Meet our Instructors
They’re engaging, dynamic, deeply knowledgeable, experienced and, at times, completely hilarious.
Natalie Bogwalker: Founder of Wild Abundance and Instructor for Primitive Skills, Homesteading, Natural Building, Organic Gardening
Natalie is the founder and director of the Wild Abundance and the Firefly Gathering, both in and around Asheville, NC. Natalie teaches and shares tools and skills that are essential for living harmoniously within the natural systems of the earth.
She lives in her lovely, growing homestead nestled deep in community in the Southern Appalachians. She spends her time harvesting in the wild, building, gardening, planting, putting up food, growing, teaching and scheming about how to introduce more people to Earth-based living, all while worshiping the beauty around her.
She teaches at the Chestnut School of Herbal Medicine, the Maps meet and Earthskills Rendezvous, and has given talks at FSU, Southern Adventist University, Tulane University, Ohio University, Vanderbilt University, Western Washington University, and many other places. Natalie was also featured in Morgan Spurlock’s documentary Freedom in America and appeared in the National Geographic series: Live Free or Die, in an episode titled “Butchers and Builders.” Natalie holds a B.A. in ecological agriculture and, more importantly, has studied with teachers who have deeply enriched her perspective, including Juliet Blankespoor, Margaret Mathewson and Frank Cook.
Alex Kilgore: Instructor of Primitive Skills and Natural Building
Alex has been learning and teaching primitive and traditional living skills since 1995. He began with a formative apprenticeship with Steve Watts, the founder of the Society of Primitive Technology and director of the Aboriginal Studies Program at the Schiele Museum of Natural History. In 1997, Alex completed his degree in Outdoor Experiential Education at Appalachian State University. For the last 14 years, he has worked and taught at Earthcamp, Earthskills Rendezvous, Mountain Quest and LEAF Festival, as well as in public and private schools. Alex lives in a strawbale house that he built on his off-the-grid homestead in the Blue Ridge Mountains. He prides himself on continually learning and improving upon his skills in order to practice a more sustainable, self-sufficient lifestyle.
Andy Bennett: Instructor of Essentials of Homesteading and Permaculture
Andy has lived off the land, logging and farming with draft horses in Madison County, NC, for the last 14 years. He’s a father, banjo player, wagon builder and hillbilly savant. Andy has made his way through a bevy of professions, which have culminated in his current “Andy-ness,” including being a bakery owner, oven builder, carpenter, sorghum syrup maker, sawyer, storyteller, forklift operator, camp counselor, environmental educator, interpretive naturalist, college dropout, youth corrections officer, long-distance wagon traveler and circus teamster.
Barron Brown: Instructor for the Women’s Carpentry Class, Tiny House & Natural Building Class, and Firefly Gathering
Barron is a truly amazing jack-of-all-trades. He learned timber framing, post-and-beam construction, log cabin construction, and much more from his grandparents when he was a child and teenager. He currently works as a sculptor, welder and builder, as well as teaching carving, blacksmithing, and building. Barron is a joy to learn from, as he weaves together his many talents with deep intelligence and his great ability to explain concepts to anyone. Barron has taught at Firefly since its beginning, and has been an instructor with the Earthskills Rendezvous for more than 20 years. He lives on a homestead with his family in Yancy County, NC.
Benjamin Portwood: Instructor for the Permaculture Design Certification Course
Benjamin is a founder of Edible Yard & Garden, a full-service landscaping company operating in Asheville, NC, and Atlanta, GA. He has been designing and installing rainwater harvesting systems and edible and ecological landscapes since 2008. Along with Edible Yard & Garden, he is currently developing a 17-acre sustainable farm in Barnardsville, NC. He derives great joy from harvesting rainwater and planting trees.
Becky Beyer: Instructor for Organic Farming and Homesteading and Historian of Appalachian Folk Culture
Becky started her crazy love affair with all things homesteading while growing up on a farm in central New Jersey. After getting her B.S. in Plant and Soil Science from the University of Vermont, she moved to Asheville, NC, to explore all the amazing work being done in this beautiful bioregion. She teaches spoon carving and all aspects of organic farming, and she is a practitioner of natural horsemanship, a burgeoning illustrator, and a musician. Want to know a crazy historical fact about a plant? Ask Becky; she just might know. You can get Becky’s take on folk magic, rewilding and local plantlore by visiting her Blood and Spicebush blog.
Cailen Campbell: Instructor for Essentials of Homesteading & Permaculture, Permaculture for Land Owners, and Animal Husbandry
After dropping out of college in 1994, Cailen completed a permaculture design course and year-long natural building and permaculture apprenticeship at the Ecovillage Training Center at The Farm in Summertown, TN, followed by a year-long apprenticeship with Eustace Conway at the Turtle Island Preserve, where she learned a diversity of skills related to early American and Appalachian pioneer-era life ways, including logging with animal power and log-building. For the next 17 years, he made a “career” out of co-creating symbiotic relationships with land-owners and basically homesteading in other people’s backyards in and around Asheville, NC. He is locally infamous for his portable suburban barnyard and semi-nomadic dairy goat herd seen foraging around the vacant lots and kudzu patches of West Asheville, his mobile cider-pressing, and his wild experiments in radical nutrition as highlighted in Sandor Katz’s book, The Revolution Will Not Be Microwaved.
Cailen met his partner Chloe in 2011 while attending Martin Prechtel’s “school,” Bolad’s Kitchen, which has deeply informed and inspired their evolving approach to reawakening the indigenous soul and keeping the seeds of real culture alive through spiritual farming. In 2013, Cailen and Chloe bought 23 acres in Barnardsville, NC, just a mile up the holler from Wild Abundance, where they are developing a diversified and integrated permaculture-inspired homestead christened Bittersweet Farm. Cailen is passionate about developing community-based resilience, independence from the global/industrial economy, and truly sustainable Earth-based culture. He is also a locally renowned fiddler.
Chuck Marsh: Instructor of our Permaculture Design Course and Living Off the Grid
Chuck is a co-founder and co-designer of Earthaven Ecovillage, near Black Mountain, NC. There he lives off-the-grid, cultivates abundance and serves future generations as a permaculture nurseryman with Useful Plants Nursery. Chuck has been teaching and practicing permaculture for 20 years.
Emily Bell: Assistant Director and Bookkeeper, Homesteader, Herbalist & Crafter
Emily is the Assistant Director & Bookkeeper at Wild Abundance. She is a grounding force, helping the school and classes run smoothly every day. In her spare time, she enjoys wildcrafting, making medicine and brooms, gardening, and hanging with her friends and family.
Frank Salzano: Instructor for the Homesteading and Permaculture Apprenticeships
Frank grew up in the hill country of the Allegheny Plateau of southern West Virginia. While in college in Shepherdstown, WV, he was elected to local government and became the youngest city councilman in the history of West Virginia. Since then, he has spent his life extensively practicing and studying temperate climate permaculture and agroforestry. He is particularly interested in nut- and fruit-bearing tree crops, perennial plant propagation, and ethnobotany for the homestead. He has created a small-scale germplasm with a significant amount of diversity of chestnuts, hazelnuts and pawpaws. He also loves sedimentary geology, mythology and astrology. He has a Leo moon, and his Gemini Sun is conjunct his Mercury.
Juliet Blankespoor: Beloved Herbalist and Mentor
Juliet has been sharing her love of plants by teaching about medicinal herbs and botany for over 18 years. She owns the Chestnut Herb Nursery, specializing in medicinal and native plants, and is the director and primary instructor of the Chestnut School of Herbal Medicine. Juliet’s education includes a B.S. in Botany and over 1,200 hours of training in herbal programs throughout the US. Her passion is everything green; botany, plant identification, ethical wildcrafting, wild foods, medicine making and herbal medicine.
Kaleb Wallace: Instructor of Primitive Skills and the Permaculture Design Courses
Kaleb is co-founder of the Firefly Gathering. He masterfully shares knowledge on human nutrition, fermentation and primitive skills. He lives in the mountains in Barnardsville, NC.
Laura Ruby: Co-Director of the Permaculture Design Courses
Laura earned her Permaculture Design Certificate in 2002 from Crystal Waters EcoVillage in Australia. Since then, she has been implementing permaculture systems on her own urban property in downtown Boulder, CO, and for her clients in the area. She recently moved to Western North Carolina and is designing and implementing a 56-acre Permaculture education center and event space. In the past, Laura worked as the Garden Coordinator for a Colorado nonprofit, the Growe Foundation. Through this organization, she helped establish gardens at 14 Boulder Valley School District elementary schools, working to install gardens, teach various garden-related subjects and offer support for the parent and teacher school communities.
To complement her work in schools, Laura also started Yummy Yards, an edible landscape design and consulting company. She also co-taught and co-facilitated the first for-credit Permaculture Design Course at the University of Colorado and taught the first Permaculture Design course for 11- to 17-year-olds through Colorado University’s Science Discovery Program. She also ran the urban farming segment for the Escoffier School of Culinary Arts. She is both a Certified Permaculture Teacher and a Colorado Master Gardener, and she holds an MBA in Sustainable Business Development from Green Mountain College. She co-facilitates the Wild Abundance Permaculture Design Course along with Natalie.
Leah Song: Artist, Songsmith, Activist, Educator, Lifelong Student, Co-Founder of Rising Appalachia
Leah has spent her whole life pursuing the arts and its ability to empower. She has lived and traveled extensively across the globe, but she most credits her time in the her native south (Atlanta, New Orleans, and Southern Appalachia), in Latin America, and in India for helping sculpt her path. She has always been an artist- visually, through performance, and as a songsmith. She has developed her artistry alongside social justice and traditional arts communities around the world- working with muralists in Mexico alongside the Zapatista movement, in the folk music communities of Cuba, Columbia, Ireland, New Orleans and North Carolina, AND honing the art of public speaking through 12 years touring as front woman of her band Rising Appalachia. She studied yoga and meditation in India and continues to train in both acro-yoga, and mindfulness practices to balance out her very public life. She was certified with the Prison Yoga Project in 2015 to bring mindfulness practices into underserved communities outside of the studio world. She combines music, movement, storytelling, and a global sense of justice into all that she does, from the stage to the classroom, using her voice and her vision as a means of creating community.
You can learn more about her primary work at www.RisingAppalachia.com
Luke Cannon: Ethnobotany Instructor for the Wild Edibles Foraging Adventure
More than a botanist, Luke is a long-time pursuer and teacher of the magic and medicine of plants. His passion to study and understand the beautiful ecological intricacies of the natural world have led him throughout the Americas and across the globe. An avid naturalist, Luke draws from a diverse pool of knowledge, combining his natural history studies with his life experience in organic farming, natural building, permaculture, nature-based mentoring and rural homesteading. Luke currently lives in the mountains of Western North Carolina, studying Appalachian ecology, and making his living as an ethnobotany instructor at his organization, Astounding Earth, and as co-director of Forest Floor Wilderness Programs.
Marissa Percoco: Instructor for the Ancestral Foods Cooking Class
Marissa is an avid fermentation enthusiast who has spent the last 10 years exploring community and the wilds, as well as living deeply with various fermented cultures and local plants, and learning how it all comes together. Traveling through the wild places of Tennessee, Florida, the Southwest, California, Colorado, Arizona, Utah, Oregon, Washington, Hawaii and most everywhere in between with her four amazingly adventurous children, Marissa has gathered cultures from far and wide. Deeply rooted in the Earthskills movement and committed to co-creating a new culture within which we, our children and all beings thrive, they are now nesting in Barnardsville, NC, and she humbly offers her humorous experiences to you.
Meredith Leigh: Instructor for Ancestral Food Cooking Class
Over the past thirteen years, Meredith has worked as a farmer, chef, teacher, nonprofit executive director and writer, all in pursuit of sustainable food. She has developed a farmers cooperative, catalyzed nonprofit farm ventures, raised vegetables and flowers, and pastured meats, owned and managed a retail butcher shop, and authored The Ethical Meat Handbook: Complete Butchery, Charcuterie & Cooking for the Conscious Omnivore. Currently, Meredith spends some of her time teaching and traveling, and some of her time handling sheep, cooking, and doing outreach at Living Web Farms, a nonprofit education and research farm in Mills River, NC. She is a mother to two boys, many plants and fermentation projects and lives in Asheville, NC. Visit her website mereleighfood.com.
Mollie Curry: Instructor for Natural Building
Mollie has been practicing natural building for about 20 years and is still in love with the mud! Natural paints and plasters are her favorite techniques, and she has plenty of “structural” experience with things like straw-bale building, earthbags, adobe, cob, straw-clay, and that most familiar of natural materials, wood. Besides building, she loves hiking, growing (and concocting) food and medicine, and listening to folks empathetically. She and her husband run MudStrawLove LLC and also play music with Chikomo Marimba.
Osker Brown: Instructor on Homesteading, Permaculture and Animal Husbandry
Osker and his family manage Glorious Forest Farm in Madison county, where the goal is to re-establish humans as a responsible keystone species. Osker works toward appropriate land-management strategies that support vital ecosystems while meeting human needs. This work involves deepening relationships with nutrient dense wild foods like hazelnut, acorn, hickory and mulberry. It also includes domestic animals as a management tool and as a means for harvesting less edible wild plants and turning them into milk and meat.
Tod Kershaw: Instructor of Primitive Skills and Off-Grid Living
Tod is a an engineer turned dumpster-diving fringe dweller. He left the mainstream, but kept his cleverness. Tod lives in a bark hut, carries water and cooks on fire at Wildroots in Madison County, NC.
Tony Troia: Water Systems and Permaculture Instructor
At the age of 23, Tony purchased a single steep acre of land in Madison county. Over the past decade Tony has put the “theories” of permaculture to the test on this small tract of land. Trial and error, failures along with the occasional success, has bestowed them with a well rounded, and hard earned set of skills. Forest gardening, animal husbandry, beekeeping, carpentry and rainwater harvesting are among Tony’s primary interests. Tony was one of the primary characters in National Geographic’s “Live Free or Die.”
Tyler Lavenburg: Primitive Skills Instructor
Nose to the grindstone (sometimes literally), Tyler lives for unraveling the mysteries of the Earth. He first fell in love with Southern Appalachian ecology as a student at Warren Wilson College, graduating with a degree in Environmental Education. Beginning as Natalie’s first apprentice in 2009, he has since traveled around the Eastern US learning and teaching ecology and traditional living skills in a variety of settings. Tyler is devoted to understanding material use in context of it’s ecological niche—unveiling ancient and scientific wisdom to appropriate technologies. He has worked with hundreds of children and adults through public and private schools and events such as the Living Earth School, Roots School, Forest Floor Wilderness Programs, Earthskills Rendezvous, and many more. Whether it be putting by wild foods or working with stone tools, bows and arrows, hides, baskets, fiber or woodcraft, Tyler orients his life by the skills that have kept our ancestors alive for thousands of years.