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The Roots of Salamander Springs Farm

This is how it all began....

After nearly a decade spent developing permaculture systems and appropriate technologies with small farmers in Latin America, Susana Lein returned to the USA in 1999. She began in 2001 to homestead a parcel of Appalachian mountain land near Berea, KY, with no road access, structures, utilities or topsoil. After clearing a gentle ridge, she established contour swales, ponds, permanent beds, no till staple crop fields, food forest, orchard and nut trees on the land which would become Salamander Springs Farm.


An Evolving Permaculture Farm

Completing a gravity-fed spring water system from the top of the forested watershed in 2002 was a major step, after which Susana started camping full-time on the land, using an open-air kitchen shack she built from salvage materials, a homemade solar shower and compost toilet system.   

Over the next few years Susana self-built a tiny passive solar house using locally-harvested lumber, clay, straw and salvage.  She built another small passive solar building with a south facing space for starting plants and a north room for cold storage and small solar electric system. 

Susana transformed clay dug for farm ponds into a beautiful earthen floor, clay "slip-straw" walls and natural plasters. 

In 2014 she was awarded a small farm grant to purchase a grain mill and local lumber and materials to build a small granary barn.  She later built a porch on the granary for a community gathering space.  All structures have been self-built with very little money and without debt.  20 years later, the farm remains entirely off-grid.  

See the Farm Systems page for details on natural building and permaculture practices at Salamander Springs Farm.

Feeding The Community From a Living Soil

Since 2002, Salamander Springs Farm has been a key producer for the Berea Farmers' Market, Community Supported Agriculture shares, local stores and restaurants--with a wide variety of vegetables, staple grains & dry beans, fruits, nuts, berries, flowers, herbs, forest medicinals, ramps and mushrooms. On logged land once devoid of topsoil, today you will find deep, living soils producing abundant nutrient-dense crops without tillage, fertilizers or pesticides.  Contour swales and ponds retain moisture and nutrients on the site, helping build fertility. 

No-Till Dry Beans, Grains and Corn

Since 2003 grain and dry bean fields have been broadcast seeded without tillage in a continuous relay cover crop system, incorporating the wisdom of the late Japanese rice farmer, Masanobu Fukuoka.  Cornfields are grown without tillage in ‘3-Sisters' style polycultures of pole beans, pumpkins & squash, utilizing traditional Native American milpa practices that Susana learned during 8 years working with Mayan farmers in Guatemala.  Since 2000, she has developed a unique heirloom cornmeal corn, "KY Rainbow dent" (seed sold on the Farm Products page and through the Virginia heirloom seed company, Southern Exposure Seed Exchange). Much of what Susana learned about corn seed selection and breeding she credits to her years working with Mayan farmers (whose ancestors created corn from teocinte, a wild grain the size of wheat).  She is especially grateful to the late Don Gavino Ca'al of Tampo, Tactic, Alta Verapaz, Guatemala.


See the Farm Products page for some of the staple crops grown, dried, shelled and processed on the farm, including black turtle and pinto beans, popcorn, whole grain cornmeal and Susana's "KY Rainbow dent" heirloom corn seed. 


Susana Lein

Susana has made her living from an off-grid permaculture farm she created from scratch since returning to the USA in 1999.  Since first learning about permaculture at the New Alchemy Institute in the late 1980's, she has also taught hundreds of permaculture workshops and courses in many states and countries, mentored many dozens of apprentices and provided permaculture consulting for numerous individuals and organizations.

As one of the pioneers of permaculture in North America, Susana's work has been featured in the 2015 documentary film “INHABIT" and publications like Mother Earth News, New Pioneer and Orion magazine, Yale Climate ConnectionsThe Permaculture Podcast and more. (See In the Press page).

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