intention to grow olives for olive oil meant more than just switching careers. It meant giving myself permission to create symbiosis with the environment, to realize a stronger spiritual and physical core. Terroir affecting flavors, brilliant endless skies, a rainy season for just a few months, everything was new. The cultural life I was brought into combined with my farmy, earth hugging, people-energy spirit became a fusion of my Mediterranean heritage and new life I call Caliterranean.


Time spins along. I’m celebrating my 17th harvest this season a new in personal and professional transformation because I took those seemingly impossible two weeks; I took myself to Quail Springs. A beautiful unification of students from around the world and an introduction to my own soulfulness permeated me at their International Permaculture Design Certification (IPDC) course. In speaking with many of my IPDC group, several weeks after the completion of our course, one thread rises as the strongest rope now connecting us around the globe to each other.


Above the whispering canyon, the drone we used to measure our project site couldn’t capture this commonality amongst us all– perception vs reality. Every one of us perceived going to Quail Springs as a commitment to learning the vocabulary of sustainability, new farming techniques, examples of soil conservation, and the aspects of permaculture for which we were so diligently seeking. Yet, nothing could prepare us for inner and outer beauty enduring the ever-changing California wilderness this learning center inhabits. Surrounded on three sides by the Los Padres National Forest, we were all ready for a juggernaut of information. Not one of us was expecting the ultimate in metamorphosis.

As an integral part of the QS community, Jack Thrift, offers, “We see social and environmental design as being equally critical to the success of development and restoration projects. Ultimately we are fundamentally designing around the needs and desires of people. People must be the stewards of their own work or it will always need continual outside support. It is only through living in relationship with each other that we will find paths to solve our environmental imperatives.”


Jack goes deeper to share, “Quail Springs has changed my life by creating an opportunity to create meaningful changes on a tangible landscape in the context of a powerful sense of community. We have pushed ourselves to the edges (degraded arid environment, under-resourced community, tight teamwork under high stakes conditions) and we have found these edges to be incredibly fruitful. The edges are fruitful in the impact they can have shaping global issues of climate change and systemic injustice but also in the internal landscape of the people working on the issues.”


Permaculture’s Planet care/People care can be read about in a book. You can define bullet points to help you remember the terms, but you can’t read about the inner dynamics of a multi-cultural group–the surfer dude from Venice, California whose new friendship blossomed with the marine biologist from Barbados.  The mixed race couple in their 60’s—she from Wisconsin, he from Ecuador where they live now stewarding the land of his ancestry. The PHd from UCLA, the 26-year old landscape designer from Boston, a farmer from Ethiopia now living in Minneapolis, wanting to return to his native lands to teach the newfound practices to his family.

The next two weeks rolled into hundreds of lessons—comprehensive learning, captivated by stories of our teachers’ immersions in all aspects of life and how it relates to permaculture theory. We eagerly submerged into a sea of Quail Spring’s vibrations, teaming together to realize omnipresent ebbs and flows of regenerating the 400 acres of outdoor classroom.


Being a part of the QS community for two weeks meant swimming into juicy conversations when least expected, creating meaningful spectrums. Stepping inside my soul, I heard the dreams of younger students meshed with that of us older students now making conscious deviations in our lives. We all wanted to become true changemakers for the planet, for people. Teachers from around the world enhanced our exchanges with their own experiences as we all realized “eurekas” of how we could take these learnings forward into our communities…and how we might all stay connected at a myriad of levels after the course was finished, and hold onto the essence of new appreciations illuminating our minds. The PDCs at Quail Springs bring dormancy to life by teaching us our own human paths with time and nature showing its cyclical self, removing us for just awhile from our linear lives. All this in just two weeks!


I loved waking up in the Cuyama River canyon, surrounded by the Los Padres National Forest, hearing the breakfast bell and being propelled to a delightful breakfast..The food prepared and served there is fit for a global audience of chefs, no lie. The professional staff at Quail Springs are all about capability, proficiency, knowledge, culture, and kindred spiritedness in how they share their lives with PDC participants. Functional multiplicity integrated with the learnings of design science, diversity of building fertile systems within our own personal and professional ecologies never tasted so good or felt so nourishing!


For over a decade, Quail Springs has been implementing intense permaculture practice into their landscape, creating significant carbon farming gains. These on-site practices continue to develop into more educational programs for all ages and cultures. Collaborations with other carbon farms and land stewards on California’s Central Coast are creating an innovative collaboration working to preserve and make drylands more agriculturally productive. The resulting techniques are being shared with world leaders in environmental resilience and through PDC offerings.


I am honored to have completed the IPDC course, feeling a renewal in my personal and professional direction to make a contribution toward saving our planet. A vibrant currency now pulses through my mind and body on a daily basis. Warren Brush, the ultimate PDC guru who teaches around the world, promised us on our first day that we would never look at land—any land—in the same way again. Beyond being right, he left an imprint of resiliency on our hearts and our minds.