Welcome to “How Permaculture Changed My Life”, our blog series featuring personal stories from Verge grads speaking on how permaculture shaped their careers and their lives. This time we’re featuring Jen Nobel, founder of Northbound Bloom Ecological Land Design in Timmins, Ontario:
I didn’t follow a standard path towards permaculture, if there is such a thing. Growing up, I never held a big interest in gardening. My dad tried growing vegetables during different stages of my childhood, but those experiences never became a major part of my life. Instead I gravitated towards art, drawing, creating, and building—my mom always says I was holding a paintbrush before a pencil.
So when it came time to choose my degree I naturally veered towards artistic options, but I was also good at math and science. Architecture seemed to be the perfect marriage of the creative and technical worlds. I graduated with my Bachelors of Science in Architecture in 2011 and worked afterwards for a retail company, managing store design for their Canadian and US stores.
I couldn’t have asked for a better situation and the opportunities I received were invaluable. However, as time passed, I began to develop food intolerances, skin issues, and digestive issues that stemmed from gut health problems. I experimented with many types of food to help alleviate the symptoms. I was vegan for four years and tried raw veganism for a few months. Paleo, keto, mono-foods: Each food lifestyle taught me something new and each helped with different parts of my health, but in the end, no single diet could resolve everything for me.
It was through this exploration of health, diet, and food that I began to cultivate a strong appreciation for gardening, growing my own food, soil health, along with a holistic view of all the parts that affect human health. I realized that as important and complex as my design degree was, I still didn’t know how to solve my most basic needs. The world was getting more complicated, but not necessarily better. I decided to go another way.
Hearing About Permaculture
I first heard the term on a trip to Sierra Leone with Earthship Biotecture in 2011, but I wasn’t formally introduced to permaculture until I took a few “Intro to Permaculture” workshops with Jardins sans Frontières in Montreal, where I was living at the time. I remember going to that talk at least 4-5 times—the presenter got to know me very well! Everything she said seemed so new yet was so basic; her words struck such a chord with me that I had to go back again and again for things to sink in. It felt like my brain was being rewired!
I think permaculture initially clicked with me because it answered so many questions that didn’t make sense to me about how the world functions in modern Western society—why are we flushing toilets with clean water? Why do we have grass lawns? Why are conventional agricultural soils being degraded when farming is touted as “natural”? I also really like permaculture’s positive approach to resolving issues rather than simply pointing out problems.
That set of intro courses offered me the chance to take a two-week trip to a small community in the Andes of Ecuador with Canción del Corazón where I could have hands-on experience building grey water systems, planting native species, building hugelkultur beds, designing sacred geometries, and working on natural buildings. I jumped on the opportunity in 2016, and it turned out to be the trip of a lifetime.
Working with Verge
Living in northern Ontario, I knew that I would have to travel to take my PDC. (taking a PDC online did not appeal to me) I found Verge while googling and was immediately drawn to Michelle and Rob’s engineering roots. Although I love to be creative and artistic, I also have a technical and process-oriented brain. Given their backgrounds, I knew Michelle and Rob would have similar thinking patterns to mine.
The fact that Verge offered different levels of their PDC was a big selling point. I was on the verge (haha!) of a career shift and knew that I would need all the help I could get. Verge’s Professional Development PDC with 1 on 1 mentoring seemed like the best thing I could do for myself at the time.
Since taking the PDC I’ve moved away from architecture and interior design to launch my own ecological land design business called Northbound Bloom based in Timmins, Ontario. This allows me to merge my love for design, technical skills, and health. Learning to grow my own nutrient-dense foods and finding my own health solutions are journeys I’m truly passionate in sharing with others.
I’ve dedicated this year to experimentation, to see what the people of northern Ontario are interested in. Currently, I have hands in many jars—a few back and front yard projects with clients interested in raised garden beds or simple landscaping; a broad-view plan for a 13-acre regenerative agriculture farm in town; an opportunity to assist in the design of a passive solar greenhouse nearby for a local co-op.
My ultimate vision going forward would be to help northern communities grow their own food in a challenging climate while supporting a unique ecosystem that is the boreal forest.”
The fact that opportunities are wide open at the beginning of my business is super exciting. Don’t get me wrong, starting something new is tough! I never imagined myself as an entrepreneur, but I’m liking how every day is different and interesting. I’m sure I’ll narrow down on priorities based on what projects work for me and what the needs of the region are.
My ultimate vision going forward would be to help northern communities grow their own food in a challenging climate while supporting a unique ecosystem that is the boreal forest. I feel like the boreal forest doesn’t get the attention it deserves. If I can help shed light on gardening and edible landscaping that is appropriate for this climate, perhaps we can cultivate a better relationship with this incredible environment.
Permaculture and Life
Permaculture offers me optimism for the future amidst the doom-and-gloom headlines of climate change, because I now possess a powerful set of tools to make a positive impact.”
It’s hard to un-know things I learned from my PDC, simply because permaculture encouraged bigger thinking and opened me up to notice patterns in my everyday life. Stacking functions, for example. My husband and I live in a 400 square foot house, so our lives depend on stacking functions to maximize the small space. I’ve also become highly aware of what “local” means, being more conscious of the impact of sourcing materials outside the city, the province, or the country, and how keeping things local strengthens the surrounding community. The phrase “work is a failure in design” also follows me everywhere now.
How has Permaculture Changed My Life? Well, it gave me the tools to shape a new career and a new way of living. It provided not only the subject matter for my new career, but also ideas like holistic management which was vital for me to make the jump from the standard 9-5 to entrepreneurship. Permaculture offers me optimism for the future amidst the doom-and-gloom headlines of climate change, because I now possess a powerful set of tools to make a positive impact. I also feel much more secure in my personal life—learning about alternative forms of insurance in Verge’s PDC was especially enlightening (Check out the article series on those if you haven’t already!) Food, water, shelter, security: All things I value more now than ever!