I worked with Chuck as an intern for Bios Design from March-October 2009.
During that time, I cared for the plant nursery, sold plants at the farmers’ market, and installed edible landscapes for people on Bainbridge Island, WA as well as the surrounding areas. One of my favorite things to learn was how to graft and propagate new plants. We worked on some extraordinary landscape projects like installing orchards, food forests and building beautiful dry-stacked, stone garden beds full of colorful herbs, greens, edible flowers and kitchen gardens. Chuck did a good job of balancing the theory of permaculture with practice and community. We often ate communal meals, visited other farms, went crabbing with friends or stopped for short spontaneous lessons on how to shuck oysters when the opportunity presented itself. We attended the annual Northwest Permaculture Convergence, where I got to attend workshops and lectures, meeting people from all over the region. I am grateful for the variety of experiences and opportunities I was exposed to during my short internship. Chuck was a passionate, patient teacher with decades of teaching experience. He taught me skills that I have used in my own neighborhood community projects back in Kansas City, MO. (We now have peach trees, apple trees, asian pears, cherry and plum trees on our block. Kids on our street come to our house asking for strawberries, nasturtiums, peppermint and fennel to eat!) I will forever value my time spent with him.
Michael Pilarski - Chuck’s first permaculture teacher
“Chuck Estin is a permaculture professional who I have known for over a decade, both in Washington State and Kauai. He has been a hands-on practitioner, designer and teacher. My own son mentored with him. Chuck has been doing good work and I commend him in his new teaching endeavor at Kipahulu Valley on Maui. “
Alex Ko - Apprentice at Old Mill Permaculture Center
“Chuck is a fantastic teacher, mentor, guide, friend and permaculturalist! I had the pleasure of working with him on a collaborative demonstration farm and teaching site, when I was still fairly new to permaculture. We also ran an edible landscaping business, creating and implementing designs around the island for neighbors. He was an empathetic leader and facilitator, building in lessons to much of what we did. The PDC he ran while I lived on the farm was an incredible experience that created a fully fledged community in the short time it occurred, thanks to Chuck's logistical foresight. Chuck is also extremely generous, and fully embraced learning by doing, giving me a chance to field test designs and projects in a structured positive learning environment. The concepts and lessons I learned from my time with Chuck are still invaluable cairns which I use to find my path today.”
Ray Maki - Long-term Permaculture designer/teacher on Kauai
“My name is Ray Maki, and I have operated Permaculture Kauai since 1995, I have known and worked with Chuck Estin on various Permaculture projects on Kauai for more than 10 years. During that time Chuck was always a person I depended on for a deep Permaculture perspective on any project we collaborated on, and I saw this deep commitment demonstrated in his own agroforestry projects. At the same time, Chuck was always a voice of reason in other aspects of permacultural planning: Implementation scheduling, labor/ resource management, client specific permacultural design, and the ability to manage extremely complex guild plantings. Chuck has a great perspective on sub tropical Permaculture and Hawaii specific agroforestry design. His head is definitely in the game.”
Olivia Wolfe - Apprentice at One Song Farm on Kauai
I first met Chuck on the beautiful garden island of Kauai. I applied for an internship Chuck had created at one song farm and was accepted.
This internship was split into half the week in the market garden and half the week working with Chuck in the food forest. I came to One Song with my experience being primarily in organic agriculture. I was so intrigued by this concept of permaculture, which I later learned was more a way of life, and I was seeking a mentor/teacher to help me better understand and put these principles into action.
The education, inspiration, and motivation I received from Chuck, his work there on the land, his method of teaching, his appreciation for systems, his mentorship, his devotion to compassionate clear communication and kind ways, and his true dedication to permaculture and learning from the land were so life changing for me then and invaluable to me still up to this day.
Chuck created a syllabus for the the permaculture design certificate using Bill Mollison and David Holmgren's principles along with principles that Chuck had created based on his hands on experience as a permaculture designer and teacher. So, During Chuck' s portion of the internship program at one song farm, not only did we have hands on experience working with the land and implementing designs, he also took the time to delve into the intellectual and spiritual part of permaculture, which was equally important to me.
This was the most well versed rich and potent education /experience of my life. Thankfully, now I can go anywhere in the world and start from a bare piece of land, and begin to grow my own food, build shelter, manage water systems, identity plants, create guilds, and much more with confidence.
Fortunately, I also had the great pleasure to visit the now Kumu Aina Permaculture School in the Kipahulu Valley of Maui. This land and the community there that Chuck IS a part of, IS living the sustainable life that is required of us NOW if we want to continue a harmonious life here on mother earth. I'm so happy to see this dream finally manifest. This way of living that is transmuted by the land, the plants and the community members there are very rare and worth while to experience. I'm so happy to see this dream Chuck has nourished for so long come into fruition. I'm happy not only for Chuck, that he can share his gifts with students from around the world, but also for all of the students that will receive and benefit greatly from this diploma and take this education and lifestyle out into the world to create the change that must happen for us to survive and thrive in the new age.
Much love and warm aloha to you all,
Cameron Withey - Apprentice at Old Mill Permaculture Center
“It was a great pleasure and inspiration to learn from and apprentice with Chuck. His passion for teaching and passion for permaculture seem equally deep and longstanding. He is generous and warm in his sharing of his knowledge, skills, and philosophy, and also ready to learn from and with his students and the land.”
Tevon Dubois - Apprentice at Holly Lane Gardens
“I interned with Chuck for two years in the Pacific Northwest, working with him on a wide variety of projects. While helping with his farm on Bainbridge Island, I learned many aspects of developing an edible landscape from scratch, from site design, to installing earthworks such as swales and ponds, to building soils, planting an array of annual and perennial crops, and harvesting through the seasons. I worked with him as he expanded his permaculture nursery, learning how to propagate a plethora of edible and medicinal plants, growing them from cuttings and root stock, and selling them throughout the region. I also worked with Chuck on many of the landscapes he was hired to design and install, which ranged widely in size and scope. I began my work with Chuck as a complete novice. He was always a tremendously skilled, knowledgeable and patient teacher, and helped me to build a solid foundation of competencies that I rely on today as I begin developing my own permaculture homestead.”
Dan Luethy - Apprentice in 2008-2009
"Chuck, nice to hear from you and nice to see what you're up to. I most certainly would love to share how deeply I have appreciated your mentoring and instruction. You certainly taught me many things and actively encouraged my direct participation in the learning process with your inspired and extensive experience as a teacher and your highly developed and imaginative ideas about education and learning. I wasn't a student in a formal Permaculture Design Course that you taught but you opened my mind to a whole new way of seeing and being in the world.”
Max Nuccio - One Song Farm apprentice (Kauai)
Chuck is a great teacher and as important he is a great student of Permaculture and life. He’s always learning, adapting, and growing which is what it takes to be one of the best Permaculturists out there. He’s not afraid to experiment in the field and with new ways of sharing with his students. I spent a few months with Chuck on Kauai and we gardened, grew, and gathered together. He’s spent a lot of time with the aina and it shows. He has a soft caring heart and the hands of someone who’s willing to work to develop the sustainable reality we are all seeking. I learned a lot from Chuck during our time together and in reflection on those times afterwards as well. If you want to learn to grow food, have fun, and are willing to cultivate your self as a more responsible conscious person then spend some time with this legend!
Zackary Waian - Collaborator at One Song Farm, and later on Kumu Aina Permaculture (Kauai)
Blessings for Kumu Aina Permaculture School and Chuck Estin!
Hi, my name is Zackary Waian. I am an avid fruit planter and lover of the adventure found in nature . I have had the pleasure to be a live-in with Chuck Estin of Kumu Aina Permaculture for a few years on beautiful Kauai in 2012-14 and another 8 months in 2017. My mission there was to design a fruit tree garden surrounding a small living quarters and ended up planting around 50 exotic tropical fruit trees and many support species including 30 varieties of bananas, sugarcane, groundcovers, small vegetable/herb gardens and flowers.
Chuck was my closest neighbor and companion for those years. We shared knowledge from our different backgrounds and worked together constantly to make our surroundings abundant. This farm offered us the base to experiment and learn by designing and implementing ideas and strategies specifically for producing food, fibers, fun and building materials. We had the privilege to remineralize our soils and put into practice ecologically sustainable techniques for producing plants that were gorgeous to the eye and delicious to eat.
With the skills I honed with Chuck, I decided to buy land on Hawaii and create my own slice of paradise. I ended up securing 2.5 acres on Big Island to plant trees and start a financially productive farm to pay for the project startup and maintenance. I am still working to make my dreams a reality.
Chuck has a very thoughtful, inventive, and enthusiastic approach to teaching and learning. He is a child at heart and beaming with love for plants and processes of nature. I thoroughly enjoyed our experience together and I’m excited to collaborate more with him in the future.
Aloha and Love,
Stacy Lewars - Graduate Old Mill Permaculture PDC intensive
Farmer/owner, Bainbridge island Blueberry Co.
As the most amazing experiences in life occur by opening eyes and ears and keeping mouth closed...so emerged Chuck and this new-to-me world of permaculture. As a new mom, p-patch food grower, adequate forager but failing lighting designer, I was searching for the what's next for me and my children. Voila! The Old Mill School was both a portal and a buoy of expansion, education, community, compassion, growing, challenge and curiosity in a supportive nurturing hands-on environment. Permaculture is so vast in its practice and possibilities but Chuck's approach and guidance (and spirited, limitless enthusiasm) allow for all levels of engagement and personal vision. Our time (yes, he let me bring my 3 and 5-year old to school) went by far too quickly over the 3 weeks. But, the mind-opening passion I emerged with created a turning point which ultimately lead to purchasing a small farm on island. 7 years later, we are still living, learning, laughing and loving on our farm!
Jacob Brougham - Apprentice at One Song Farm on Kauai
The first day I came to visit Chuck at One Song Farm the first place he took me was the fruit safe. “Want some bananas?,” he said.
“Sure I’ll have a banana.” He handed me four bananas. “I can eat one.” Chuck said, “Nobody eats A banana. Here, take three.” I watched him eat two bananas in one mouthful. I looked at his feet covered in mud. I looked at his handy belt strapped over a pair of shorts with a full range of garden tools. He had earrings and a necklace of metal and ceramic. ‘Is this guy a pirate?’ I thought. Then I looked at the massive grin on his face and was consumed by a sincerity in the tone of voice. Next thought, ‘I like this guy.’
At One Song farm there were two main projects happening, alongside various others. There was the market garden, where vegetables were grown to sustain the expenses of the farm, and the food forest: a fully functional multi-story garden of tubers, low lying shrubs, and fruit trees, all of which had some use for food or medicinal purpose. This farm had been built up by another individual, whose focus was market gardening and giving lectures on double-digging and rebuilding soils. Kauai’s soils had been devastated by a combination of over tilling and top soils washing back into the sea, leaving most farmers with a rocky clay subsoil to work with. This previous owner, Sun, was traditional in his methods, and very scientific. Working in the Hoopa valley of Northern California growing vegetables and wine grapes I had worked for a man of the same demeanor. It was valuable for the basic knowledge of “how-to organic farming” and for learning the methods of high production garden crops. Chuck on the other hand was quite different from this. His personality type was sensitive, intuitive, emotional, and spiritual. I would later come to find that working with him would be one of the most influential experiences of my life in the field of agriculture.
The first week I moved into One-Song farm our team attended the monthly North Shore Farmers Union meeting for a presentation. Chuck, along with the rest of the farms on the North shore, had been recently experimenting with JADAM: a low-cost system of organic agriculture developed by Korean natural farmer Youngsang Cho. It focused on making microbial solutions using leaf molds from any farms surrounding habitat and breeding these microorganisms by feeding them simple starches; these would then be used to inoculate the soil with beneficial microbes (as well as home-made fertilizers, nature’s way of surface matter composting, etc.)
Chuck had just taken over the market garden from Sun, so we kept running it as it had been done before, until we all decided that we felt like robots, without the courage to make changes, or actually implement the methods that were on the frontier of fostering healthy soils. At our Friday meeting we finally decided it was time to completely shift gears to a no-till system, using JADAM liquid fertilizers and microbial solutions, surface mulch from nitrogen rich leaves, and open minds to letting nature teach us it’s preferences.
All of us were completely in the dark as to whether this would sustain our crops and keep the market garden business running, but Chuck was willing to risk it for the sake of learning. This is when our time working together was really special. He was not the type of boss who ever talked down to us farm hands. Rather we all worked alongside one another, going through a learning process together. If any of us had ideas, Chuck was a top-notch listener. And in his communication, compassionate at all times. We went through a lot of trials and tribulations working through our new systems. Chuck and I started going to the market garden late at night after our chats in the kitchen to have about half an hour or so of just watching what was going on. We’d watch the frogs, how and where the slugs would invade, how the checks and balances were occurring in the bug world, how the plants were reacting to a break from the sun. We’d just walk slowly with our flashlights and admire the beauty of what we were creating. By the end of my time at one song farm, I’d never in my life seen such a beautiful garden. It had been a long time since we dug any of the beds, except for those dedicated to more fragile leaf crops like lettuce and Chinese cabbage (they didn’t seem to like growing in mulched beds, although the tall standing Romaine seemed to do okay). No bed was dedicated to any single variety or species. Each one had a unique planting of companion species, planted by a different farmhand in their own intuition. This demonstrated a diverse spectrum of design, and patterns which we could observe and take note of which was working the best.
I think the most import part of this process was learning and doing by feeling. If a stack of fresh fertilizing mulch was five inches too high, it didn’t feel right putting it down. So we tried to listen to these feelings, and also give each other criticism if our instincts were pointing against the intuition of others. We could use our eyes, our hearts, and our bellies full of Cuban red bananas to lead the way.
Beyond just learning how to really be a gardener at One Song Farm, community and community building was of equal focus and time allotted to as the gardening. Every Friday morning we came together to have what was called “Check-In,” a time which was set aside for each individual in the community to share anything with the group. This could be about personal matters, work topics, a safe space for emotional expression, anything goes, free of interruption or any question asking until each person had finished their check in. This process brought us very close together as a live-work community, and most importantly, if there were any issues going on, this was the stage to clear them up. By doing this once weekly, our relationships and work pursuits were able to advance and transform. This was the first time I started to feel the meaning of permaculture. Constantly working through kinks in systems to create something lasting, functional, and harmonious.
Chuck asked for a short paragraph testimonial for his new school, but the experience I had working with him was worth sharing a little bit more. If you are to work with Chuck its important to leave your knowledge and your conceptions of earth work at the door. What he will show you is that the heart of this field is the pure joy and love for design. Just watch how nature works with him, and nature will throw you in the circle together with him. On the other end you will have had a teacher, a father, a friend, and the beginning of a new life with the earth.
Best of luck to all you permies!