Alumni Spotlight: Jeff Barton

Santa Cruz Permaculture has had the joy of teaching and learning with many students over the years. Our alumni have gone into many diverse fields (literally and figuratively) since participating in our courses. 

To celebrate and demonstrate the many unique directions that studying permaculture can take you, we have started an interview series. In these posts, you’ll hear directly from our alumni about how permaculture is showing up in their lives and livelihoods.

We hope these interviews inspire you on your own permaculture journey! The work our alumni are doing in the world demonstrates that people really can affect change in their community while living an adequately resourced life and livelihood. 

Jeff Barton (left) with John D Liu, Founder of Ecosystem Restoration Camps, during the EcoCamp Coyote gathering in November 2019.

In our alumni spotlight for this month, we interviewed Jeff Barton, who received his Permaculture Design Certificate (PDC) in 2018 through our course. 

Santa Cruz Permaculture: Can you share a little about yourself and how you were introduced to permaculture?

Jeff Barton: I was born in California, and after graduating from high school, I went to college in Arizona until my scholarship ran out. I decided to enter the workforce and found a temp job that ultimately led me into the mortgage industry and wholesale lending. I saw a lot of insider knowledge being used to take advantage of people there. At the end of the day, it was just really grimy work for me and I didn’t like it, so I started venturing off on my own and trying to find different ways to make ends meet. My passion has been making music and trying to find a way to use art as a medium for affecting positive change in the world.

I got introduced to permaculture at a local tomato festival in my city. There was a nonprofit called Sustainable Solano that had a booth there, and I first heard the words “food” and “forest” back to back. I was immediately intrigued because one of the things that has always puzzled me is our society’s mismanagement of land and the unequal distribution of resources. Access to food is a very fundamental and basic human right as far as I’m concerned, but the way that we’re approaching meeting that need doesn’t make sense. 

The nonprofit gave me the opportunity to go into this lady’s backyard and dig the biggest hole I’ve ever dug in my life. It was like a 30-foot swale, and I just had a ball. This quote comes to mind: “Are you working the soil or is the soil working you?” As soon as I started working the soil, it started working me, and I just dove in with both feet. 

Sustainable Solano also invited me to host monthly talks at a food forest they had installed at the local homeless shelter. I also wrote an urban forestry grant for them. I went to several events and witnessed what I like to say was the birth of four food forests in my area. I really got hooked on the work. 

One of the ladies at the organization pulled me aside and said, “You seem to enjoy this so much why don’t you start a business?” So I ended up doing that, and the name of my ecological landscaping company is No Mow Nonsense! Earth Care Services. “Nobody likes a pain in the grass!” is our motto.

Then with the help of a partial grant through the nonprofit, I took David Shaw’s Permaculture Design course at Santa Cruz Permaculture. I use the analogy that I was seeing in standard definition before I really started diving into permaculture. Permaculture really had me start to look at the world in HD. Then when I took the Santa Cruz Permaculture course it was like I was seeing in 4K. 

Jeff Barton (pictured at center with gray shirt and black hat) participating in a closing activity during the Santa Cruz Permaculture Design Certificate course in 2018.

Santa Cruz Permaculture: What have you been up to since you completed your Permaculture Design Certificate course?

Jeff Barton: For a year and a half I was doing monthly talks through Sustainable Solano that involved me distilling the concepts that I was learning in the permaculture course. They were 30 minute talks followed by a 30 minute guided tour of a local food forest that has 18 different fruit trees, a 100-foot swale, laundry to landscape, and all these different ways to introduce these concepts to the community. I call them “Walk the Talk Tours,” and I would take people out and light a fire in them about these concepts. I’d try to get them to start practicing them at home and to think about how on a small scale, applying these concepts can have a massive impact if we get enough people to take part.

Lately, I’ve been feeling the need to gather more knowledge and go down into the roots again and pull up some more nutrients to thrive and grow out in the visible world, so I’m actually taking the Santa Cruz Permaculture Food Forests course right now. I’m learning how to prune and graft fruit trees and take care of them to grow really vibrant, productive fruit.

I also recently took a Qualified Water Efficient Landscaper Certification course, and I’m taking care of my little one and raising a high school teen. I’ve been reading books and trying to gather more knowledge to go out and encourage people to treat the earth the way that we can and should be treating it. Oh yeah, I also dug 250 feet worth of swales!

Santa Cruz Permaculture: How does permaculture show up in your everyday life?

Jeff Barton: It’s hard for it not to now. There’s food waste being produced in my house everyday but there’s not a banana peel that touches the garbage can. I live in an apartment complex and the people upstairs use their AC pretty frequently. There’s a condensation line that runs water from their AC unit. I started capturing that water about a year ago. During AC season I’m getting about five gallons a day that I apply to various plants that I snuck into the landscape over the past year. 

I’m finding ways to not produce waste and to use onsite resources. When leaves fall on my side of the fence, I hold onto every one of them and I compost. It’s something that I take pride in now, understanding the whole process and what’s taking place, trying to be part of the solution. 

It shows up in my everyday life all the time. I use the analogy that it’s like learning a new language, and the best way to learn a new language is to immerse yourself in it. 

I really see things through a permaculture lens, and I want to try and find ways without preaching to people about how we can really have a positive impact on the world around us. David Shaw taught me “Leave It Better Than You Found It”–we can really LIBTYFI almost everything we come in contact with, be it landscapes or relationships. 

Santa Cruz Permaculture: What is your favorite aspect of permaculture? 

Jeff Barton: You know, it’s hard for me to pick a favorite. I like what it all encompasses: permaculture as a whole, the whole flower, the ethics, and the principles. For me, it represents a way to heal the ails of the status quo and capitalism and the trajectory that society has been on. It represents a way to heal humanity, humanity’s relationship with the planet, and the planet. Permaculture has the potential to change this world for the better and to leave my children something that is better than the world that was handed to me. 

It’s a language that everybody can understand, and it’s spoken across language barriers. It’s a way of approaching things that nature’s taught us, and that’s what I love about it. It’s paying attention to what the natural world has been screaming out since the dawn of time.

Santa Cruz Permaculture: What advice do you have for someone who’s just starting to learn about permaculture?

Jeff Barton: Start small and expand. Build upon little successes and recognize that it is like learning a new language–it doesn’t happen overnight, and it happens best with immersion. Be all in and find whichever aspect of it draws you the most. Find out as much as you can about it and learn from others. Spread the knowledge, each one teach one. 

We’ve got to turn around this trajectory we’re on. A lot of naysayers talk about it being too late already, but I feel like it’s never really too late. A quote comes to mind that “every time that a child is born, it’s proof that the universe has not given up on humanity.” We still stand a chance, but we have to stop this trajectory, observe what it is that we’ve done, and try to find ways to undo it. LIBTYFI the world! Use these tools to LIBTYFI your piece of the earth.

Santa Cruz Permaculture: Is there anything else you’d like to share?

Jeff Barton: There’s a climate movement happening now and awareness is being raised and there is a paradigm shift that’s underway. Let’s all be part of the solution. I’m not going to say permaculture is the only way, but it’s the way that I’ve found that’s taken me to the next level of my existence and consciousness. 

This work is meaningful, and more and more people need to take part in it. Not everybody’s for digging swales and hard labor, but there’s design, there’s education, there’s all these different aspects that it offers up to people, so I think it’s for everybody. Let’s spread the word!

Learn more about the courses offered by Santa Cruz Permaculture.

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