bio pic

Charlene Khan

Business Operations Manager

Charlene is originally from Massachussetts where she worked as a baker for 10 years. Additionally she lived and worked in Vermont for a Health Spa for 5 years. Charlene first came to Heartwood in 1986 as a 3 months students in the Life Exploration Program. She came back to Heartwood in 1987 to work as staff for 1 year. Upon returning in 1994 she has held a variety of staff and management positions over the years. She is currently working in the business office while also assisting in a variety of arenas along with assisting management as and when needed.

bio pic

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:

Programs I teach

bio pic

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.

Programs I teach

bio pic

Christopher Gilles

Tech Support

Chris left his native Wisconsin and post-college big city life 20 years ago for Alaska, to reconnect to the natural environment and rhythms of nature, and to live in a small town. After 8 years in Alaska, wanting to explore deeper aspects of himself and life in community, he spent 5 years in Western Massachusetts living and working at Kripalu Center for Yoga. Chris arrived at Heartwood in 2005 after some globetrotting, insisting that he was “not planning on staying very long.”

A decade later he finds himself still nestled comfortably amidst the hills and culture of what he has come to know and love as home.
He spends most of his time at Heartwood taking care of technological aspects of the community, be it computer networks, websites, or other geeky stuff, and occasionally sharing his perspectives on community living. He is currently busy fixing, building, and generally counteracting the 2nd law of thermodynamics. He loves to listen to and play music, philosophize, travel, read, and create cool things.

He believes we are moving into a new era in which we are becoming explorers, pioneers and creators of practices and communities that help us understand our place in the world and sustain healthy relationships with ourselves, each other, and the planet we live on. “It is the remembering, creating, embracing, and enactment of such practices that reinforce aspects of life that support an environment where humans can actualize their potential.”

bio pic


Farm Manager

Nolan joined Heartwood in 2017 to take over as the Organic Farm Manager. A Fresno native, Nolan started his career as a chef. After years of working at Michelen star restaurants in New York, he came back to the West Coast to focus on food from a different point of view. He started Tower Urban Family Farms in 2012 with two of his brothers. For years they have successfully run TUFF, and this year we are happy to welcome Nolan to our farm while his friends and family watch over TUFF in Fresno. Check out our Facebook page to see all of the awesome projects Nolan has started in Heartwood’s Garden already! And if you really want to make his day, you can donate some fencing & baby ducks.

bio pic

Megan Walsh

Operations Manager

Megan has been working at Heartwood Institute since March of 2017. Megan has lived in the surrounding community for 15 years, volunteering and helping to create community events. She experienced Heartwood Institute first as a visitor in 2001, while it was a massage school. She has witnessed the transformations over the years and now has stepped forward to work with our team. With a diverse background of skills, she enjoys the many aspects of her job. Megan’s job title is Operations Manager, but her true work is a Weaver.