Alumni Spotlight: Jay Grala

Born in the Pine Barrens of New Jersey, Jay has always had a keen sense and love for the environment. Passionate about self-sustainability and eco-friendly solutions, he quickly began to develop homesteading skills without even realizing it; including but not limited to, food preservation, seed saving, foraging, permaculture, and herbalism.

Why did you choose this program?

Feeling a deep discontentment for the way our current society was operating, I knew there had to be a more holistic way of living, more in line with my values, and a deeper connection to this land. After hearing about this program I dug deeper into the core principals of The Eco-institute at Pickards Mountain; overwhelmed by how much it resonated with the way I wish to live my life.

What did your program provider (or university) assist you with, and what did you have to organize on your own?

Every step of the way the facilitators were there if I ever need assistance with anything. This consisted of better understand what this program had to offer, scholarships, and assistance with fundraising. I ended up hosting a yard sale to help support my travel expenses and to give homes to items that no longer served me. I also created a go-fund me page that significantly helped fund this program.

What is one piece of advice you'd give to someone going on your program?

Trust in the process. I had never been to North Carolina before this program. I was working a job that didn't serve my soul or align with my core values. I frankly was quite unhappy with my current living situation. Not knowing what to expect on what I would get out of this program, I took a leap a faith and ended up somewhere truly magical.

What does an average day/week look like as a participant of this program?

You wake from a deep sleep early in the morning, sun has yet to greet the Earth. You start the day with a morning practice consisting of, but not limited to, meditation, journaling, a walk around the lake, silent breakfast. Any practice that is best suited for the individual. After breakfast you being your farm chores, feeding the goats or chickens, taking car of the farm cat, collecting eggs or milking goats. Assuming the day is Tuesday, you'll have Garden Day with Jay where he (I) will teach a class consisting of some kind of homesteading practice such as fermentation, plant ID walk, mushroom cultivation, and more. A little break and then another session, possibly non-violent communication or a team building exercise. After, a meal is prepped by a predetermined group, while another cleans the dishes but this week is your groups off week so you can kick back and enjoy your meal. Siesta (Rest) after lunch. Around late afternoon you begin spiritual ecology, further deepening your love for the ground beneath your feet, and the creatures all around us, followed by dinner. Next, is some evening down time however you wish to spend it. Music and songs around a fire, a good book under a cozy blanket, or a bread bake off with other participants, the possibilities are endless. Your eyes get heavy, you take a slow walk back to your yome, absorbing the moonlight, gazing upon the stars and listen to the Tree Peepers, Katydids, and Crickets. You quickly fall asleep to the sound of nature.

Going into your experience abroad, what was your biggest fear, and how did you overcome it? How did your views on the issue change?

I never been to North Carolina before and frankly didn't really know what this journey had in store for me nor knowing what I would get out of it. Diligently looking over the program material I knew what we would be learning but didn't know how it would land inside of me. Even upon arrival there was an element of vulnerability, to speak from the heart, to be open and honest with my cohort. That is where the real bonding happened, letting down our walls and finding out that we are all looking for an alternative way of life than the status quo/ business as usual. I had this preconceived notion I was the only lost one in the group, feeling a bit broken and searching for answers. I quickly found out that this was "The Island of Misfits", we all had a similar feeling about the current standing of the world and wanted to be part of the healing process.

.What is breaking your heart?

This is a question we are encouraged to ask each other in small group setting, this question helps get to the root of what we truly desire in life. The lack of connection to nature breaks my heart. The lack of a strong community breaks my heart. The declining health of humans and Earth breaks my heart. These were core reasons I decided to become a farmer in the first place and I want to inspire others that there are tangible ways to make a difference in ones own life and within your community.