Come and join the Off-grid Permaculture farm in southern Appalachian mountains, USA


United States

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 Min stay requested: at least 2 weeks

  • Description


    Experience an off-grid permaculture farm, homestead & teaching center in the southern Appalachian mountain region, near Berea, Kentucky. The farm has been built from scratch on mostly forested land with no road access or infrastructure in 2001. Surrounded by Daniel Boone National Forest, it sits on a ridge above the beautiful Clear Creek Valley. I began by creating a gravity-fed water system from a spring in the forest, clearing an overgrown meadow and planting fruit and nut “food forest” trees. After building an outhouse (compost toilet) and an open-air kitchen shack from recycled and salvaged materials in 2002, I started camping on the land. Over the years, I built a passive solar tiny house and other farm buildings, using locally harvested wood, local straw and clay (dug to make ponds) for an earthen floor, clay straw walls and natural plasters. Another passive solar building houses the small solar electric system and a freezer; its solarized south room is a small potting shed for starting plants. Most recently I built a granary for grain/dry bean shelling & milling. A porch on the granary provides space for workshops, R&R and music during parties.

    Since 2005 this farm has hosted many dozens of folks through WorldWide Opportunities on Organic Farms, service learning programs and workshops in permaculture & natural building, until cutting back in 2018. We are new to Workaway. Availability will depend on my off-farm consulting schedule.

    Throughout the year we plant and harvest a wide variety of market vegetable crops, fruits, nuts, herbs, flowers, forest medicinals, ramps & mushrooms. We sell at local farmers' markets & stores, through CSA memberships and online. Since 2003, I have grown, dried, shelled & processed dry beans, popcorn & heirloom cornmeal on the farm without tillage or mechanization--incorporating both the wisdom of the late Japanese rice farmer, Masanobu Fukuoka ("One Straw Revolution") and "3-Sisters" polyculture cornfield practices I learned from 8 years working with Mayan farmers in Guatemala. We preserve farm products by fermenting, bottling, freezing, drying, cold storage, making herbal salves & tinctures, and using a homemade solar dehydrator for fruits, chilis, herbs & teas.

    Living off-grid and from locally sustained resources will be a big change for folks accustomed to modern conveniences and is not for everyone. It is a place to learn about homesteading with very little money and practicing permaculture principles in food, resource and energy production, housing and local economic systems. It has been a life-changing experience for many folks who desire to learn to live close to the earth and to regenerate our soil, water, resources and communities.

    English and Spanish are spoken.

  • Type of help

    Type of help

    General Maintenance
    Cooking / shopping
    Help with Eco project
    Animal care
    Help with Computers / internet

  • Cultural exchange and learning opportunities

    Cultural exchange and learning opportunities

    Volunteers have a unique opportunity at our Farm to learn many skills in permaculture practice, growing food, natural building, and living off-grid from local resources. What you learn will depend on the season and length of time you spend at the farm. SZome examples of skills you can learn:

    -Growing and foraging nutrient dense food without soil tillage.
    -Planting, care, harvest, processing and storage of a wide variety of food crops.
    -Learning to eat locally, to prepare meals from on-farm & local whole foods.
    -Marketing and educating people about whole, sustainably-grown food.
    -Processing value-added products, dried herbs/fruits/chilies, salves, luffas, garlic braids, etc.
    -Processing foods by bottling, fermenting, freezing, solar dehydrating, kombucha, salves, etc.
    -Building and maintaining healthy, living soil.
    -Growing, harvesting & processing staple grains & dry beans for consumption and poultry forage (without mechanization or tillage).
    -Using solar energy for cooking, maintaining and using solar electricity, conserving energy and resources.
    -Construction skills in wood framing, use of salvage and natural building.
    --Living with locally derived energy, resources, water, nutrients & food, without outside utilities and minimal external resources or money.
    -Caring for farm animals: chickens, ducks, geese, livestock guardian dog.
    -Animal, agroforestry and perennial crop systems.
    -Capturing rainwater on site in cisterns, swales and ponds.
    -Creating resilient soils and productive crops without irrigation, fertilizers or pesticides, mechanization or tillage.

    The Appalachian region surrounding us offers a unique culture in contrast to much of the USA. We participate in many local music and cultural events, community gatherings and events. Annually, large community events are held at the farm and we are part of a thriving and diverse community of homesteaders, natural buildings and permaculturalists.

    The land provide wonderful opportunities for hikes to rock outcrops, springs, waterfalls, for wildflower identification, foraging mushrooms, ramps and other forest foods and medicinals.

    The surrounding region also has several caves, waterfalls, and forested hiking paths. Among the many parks in the region is the Red River Gorge (2 hours driving distance), where rock climbers from across the globe come to test their skills. Three miles away on Clear Creek is the Anglin Falls preserve, with a waterfall of more than 75 feet (23 meters) and an immense diversity of Appalachian wildflowers and medicinal plants.

  • Help


    Openings are available mid May to mid-October. Workaway-ers contribute an average 25 hours/week to projects at the Farm, from which they learn a diverse range of skills in permaculture practice, farming, eating locally, homesteading and building infrastructure (see below).  

    Work days are Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday, and alternating at Saturday morning Farmers' Markets in Berea. The rest of weekends and Wednesdays are free time. We'll work together mornings after which we share lunch in the open air kitchen “shack.” Usually once/week we also do an 1-2 hour evening harvest for market or transplanting of heat-sensitive seedlings. In cooler parts of the season, we may decide as a group to change this schedule to start later in the morning.

    Previous farming, gardening or carpentry experience is a plus, but not necessary. The most important attribute is the desire to learn, to live close to the earth, and a willingness to do the work it requires.

    We take turns preparing meals, do dishes and kitchen clean up together after lunches together (see accommodations, below). Kitchen & homestead chores are rotated each week so that everyone gets a chance to learn and do different things. Rotating chores include tending to the solar food dryer and ice-box, poultry care/egg gathering, compost toilet cleaning, making KimChi, Kombucha, etc. Other than household chores, afternoons are free for hikes in the forest, exploring the area, town trips, reading and relaxation.

  • Languages spoken

    Languages spoken

    English and Spanish

  • Accommodation


    Simple living off-grid is not for everyone, but has been life-changing for those who desire to live closer to the earth. Accommodations are rustic in a beautiful setting. Simple roofed tent platforms are at the shaded edge of the woods for sleeping and hanging out. Approximately 11 x 12 feet (3.25 x 3.5 meters), these have tarp roofs and a level wood floor covered with recycled carpets. Some bedding and foam sleeping mats are available. I have one smaller "2-person" tent available.

    An open-air kitchen shelter built of salvaged and recycled materials and a rustic patio with bamboo & tarped roof are lit by kerosene and solar LED lights. This is where we cook from April to October. (Because my tiny house kitchen is so small and I love cooking and eating outdoors, I often use it April to November). Folks on the farm take turns with meal prep, dishes and kitchen clean up after lunches. The rule in the outdoor kitchen is to wash your own dishes and clean-up after yourself after other meals. Meal provisions provided are local, whole, non-packaged foods--our farm produce, home-canned, dried, fermented or frozen, our dry beans & grains, herbs and eggs, along with bulk-purchased staples. We eat largely plant-based, whole-foods and as local as possible.
    Breakfast is individual as folks have different habits. The evening meal varies as people make different plans--some may be gone, folks make dinner on their own or together. Sometimes the lunch prep person makes enough to have evening leftovers.
    What it means to eat a local based diet may be the most important thing to think about before coming. For some is a big growing and learning experience to not use packaged, prepared foods from a grocery store, but to prepare meals based on what is grown on the farm or sourced locally from the farmers' market or farm store. This means the farm’s produce, dry beans & grains, and occassionally eggs. We supplement with bulk staples from the food co-op.  Coffee is not provided, but there is locally-roasted, fair trade coffee available in Berea for those who want it.

    This is a rural setting with no trash or recycling pick-up; there is a “pack-in, pack-out” policy on any packaged or bottled foods & beverages.

    A spring in the forest, gravity fed to the farm, provides bathing, kitchen and drinking water (the best water you’ll ever taste).

    Bath facilities are rustic: an enclosed outdoor solar shower and attached “outhouse”—a “Humanure” sawdust bucket toilet. Covering with wood shavings instead of flushing requires a bit more personal relationship with your poo. Though most people are gratified to be able to enrich the soil instead of polluting drinking water, for some this requires an adjustment. I use the outhouse all winter, but do have a tub (and woodstove) in the tiny house to use when solar shower season ends. My simple homemade solar shower heats water in black tubes encasing a black tub on top of the adjacent outhouse, providing enough hot water for a couple showers before it needs time to reheat. Until mid-summer, showers are warmest in the afternoon before the sun goes down. In the middle of summer, we also enjoy the cold tub in the forested creek (5 minute hike).

    The farm is totally off-grid, with limited solar electricity, passable cell phone service but no internet at the farm, except the occasional loan of a WIFI hotspot from the public library (the wait list means I usually get it about once/month) which all can use. Folks with Verizon or Sprint are best able to get data service and use their phones as a hotspot. Internet is available in Berea coffee & bagel shops, restaurants, as well as public & college libraries (20 minutes by automobile).

  • What else ...

    What else ...

    Berea is a small college community which boasts numerous arts, crafts, music, & sustainability events, urban community gardens, and a solar electric park which supplies Berea's electrical grid. The fabric of our small village includes an excellent public library, locally-owned coffee shops, bakery, restaurants (including a homemade bagel shop). This area is home to many homesteaders, organic farmers, potters, natural builders, permaculturalists, woodworkers and musicians. Many live on Clear Creek, near the farm, including 9 former volunteers who have stayed in the community. We have weekly community coffees, regular community gatherings, music & poetry events in a renovated old one-room school house. Clear Creek also hosts a solar-powered community music & arts festival using only composting toilets (in September). Opportunities to hike and explore the outdoors are endless in this part of the world--whether in the beautiful forest of the Farm, local caves and National Forests, Anglin Falls (2 miles away), the Pinnacles (overlooking Berea) , or the rock faces of Red River Gorge, a climbing destination for people across the globe (2 hours away).

    Greyhound bus arrives in Berea 2 times/day, from the north and south. With prior planning, we can arrange to pick you up. Closest airport is Lexington, KY, one hour away. Because public transport is abysmal in the USA, many folks use online ride shares. Your own transportation is a plus in this rural area. Biking along Clear Creek is easy and beautiful. Several volunteers have bicycled to Berea, on 9 miles of steep and curving roads.

  • A little more information

    A little more information

    • Internet access

    • Limited internet access

      Limited internet access

    • We have pets

    • We are smokers

  • How many Workawayers can stay?

    How many Workawayers can stay?


  • ...

    Hours expected

    4-5 hours a day, 5 days a week

presenting the "Hoopdie" tent platform, made from salvage! (other tent platforms are A-frames)
mid-summer at the Farm
outdoor patio at kitchen
Host ref number: 529253616844