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Regenerative Learning at Quail Springs

If a Chumash Indian from a few centuries ago was to leap through time to our day, I’m sure he’d break down in tears to see what we’ve done to his world… and demand to be taken back. Actually, I’m confident he’d even make Iron Eyes Cody look apathetic.

We’re nestled in a high valley near New Cuyama (Highway 166), about three hours north of Los Angeles, California. This is Chumash country. Well, at least it used to be…. Years of (highly inappropriate) cattle ranching, amongst other stupidities, in this arid, high desert region has destroyed what was once a wide ranging forest and a rich ecology. The Chumash are believed to have lived sustainably here for more than 15,000 years, followed by Spanish and then European settlement that whittled, trampled and overgrazed the land down to a bare skeleton of what it once was. A trickle-fed pool of water behind me, above a bone-dry creek bed, is all that is left of a stream and river system that once saw pacific ocean steelhead trout making it all the way up here to spawn. The soils in arid climates are slow to build fertility, and sensitive to misuse.

But a vision of restoration has returned to this region. Enter: Quail Springs Learning Oasis and Permaculture Farm. We are here for yet another of Geoff Lawton’s world renowned Permaculture Design Certificate (PDC) courses. As a clear sign of the times, the course was quickly fully booked – we’ve had 47 eager students descend upon the project, carrying notebooks and palpable anticipation. They have not been disappointed.

For myself, I wasn’t sure what to expect from two weeks camping under the stars in bear and cougar country. Come to think of it, I don’t think I’ve camped for two weeks anywhere. It’s been a week now, and I haven’t been eaten – er, obviously. Indeed, all 47 students are in one piece, and the enthusiasm for what we’re doing here seems to be still on the incline – despite landing in an already excited state.

From my perspective, doing a PDC in such a location has many benefits: 1) you’re seperated from the multitude of distractions that normally battle for your attention; 2) significantly, you get to examine the practical application of your course instruction through the progression of development happening on the land and buildings around you, and; 3) taking a course here is half study, half physical and mental regeneration. The environment, the excellent and abundant organic food, and the stimulating lectures and post-lesson discussions all work together so that even as we’re learning how to put the earth back together, we’re also, as individuals, getting somewhat ‘put back together again’ ourselves.

In regards to point #2 – amongst other things, this site is ‘recreating’ the ancient water system, with a vision of one day seeing the steelhead return. It’s an ambitious target, but all the evidence of permaculture efforts worldwide points to this being – with some persistent application of permaculture principles – entirely doable. Indeed, the work has already begun. This year the flow has grown from a normal 4-5 gallons per minute mid-summer flow to 9 gallons per minute – despite the last two years being especially dry. A start has been made in carefully regreening this region, and it’s wonderful to behold. I am sure that the modern day Chumash, who are conducting stewardship endeavours of their own, would appreciate this planet-healing work.

If you live Stateside, and are considering a PDC course, do put Quail Springs on your short-list.

The photos and captions below will give you a few more insights into life and study here:

Geoff Lawton teaching an attentive class in the strawbale classroom

One of Geoff’s famous slideshows

Outside class – studying earthworks. Two students from Liberia came all the way to learn, and will take the knowledge back to benefit their home community

Learning how to use a laser level

Geoff is standing on one of several gabions installed on the property

Mike on the A-Frame Level

Leeann using the site level

Geoff painting earthworks into the sand

Surveying a proposed swale to divert water from the creek-to-come

Don’t worry – it’s not loaded

A mini dam, swale and overflow in the making

Now it’s their turn

These guys are just plain cute

Told ‘ya

The awesome kitchen staff always impress – I think it’ll be a standing ovation by the end of the course. People are wondering how they’re going to cope when they return home to their standard fare

Seating with a view

Cooling off between classes

It really is an Oasis

Photography: © Craig Mackintosh


  1. It is so extremely important to have a center like Quail Springs demonstrating Permaculture Practices and Techniques in the climate and location that they are in. Great to see all the photos and hopefully those participating will feel supported in their work as they spread out into their local communities.

  2. WoooHoooo. We’ve had such a wonderful time here at Quail Springs! We are generating inspiration drastically needed in our bioregions. Look out and stay tuned and thank you smart beautiful friends!

  3. It was a great pleasure learning from Geoff during the Quail Springs PDC. I’m mid-way, in Austin TX for a couple of days, on my travel home to Mexico. I’m still dreaming about this stuff every night and feel a sense of hope about the world and what is possible. Thank you again.

  4. I’ve been out to Quail Springs on several occasions and I’m in awe of their ever evolving, never disappointing learning center living in grace.

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