Gordon Heibert and Jana Macnab
Logger, pine beetle identifier, forest fire fighter, builder, and now permaculture designer and instructor, Gord Heibert seems to have run the gamut of careers. He earned a Bachelors of Communication in Operation Management from the University of Calgary and is a certified Waste Water Practitioner. “I started out ignorant of what I was doing and as my awareness grew I moved towards more sustainable jobs” Gord said. All of his previous careers have aided Gord and his wife, Jana, in developing Element Eco-Design in Vernon, BC. “As a fire fighter I learned about the structure of forests and how every element they contain works together as a whole system. As a builder/designer of homes I learned a great deal about energy efficiency, waste, environmental impact, and embodied energy.”
After taking the Introduction to Permaculture course with Verge, Gord wanted to create design that would allow him to “be part of a greater system on this Earth.” Feeling the need be proactive, he acted on that impulse. Since enrolling in the Permaculture Design Certificate (PDC) in April 2010 at the Permaculture Research Institute in Australia, he said “It changed my life, I moved away from Calgary to Vernon, started my company and I feel like it has freed me, empowered me, and liberated me. I am now living my dream and am in control of my life…it has meant everything to me.”
The more influential information that Gord learned in the PDC course is “observation is key, you must be able to see things for what they are and make your own decision about the best possible solution and permaculture design has done that for me.” Permaculture principles permeate Gord and Jana’s daily life, especially observation. They recently moved onto a 1/2 acre of land and have started to plan their property. “We started by transforming our front yard into an edible landscape but we are waiting a year before we do anything else so we have an opportunity to observe our surroundings. This is key because we initially wanted to remove 3 cedar trees from our front yard to open up our view but as we observed the landscape we saw the trees were habitat to 12 local quails, were a noise buffer, and helped to keep the dust down. They also provide a good micro-climate for our garden so they are working on multiple levels. Seeing this, we realized we don’t want to be too hasty in implementing projects.”
Gord observed that drought in the Okanagan Valley of Southern Interior British Columbia has become more prevalent in the past couple of decades. He believes that “climate change combined with a large agricultural industry and a growing population have put great demands on the limited water, soil, and local vegetation/ecology.” Gord is confident that with the training he received in the PDC course he can be an “earth surgeon” for the Okanagan Valley and preserve the land for generations to come.
Gord and Jana operate Element Eco-Design with the main goal to empower their clients toward greater self-sufficiency. Their business offers clients options in whole system design including edible landscaping, water harvesting, waste management and energy efficiency consulting. Courses that they teach include: Introduction to Permaculture, Water Harvesting in Interior BC, Edible Landscaping, and Soil Biology/Composting. Since the launch of their business in January 2011, they have had an extremely positive response from the community and “impeccable timing according to locals.” Local environmental groups have assisted Gord and Jana in networking with key people involved in sustainable and regenerative practices. Only seven months into their journey, they have already seen a yield, but that did not come without a lot of nurturing, Gord warned.
In the future, Gord has goals to teach his own PDC and Earthworks course as well as launch the Okanagan Permaculture Institute.
Volunteers who are interested in working with Gord and Jana on various projects to learn their design process through onsite mentorship are welcome to contact them. Gord stated “We’re doing many projects around our site, so they (volunteers) are more than welcome to lend a hand and we would do the same on their projects.”