Verge Permaculture (Alberta)

Permaculture certification: An avenue for resilient living and land use

Ben in a field.

Science Horizons intern Ben Dunn in the field in Alberta. Photo credit: Ben Dunn.

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit in March 2020, Verge Permaculture in Alberta rapidly converted its in-person educational programs to fully online. Michelle Avis, who co-founded the company with her husband in 2008, says the shift was easier and faster than expected but required more staff. This led to the hiring of Ben Dunn as an environmental technologist.

“My experience was overwhelmingly positive,” says Dunn, who was hired full-time as a course coordinator when his internship was over. “This job has been everything I was looking to do as a vocation and career.”

A graduate in anthropology and psychology from the University of British Columbia, Dunn’s salary was supported by a Colleges and Institutes Canada internship funded by Environment and Climate Change Canada.

“We can engage with our environment in a way that actually leaves it better than before,” he says. After graduation from university, the thought of working in a conventional nine-to-five job scared him. “I didn’t see that giving me a very fulfilling life,” he says.

Ben driving through a forest.

Science Horizons intern Ben Dunn in the field in Alberta. Photo credit: Ben Dunn.

Permaculture is a system for resilient living and land use based on ecological principles. The system can be applied to urban spaces and rural settings such as farms. It includes practices such as renewable energy use and low-impact, home-scale water management.

Verge is located on a 160-acre wooded property in central Alberta south of Edmonton and is being converted into a self-reliant permaculture property that includes a farming component. An environmental consulting company, it is best known for its certification courses on permaculture design.

“The shift to online helped us enormously,” says Avis. The online courses attracted far more students, many from far away. “We were growing rapidly,” she says, “and knew we needed more people to continue the shift in our business model.”

Avis says that Dunn will have a key role as the company grows. He has a longstanding love of gardening and nature that traces back to his grandparents who sought a new life in Canada after escaping the 1930s famine in Ukraine. Their frugalness and resilience as a family helped him better appreciate his personal impact and dependence on the natural world. His grandfather grew vegetables for the family to eat and his grandmother grew hostas that she sold. From an early age, Dunn learned how to garden, including the value of composting.

At university, Dunn co-founded The Leftovers Club, a volunteer organization that redistributed uneaten food from catered events and cafeterias to food-insecure students around campus.

His work at Verge has been varied and includes website development, digital marketing and educational programming support. He also pitches in on permaculture farm projects such as planting garlic and raspberries and feeding rabbits, as well as building a passive solar greenhouse and installing rainwater harvesting systems.

Dunn considers his work on a three-day summit event “Building Your Permaculture Property” an important achievement of his. Held by Verge in April 2020, its first online summit featured leading permaculture designers, authors, educators and consultants and charged no registration fees. It attracted more than 15,000 registrants.

At Verge, Dunn says he has learned how to be an entrepreneur and developed digital marketing and business automation skills. He also acquired hands-on permaculture design experience and says spending time with Verge’s owners was inspiring.

Michelle and Rob Avis were mechanical engineers who left the oil and gas sector to start the company. “There is this incredible role for the brilliance of humans in design to be able to do better than just sustain the way things were,” says Michelle Avis. “And that’s the kind of industry we feel really passionate about.”

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