Nestled above an overgrown ridge-top meadow in the Appalachian Mountains, Salamander Springs Farm is run by proud farmer Susana Lein: it is a permaculture farm, homestead and “food forest” where living, healthy soil is considered the most important resource.
Working closely with her local farmers’ markets, town stores, and CSA members, Susana grows a variety of fruits, vegetables, herbs, flowers, mushrooms and nut trees. All food is grown organically, in the traditional sense, using permaculture and biodynamic practices.
Susana is a vital part of Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms, USA, a non-profit organization dedicated to linking host farmers across the United States to those with an interest in organic farming and gardening.
WWOOF-USA currently has over 1,900 organic farmers across the country who, like Susana, welcome members (more commonly referred to as WWOOFers) onto their land to learn about farming by getting their hands in the dirt. It is an educational and cultural exchange that surpasses what can be learned in any textbook.
Susana’s WWOOFers and apprentices, who often stay for an entire growing season, learn extensively about cycling local resources and energy, homesteading from the ground up, and practicing permaculture principles to achieve sustainable housing, food production and local economic systems.
“From working with the soil to building structures with straw or recycled wood, I know Susana wants to share every bit of her knowledge to make a better world,” explained WWOOFer Kayla Lee Preston, who spent two full seasons at Salamander Springs. “Working with Susana was the most life changing experience I have ever received. She truly is one with the earth.”
Salamander Springs Farm is completely off-grid: with limited solar electricity it is a rustic homestead where gravity-fed spring water, rain catchment systems, and ponds serve as the water resources. Susana has built a community where people gather on her farm for educational workshops and where nightly meals, featuring freshly picked food from the farm, are shared by candlelight under the stars.
In 2001 Susana decided her land, which is surrounded by the hardwood Appalachian forest, needed rich topsoil. She began clearing a meadow, which now makes up her food forest, and built her kitchen from only recycled and salvaged materials. Over the next decade she built a solar house using locally harvested and milled wood. She dug clay from her farm and ponds to create a beautiful earthen floor and straw walls.
“This isn’t just farming – it’s a way of life,” said WWOOFer Jacob Mudd, an aspiring farmer from western Kentucky with a homestead of his own. “It would seem foreign if it didn’t come so natural. The experience is very holistic, very back to the land.”
Susana’s farm has inspired people from around the world.
“This farm shows what can happen when dedication, hard work, and wisdom combine to create a real farm that can actually be sustained,” said WWOOFer Wade Archer, who traveled from Tennessee to stay at Salamander Springs. “I would put this farm on the Top Ten list of the most important farms to visit in the United Sates, and maybe the world.”
Susana has hosted and educated countless WWOOFers and apprentices since 2005. She been equally as inspired by the young people that visit her farm, many of whom dream of one day starting their own.
“I started farming in my late 30s. If young people are willing to put in the work it takes to build up a healthy soil life and farm the permaculture way, it is possible to obtain land that not many people want,” said Susana. “Young people have so much energy. When they’re getting ready to leave my farm after a few months, I tell them ‘Just go for it!’”
Susana gives tours of Salamander Springs Farm on the second Saturday of each month from April through November. For more information, please click here.
Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms, USA (WWOOF-USA®) is part of a worldwide effort to link visitors with organic farmers, promote an educational exchange, and build a global community conscious of ecological farming practices.