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Christina Zawerucha

Permaculture Director

Christina Zawerucha is a permaculture agronomist who is passionate about the exchange of ecological wisdom in multicultural contexts. Focused on working with immigrant populations, smallholder farmers and English Language Learners, Christina has developed participatory curricula with public, non-profit, and higher education institutions in New York City, Pennsylvania, Ukraine, Virginia, Haiti, and Ethiopia. Prior to Heartwood, Christina launched the social enterprise GreenPath food, Ethiopia’s first certified organic fruit and vegetable company and the first permaculture outgrower model in the world. Christina also co-founded Permaculture for Peace, a grassroots nonprofit organization that uses permaculture as a community-building tool for displaced populations in conflict and post-conflict areas. Her work as an educator has been featured in the New York Times, the MacArthur Foundation documentary “I Learn America,” and Al Jazeera America. She is currently pursuing a PhD in International Sustainable Agriculture through Wageningen University’s distance education program for working professionals, and is particularly excited about the power of diversity to create resilience in communities, ecosystems, and economies throughout our dynamic world.

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Natalie Varrallo

Culinary Arts Director

Natalie grew up in Woodstock, New York, where she was exposed early on to alternative forms of food, medicine, community, and lifestyle. Possessing an insatiable desire for travel and learning, she has studied extensively throughout the United States, Europe, and Asia, in pursuit of numerous disciplines and practices. From 2008 through 2014, she spent her summers in Taiwan, immersing herself in the traditions of Humanistic Buddhism through the Fo Guang Shan movement. Her role there resulted in positions with monasteries across Asia, where she played an integral part in their annual monastic retreats, which exposed students to the serious study of classical and contemporary Buddhist history, philosophy, and religion. Among the key elements taught was the practice of vegetable gardening and kitchen duty within a Buddhist monastery- specific duties that emphasize the meditative and spiritual qualities of food preparation and consumption.
After completing her degree in Botany and Sustainable Agriculture from the Evergreen State College in Washington, she went on to receive her certificate in permaculture design, and has since been working to combine the ritualistic and communal values of gardening and cooking that she learned in Asian monasteries with her formal background in botany and nutrition to arrive at the conception of a plant-based lifestyle that is wholly nourishing and ecologically sustainable. With a compassionate and friendly community as its bedrock, and bolstered by the studied cultivation of herbalism, forestry, soil science, fermentation, and mycology, the creation of food from a place of love can result in a distinct blend of science and sanctity that is thoroughly fulfilling, as well as uplifting.

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George Lea

Art Director

George brings three decades of experience working with both arts organizations and community development issues to the institute. Since the mid-seventies he has been involved with studio design and construction, gallery management, and artist agent services. In addition he has managed several independent studios. Working with a variety of community art centers and state arts councils he has conducted dozens of artist residencies throughout the United States. His work has been exhibited both nationally and internationally and can be found in both public and private collections.
As the arts program coordinator George is working to establish both a residency program and class offerings that empower participating Artists and students to do more within the communities that they come from. He has imbued the arts programs at Heartwood with an appreciation for the environment, social change, and sustainability. George blends his experience and knowledge of the arts, ecology, and social issues, with non-profit business management skills. As an administrator he places an emphasis on project integrity and sustainability while staying in alignment with the institutes mission to be of service. As the institutes Art Director he is driven to provide opportunities for participants to develop as individuals while expanding upon professional skill sets. He invites further inquiries regarding the program and can be reached via email at:

art@heartwoodinstitute.org