Sarah Brinker is a talented lady.
She’s a certified permaculture designer, permaculture teacher and health coach. Not too long ago, she moved out to California from North Carolina to start growing at new business, one that will center on environmental consulting, lifestyle and health coaching (yep, all three of those together). We got the chance to speak with Sarah a few weeks ago – over Skype since we unfortunately didn’t get a chance to connect with her before she left the east coast.
Sarah majored in Environmental Studies in college, which she describes as being “broad” and without a lot of direction. But she had a “passion to make the world better.” While in school she studied abroad in New Zealand and delved into a wide range of subjects, including engineering to forestry to biochemistry and health. Several weeks after graduating in the States, Sarah returned to New Zealand and eventually her journey led her to Rainbow Valley Farm. It was there that she met David Holmgren (one of the founders of permaculture) and took an advanced permaculture class. This led her into green building, environmental consulting and health coaching. Sarah said she’d call herself a “professional generalist.”
When we asked Sarah what she’s doing now that she’s in California and she answered: “Yes…excellent question.” She’s working to construct a business that weaves together environment, lifestyle and health, centered around “the permaculture philosophy of care for the land, care for the people and share resources.” She’s been in California for about a month and says she’s “doing a massive learning curve.” The town she is in very small, right outside of Sequoia National Park, and she’s having to adapt to the desert-like climate (there’s an olive tree in her backyard). Her main mode of transport is currently a bicycle.
Sarah said one of the most valuable things she’s taken away from learning about permaculture is the importance of creating healthy relationships: “…And taking taking a holistic perspective: relationship with field, community, partner, self. You know, Zone 0.” Additionally, she talked about connecting people with nature through indoor/outdoor spaces.
With her business, Sarah hopes to be able to guide people through learning how to live out their goals, to build new skill sets. Not everyone, she said, has time to grow, cook or store their own food: “So looking at other ways that people can connect to their community, whether it’s through CSAs…connecting to other people who are doing that, and just trying to create more community resilience.”
“Level One,” Sarah said, “a lot of people are sick. They’re getting sick from the food that they’re eating, they’re not even aware of what’s in their food, or how it’s even affecting them. And there’s like a massive disconnect between this is what I’m putting in my body and I feel crappy and my joints hurt. You know, I have no energy. So the first point is to connect, and I think that goes back to that relationship building. The permaculture principles that pops into my mind often is the: observe and interact. And it’s trying to meet people where they are and plant seeds. ‘Cause I mean we need to plant seeds all over the place.”
Sarah calls food a “point of connection.” Everyone can relate to food. “You talk about permaculture [and] people’s eyes glaze over. It’s so ambiguous and it’s hard to get your head around. For people like me, I’ve been like studyin’ it and met really amazing people who do it. And it’s difficult to explain.”
“It doesn’t have to be all doom and gloom, and peak oil, and we’re all gonna die, and we’re screwing up right and left,” Sarah told us. “And I mean, sure! Sure, that’s happening. But at some point you’re going to have to choose how you’re going to live your life, you know. There’s the potential through living choice to build strong communities. And to sexy it up so people do it. Some people, I watch there reaction just I’m meeting new people. I’m like: ‘Hey, I’m Sarah Brinker. I’m new in town. I’m a health and lifestyle coach. And you know, how’s it going. Immediately, the self consciousness of men [is] like: I don’t know if I should be drinking this cup of coffee. And I’m like: man, I’m not judging you. You can eat your butter, you can have some coffee now and then. It’s all…[the] negative connotation sometimes associated with ‘green’ or ‘healthy.’ And it’s really fascinating, because people feel restricted by it instead of expanded by that experience.”
Sarah described her health coach training to us: it’s been a year-long, online course, studying more than a hundred different diets. Nutrition and diet though are a small part of the program. Much of it comes down to listening to clients. The program teaches students to look at health holistically and identify “primary foods and secondary foods.” Primary foods include the quality of relationships, spirituality, physical activity and career. It doesn’t matter how much healthy food you eat (the secondary foods) if the rest of your life is out of whack. “Not really going to be a complete, healthy person,” Sarah said. “So the training is more finding a point to connect with a person” and not focusing on as much on the bad stuff, with the the idea that you’re going to “crowd out all the crap.” It is a more expansive than restrictive approach.
She describes one of the ways to change the negative association people have with healthy eating and cooking is to move away from a model that resembles “slaving away the kitchen.” For her this meant creating a fun cooking environment “You know, like how do you make that fun? Turn on a radio, light some candles, put on a fun apron and make it a family get together. Quality time.”