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The Eco-Institute at Pickards Mountain

About

The Eco-Institute at Pickards Mountain is a learning community, Earth sanctuary, and permaculture farm located in Chapel Hill, North Carolina and established in 2005. Since 2013, we've been running a residential program (The Rising Earth Immersion) for young adults between 18-28 who are concerned about our world’s changing climate and ready to take action for a sustainable and just future.

The Eco-Institute runs on solar power. We grow organic food and herbal medicines. We offer permaculture education, workshops in sustainability topics, study groups, a Garden Cooperative, community resilience programs, seasonal celebrations, and a myriad of Earth-healing workshops. Through all that we offer, we are learning to embody the truth that we are not separate—from the Earth or from each other—and that all of our actions have implications for the rest of the community of Life.

2020 In-Person Programs Success!

We were fortunate enough to run Covid-responsible (and Covid-free!) in-person sessions of Rising Earth in both the summer and fall of 2020, thanks to our small-scale adaptability; rural, relatively isolated location within access of great health care; careful community; and multi-faceted Covid mitigation protocol (quarantining + exposure tracking, symptoms tracking, and 2 rounds of testing). More on our FAQ page.
Founded
2005

Reviews

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Ellie
10/10
Yes, I recommend this program

Everything about this program is powerful and transformative. It offers growth in beautiful and untraditional ways. I am deeply grateful for the insistence on seeing each person and system holistically. This way of framing life has been revolutionary for me, and so vital to creating a new world. I particularly appreciated the focus on self-care as community care. We were taught and encouraged to listen to our needs and take care of the whole by taking care of the self. I have been burned out over and over again in my life, and was wondering if it was something I was doing wrong. It turns out, there was something wrong with what the systems I have been in. They have required too much of me, without acknowledging my needs. When I was finally in a space where I could honor my body's needs from moment to moment, and honor other individuals' needs from moment to moment, I was able to be more present, honest and engaged.

I really loved the community environment, the communion with nature, and the engagement in activism. Everything we did was integrated. The learning opportunities were not solely reliant on traditional learning methods, but rather brought in physical and experiential learning as well. The concepts we discussed were introduced into our bodies and the lessons have stayed with me. I am changed because of the tender, ferocious and gracious container of learning and challenging.

I wholeheartedly recommend this program to anyone questioning the systems in society, seeing growth, looking for community, hoping for a brighter future, or who feel a dedication to the Earth.

What is your advice to future travelers on this program?
Prepare to take a deep dive into who you are.
Prepare to build relationships with others in a way that you never have before.
Prepare to learn how to trust yourself and the community you are with.
Prepare to fall in love with the land, and honor the earth.
Prepare to both be challenged, and find rest.
Prepare to trust the process.
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Josie
10/10
Yes, I recommend this program

Greetings! My name is Josie Strick, and I’m a recent graduate of the Rising Earth Immersion program. I’m so excited to see that you’re interested in being a part of this beautiful community and learning experience. I remember when I was also a prospective participant last Spring. I felt something in my gut and heart that led me to taking the leap and applying, which I’m sure you’re experiencing; too. My advice for you is to follow that feeling because it will lead you to an immensely transformative experience. It’s okay and normal to feel anxious or unsure, and that’s why I’d like to share with you a little about my experience in the Rising Earth Immersion program.

Before attending this program, I felt lost as a recent college graduate navigating the world of the COVID-19 pandemic. Being surrounded by environmental and social catastrophes, I struggled to find ways to process the injustices that were occurring in a meaningful way. I knew in my gut that I wanted to figure out what my role was in working toward justice and healing. This calling led me to this program, even though I wasn’t 100% sure in what ways it would transform my life, spirituality, and purpose. However, after only a few weeks at the Eco-Institute, I felt a shift happening inside me. Living and growing with a community isn’t easy. We had to work through our individual and collective struggles in order to grow together, and in order to grow an unconditional love for each other. I genuinely had never felt a love so deep for a group of humans before, even though we all came from different places, backgrounds, identities, and more.

The connection that we grew with each other, and to the land we were on, led me to the most important realization of my life: that we are all interconnected, and that Earth is alive. I was re-awakened to this truth, and learned to see the sacredness in everyday life. I learned that sacredness can show up in so many different ways such as waking up and going to sleep every day in a forest with my yome mate, planting seeds and tending the garden together, taking long drives with my cohort, sleeping under the stars together in the garden and gazebo, learning and unlearning together, and being challenged as a community. All of this ultimately made us stronger and more connected. I discovered the power of collective hope, faith, and love within this program, which have allowed me to understand my role and purpose within the fight for social and environmental justice and healing. I now understand that we can only get through that fight and succeed through the power and love of community.

Being a part of the Rising Earth Immersion program was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. If it has come into your life or caught your attention, I think you should follow that instinct and go for it!

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Psalms
10/10
Yes, I recommend this program

This past summer, I had the amazing opportunity of joining a community with a mission of cultivating social and ecological healing through attending the Summer Rising Earth Immersion Program at the Eco-Institute at Pickards Mountain. I can honestly say that it was one of the most beautiful and developmental experiences of my life thus far. The permaculture foundations of this program were woven brilliantly through an immersive curriculum around sustainably living, garden care, community living, arts and activism, decolonization work and radical self-care, providing a uniquely wholistic learning experience.
It felt especially significant for me to attend this program during such a difficult but critical time for a Black person in this nation (the U.S.), and to practice taking up space, resting, being cared for and uplifted as a marginalized identity, and living in community with folks who are dedicated to doing anti-racist work and becoming better allies. Additionally, I found the land connection aspect of the program to be one of my greatest sources of healing. Not only did I feel a sense of connection to my ancestors through the acknowledgement of their spirit and labor within the soil, but even just the act of paying attention to nature grounded me. Tending to nature became tending to myself, and I ended up learning so much from nature about how to best interact with change through it’s perfect example of adaptability, interdependence, decentralized power, resilience and transformation.

What was your funniest moment?
There are honestly too many to choose from haha. You have lots of funny moments when you're living with 12 other people for 5 weeks. But I would say one of my personal funniest moments would have to be staying in my yome for the first night. If you don't know what a yome is- its basically like a fancy tent- and as a city girl with anxiety who has never been, nor had an interest in camping, I was very unenthusiastic about staying in this tent-like thing in woods. Nevertheless, that first night around 9 pm, I gathered my electric lantern and walked the 200 feet between the renovated barn/community area to my little yome, hoping for my "yomemate" to come soon after and help put my nerves at ease. About 30 minutes into trying to settle in, a loud owl started hooting right outside of my door, causing me to shoot on my light to see a spider on the ceiling and and some little fly type things being drawn to the light from my electric lantern. After about 5 minutes of trying to calm myself through the hooting and bug presence, I thought to myself "wow, I'm really going to die in here on my first night." At that point I had a decision to make. I could either stay in the yome, anxiously awaiting my demise, or take my chances traveling through the woods at night until I made it back to the safe, air-conditioned community space. I decided on the later, even though I could tell my light was growing dimmer- meaning the battery was running low. As soon as I stepped outside I could barely see past my light and immediately regretted my decision, but I had no time for regret... I had to LIVE. So, I started running, allowing the guidance of my ancestors to lead me through the 100 feet of woods and helping me fight off the spider webs that tried to suffocate me. Finally, I made it back to the barn, sweating and breathing heavily, to find my yomemate chatting and drinking hot tea with another member of our cohort. "You almost let me die out there" I thought to myself. But when they asked me what was wrong I simply said "WHERE WERE YOU GIRL I ALMOST DIED OUT THERE I JUST RAN LIKE A RUNAWAY SLAVE THROUGH THOSE WOODS IM NOT GOING BACK UNTIL YOU GO BACK." Hahaha I was so dramatic. Thankfully, I started getting more comfortable sleeping in my yome as the weeks went by. But all my cohort friends would tell me they still knew when it was me going back to my yome at night because I was always running lol.
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Lillian
10/10
Yes, I recommend this program

I'll share one experience I had with one of the many workshops we did.

A woman from Fibershed came out to teach us about making sustainable textiles and natural dyes. One of the things l learned is that you can use the tanins leached from ground acorns as a fixative for the dye. This mixture is a byproduct that you naturally get when making acorn flour, so once we were making natural dye, we realized we might as well make acorn flour, and then to make acorn flour, all of a sudden we were foraging in the woods for acorns and while we were there, we thought we may as well forage for mushrooms and other foods too. So once we stepped into these natural processes, all of a sudden I found myself emerged in this beautiful circle of life and sustenance that lends itself to a whole other way of living! And then when I was foraging in the woods and finding all of these materials being freely given like a gift, it made me feel in a deeper sense that the earth is my home and understand how generous it is in sustaining me and giving me everything I need for free. And then I found myself in an abundance mindset, rather than a scarcity mindset that I'd been conditioned into all my life, and it really made me realize what a gift my own life is.

This was just one afternoon on the farm but it is a microcosm of what can happen when you start to live in community and in relationship with the land under the guidance of the knowledge, curious, and beautiful leaders of this program.

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Jay
10/10
Yes, I recommend this program

If your seeking a loving, caring supportive community this is the place to be. Filled with spiritually wealthy, talented individuals, I have never felt so accepted and encouraged to be my true self. This aspect, coupled with somatic self care, inploration to the inner psyche, and rebuilding human-nature relationships was an incredibly transformative process. Digging deep into what the soul really wants, finding out who I truly want to be. This immersive experience won't change who you are, it will only allow you to become more of yourself.

What was the most nerve-racking moment and how did you overcome it?
Thinking I was the only one "broken", or not content with the current social/political/environmental but now I joke that this is the island of misfits. We all feel a deep yearning for change, for a "New Story" and that is the exact reason that brought us here together in this very moment. That commonality is what built such a strong relationship with others participants.

Programs

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Alumni Interviews

These are in-depth Q&A sessions with verified alumni.

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.

Staff Interviews

These are in-depth Q&A sessions with program leaders.

Psalms White

Job Title
Core Facilitator
She is a black, 23 year old NC native and UNC-Chapel Hill graduate with a passion for social justice and collective liberation.

What is your favorite travel memory?

My favorite travel memory is visiting New Orleans for Mardi Gras both this year and in 2019. Although its disheartening to see how commercialized the area has become, and how little recognition the native folks are given- the resilience of New Orleans in inspiring. I've never been out of the country, so New Orleans is probably the most unique place I've traveled to outside of North Carolina's neighboring states. The people, food and music were unforgettable, as well as the beautiful surrounding presence of blackness and black culture. I look forward to going back outside of Mardi Gras.

How have you changed/grown since working for your current company?

I've grown in many ways from working as a Core Facilitator at the Eco Insititute. Facilitating a group of 12 women for 10 weeks has been no easy task, but it's taught me how to hold space for all types of emotions and experiences. I've been able to put my communications degree to good use through teaching, and have become much more confident in my capacity to lead. From leading workshops around self-care, living in community, fighting for social and environmental justice, and practicing healthy communication, to holding one-on-ones, to leading healing councils and ceremonies, I find myself becoming more confident and well-rounded alongside my participants.

What is the best story you've heard from a return student?

The best story of growth I've heard from students here is how they are learning to trust the process and decolonize their way of thinking. One student in particular has expresses how healing it has been to discover the power of vulnerability when it comes to bringing people together, recognizing how the personal is political, healing self, and liberating others.

If you could go on any program that your company offers, which one would you choose and why?

I would chose my role as a core facilitator for the Rising Earth Immersion program again and again. I've never worked in a job that is so holistic and meets so many of my needs as a black, queer, change-maker and activist. I am paid well, supported well by the leadership team, and have been given so many opportunities through this role to develop the change-making curriculum that I am passionate about teaching.

What makes your company unique? When were you especially proud of your team?

My company is unique in how it provides a holistic curriculum that doesn't just focus on environmental justice without acknowledging the variety of causes and effects of this issue. It is also a unique experience as an employee to have our personal self-care valued so highly. A moment in which I was very proud of my team was when we had to make space for conflict that was arising in our group. Not only did we have the capacity to hold space for the emotions of all the participants because of the intentionality around our own self-care, but we were also able to guide the group through generative conflict, to healthier communication strategies and better self and community care.

What do you believe to be the biggest factor in being a successful company?

I believe the biggest factors of a successful company is inspiration and invitation. There are many companies that are limited in their capacity to connect and have a diversity of membership and experiences because their space is not inviting of folk from certain backgrounds. You realize once you create a space that doesn't discourage folks from feeling seen and heard that the conversations are much more fruitful and generative. These conversations lead to inspiration which starts folks on a path of creating new ways to give back. This is what has expanded the Eco-Institutes network exponentially in only a matter of years and it's exciting to see all the magic that comes from these connections.

Professional Associations