I grew up working on farm fields in beautiful Schoharie Valley, NY, with an insatiable curiosity about the natural world around me. Luckily, I had family friends that were there to fan the flames of this curiosity. The farm work taught me to like hard, physical labor, in all kinds of weather conditions, and that it was way more fun when shared with friends!
I began organizing outdoor education programs while in College, beginning with a program called SunShip Earth in my hometown Elementary School. I moved to Ithaca, NY in 2000 and met Dale Bryner (founder of Earth Arts) for tea on a Spring day, and within hours we were planning programs together. We played and taught together at Earth Arts until Dale’s death in November, 2011.
I attended, and then was on staff for the Vermont Willderness School Art of Mentoring programs for many years, working with both the adult and children’s programs.
My other “adult” jobs have included: Corporate Computer Trainer, Bassoon Player, Restaurant owner, High School Math teacher, Waldorf Kindergarten Teacher, Home schooling Mom, and a Professional Clown – not necessarily in that order! I am also a NYS certified teacher for grades K-12.
As Executive Director of Earth Arts, I strive to stay focused on the Big Picture, and the day-to-day operations of the organization, while still supporting this amazing staff and getting out in the woods with the kids as much as possible. Today, Earth Arts lives on, continuing that vision shared over tea with Dale and expanding to give us the opportunity to offer programs at various venues.I love to find places in the Ithaca Community where Earth Arts activities fit in, and then work to make that happen!
When not at Earth Arts, you can find me practicing my daily-ish meditation, sitting in my sit spot, reading, creating pottery or painting, sketching in journals, stalking wild edible plants, walking in the woods, poking dead things with sticks, or watching movies.
Simone Lackey, Mentor
I grew up in New York City but retreated to the Hudson Valley on the weekends where my mother kindled my passion for riding horses, especially on long trail rides through the woods and my father engaged my imagination playing on fallen over trees and shared his excitement for birds as we would kayak in the bay of the Hudson River. High school disconnected me from this world for a while until I met my high school social studies teacher Andy who ignited a fire inside me I never knew was burning. First guiding me through a process of questioning what the self is and then illuminated the connection between the food system, the earth and me, my life was transformed. From there began my journey to connect to the earth and explore “sustainability.” College brought me to Ithaca, which lead me to an apprenticeship with the Finger Lake Permaculture Institute, where I met Steve, who brought me to Earth Arts in the late Winter of 2010. Since then I have been swimming in an ocean of connecting, learning and mentoring.
My past couple years have been spent studying and learning through various schools. I have studied Permaculture with the Finger Lakes Permaculture Institute in summer 2009 and Permaculture Teaching with Permaculture Research Institute-Cold Climate and Dave Jacke in winter 2010. I studied herbal medicine with 7Song and the Northeast School of Botanical Medicine in Spring through Fall 2010. And I received my bachelor’s degree from Gaia University in Integrative Ecosocial Design in 2011.
When at Earth Arts I find myself leading songs, drawing out stories of the day, making sure everyone’s need are met and helping out with clay projects. In the Country Mouse home school program I work with the middle age group clan, the Bird Clan, and you will us exploring the land, walking over the beaver dam and crawling through the brush, building unique forts, rolling down the hills and laughing.
When not at Earth Arts, you can find me playing with and watching other children and babies, working the land, caring for our chickens, cooking and fermenting local foods, wandering the woods and swimming in the many beautiful bodies of water in our region.
Danielle Prizzi, Lead Teacher at the Lantern Program
Danielle Prizzi is a plant loving enthusiast, who spends much of her time studying and practicing herbal medicine, wild foraging, and gardening. Each day she arrises in constant wonder, empathy, gratitude and presence for all beings of the natural world. Rooted from the days of her early childhood, Danielle has a passion for handiwork utilizing natural fibers to sew, crochet and spin fibers to fuel her creative projects. Once named a ‘song-catcher’, she lends her hands and voice to making music and songwriting, where the natural world inspires her song. She graduated from Ithaca College, where she focused her education on integrating alternative medicine/healing, sustainable living, and plant studies, with her formal education just marking the beginning her journey to live and breathe the human-nature innate connection. As a curious seeker of knowledge and truth, she has and continues to study with herbalists, primitive skills enthusiasts, naturalists, and healers from all around the world. She has spent the last three and a half years working for Primitive Pursuits having the opportunity to work with all age groups from preschoolers to adults. When she isn’t out in the woods mentoring children and adults through nature connection, she nestles in the expansive farm fields of the Connecticut Hill area working to establish an off-the-grid yurtstead.
I grew up in Ithaca with the Eldridge Wilderness as my back yard and spent many hours there, both alone and with friends, exploring, discovering and playing in the woodlands, meadows and gorge. Now I do all those things with my own kids! As I was growing up I had my own ideas about what education should be like and kept seeking as many options to try out as I could. My quest led me first to the New Junior High Program and the Alternative Community High School (which would merge to become ACS), off the-beaten-path classes at college and an experiential graduate program, the Audubon Expedition Institute, that involved driving around the country in a converted school bus to learn directly from and about different biomes, cultures, environmental issues and from unique teachers all over the country, all the while trying to govern ourselves through consensus. During this time I worked summers at the Cayuga Nature Center Summer Camp and had an environmental ed. internship there.
With my MS complete, I looked to work with teens and found my first opportunity volunteering with the South Lansing School for Girls doing team challenge work with incarcerated girls while job hunting. Later that summer I accepted a job as a Youth Development Program Leader for the Outings Program at the Ithaca Youth Bureau. For 10 years I ran outdoor adventure programs for combined groups of at-risk and non-at-risk teens. Our mission was to use nature and outdoor adventuring as a way to teach and develop social skills for at-risk teens, which we did through hiking, exploring, camping, canoeing, rock climbing, fire building, etc.
I left the Ithaca Youth Bureau in 2003 after the birth of my first daughter and began the journey of parenting and homeschooling my 2 girls. During that time I was introduced to Waldorf education. As my children grew, I developed a parent-child class called Children of the Forest incorporating aspects of Waldorf early childhood education with uninterrupted time in the arms of Mother Nature – no matter the weather! – and I now happily bring it to Earth Arts. I have been working as a mentor for Earth Arts since spring of 2014 and it has been a joy to be part of such a loving and supportive community and to spend time with all of the great kids.
I have been homeschooling my 2 daughters for the last 13+ years and love it! I’m married to a self-described goofball who likes to putter around and play in the dirt. He’s also gifted me with a wonderful 18yo stepson whom we don’t get to see enough of.
An Ithaca native, Sophia has an undergraduate degree in International Relations and Anthropology. After leaving her job at a political research center in Istanbul, Turkey, she spent time in the mountains of southern Turkey where she ate pomegranates right off the trees and learned about compost toilets and alternative living. This experience propelled her to engage with the life around her and explore other ways of being and knowing in this world. Since that time she went on to complete a masters in Human Ecology from Lund University in Sweden, completed an internship in agroecology at Wagenengin University in the Netherlands and spent time wwoofing and interning at farms in several countries. In 2016 she was a playworker at Ithaca Children’s Garden summer camp and worked at Ithaca Montessori as a classroom teacher with ages 5 months to 5 years. From 2017-2019 she was a fellow with the Allegheny Mountain Institute in Virginia where she had the space and support to build relationships in the forest she lived in, took an herbalism course and received a Permaculture Design Certificate and worked as a farm and education assistant at the Virginia School for the Deaf and the Blind for a year. Since moving back to Ithaca in January 2019, she has worked as a field instructor at Primitive Pursuits and as the registrar and food and nutrition educator at Ithaca Children’s Garden. Her interests include wildcrafting, herbalism, lacto-fermentating, cooking, foraging and painting Ukrainian Easter eggs. Her goals are to share the wonders of the world we live in through participatory observation and the building of relationships with all who she interacts with.
Debra Lewis, Oaks and Acorns Mentor
As a child the woods and the creek were my sanctuary. I spent hours at a time alone outside exploring and communing. As a girl scout at sleep away camp I fell even more in love with the mushrooms and the trees, the lake and ponds, and the birds.
In college, I majored in ‘The Arts and Education,’ studying the role that creativity and the arts play in human growth and development, and I minored in Religious Studies. I took classes primarily in creative writing, sociology, philosophy, psychology, religious studies, education, and the arts. Through this interdisciplinary approach to my college education I more fully integrated my past experiences finding peace and inspiration in nature with my spirituality and my creative expression, and with my understanding of the world around me and my place in it.
After college, the work I did involving children included: teaching creative writing at Writers and Books in Rochester, NY for 7 years, volunteering in children’s garden education and community gardens in Boston, and volunteering to assist children with homework and reading at Horizons for Homeless Children.
Other jobs I have held include: newspaper reporter and photographer, waitress, bartender, home health aide, massage therapist, yoga instructor, business owner, freelance writer and editor, and stay-at-home mom. I am the Founding Board President of the Finger Lakes Toy Library, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit toy lending library in Ithaca, NY, and I facilitate a forest-school style meet-up group on my property in Mecklenburg since spring of 2018.
After spending a year participating in the Oaks and Acorns program at Earth Arts with my daughter, I am excited to co-mentor the program. I am currently self-studying the Coyote’s Guide to Connecting With Nature and the Kamana One Naturalist Training Program, while finding inspiration and learning the ways of nature connection first-hand thanks to Julie.
While not at Earth Arts, you can find me out and about homeschooling my preschool daughter Theia: dancing, studying music, making art, exploring the world, and making friends together; dreaming and nurturing in the garden; leading the toy library board; or planning my next great project!
Pierce Walsh, Mentor
I grew up on the banks of Fall Creek, in a magical wooded valley outside of McClain NY .The acres of land were owned by my parents, aunts, and uncles. I was the oldest kid on the land, my little sister , six younger cousins and I spent our spring, summer, and fall days, building forts under the pines, climbing trees in “Elf -Wood”, and creek walking near “Owl Island”. All winter we built snow caves, and sledded down the two Hog Backs. My parents taught me at home, where we tended a vegetable garden, and learned about the wild plants and animals.. My father was a carpenter by trade, and by helping him, I developed a love for working with my hands. Also through helping my mom heat our home with wood(a log cabin she and my dad built together), a lifelong connection to the trees and their many gifts was kindled.
In college, I studied Fine Art, and Environmental Conservation and became active in a group called Finger Lakes Environmental Action (FLEA) – started by my younger sister Briony, and best friends Nick Neddo, and Alex E. Mordas. We looked at ways to deal with environmental problems, mostly through organizing protests against big corporations.
I spent the summer of 98’ exploring different ecosystems in back country settings in southern Alaska., as part of an Environmental Field Studies class. This summer of temperate rain forests ,glaciers, grizzly bears, wolverines, eagle , puffins, and life changing adventure was followed by an independent study project where my friend Nick and I “lived in the woods for one year”. (Nick is now the co founder of the Roots School of Wilderness Survival in Vermont). The lessons I learned during that experience could fill a book, and set much of the foundation for my “survival” and “homesteading” knowledge.
After that project came to an end, I set off on journey by way of loaded station wagon, across this turtle island accompanied by Jenny, my partner of 13 years. From eastern Canada, to the midwest, west coast, southwest and Hawaiian islands, we explored so many amazing ecosystems and met and learned from so many wonderful people. After our time on the “road“, Jenny and I decided that, the world is a big and beautiful place, but there is no place like home. For us, home was the Finger Lakes region of NY, where we both had grown up. So home we came, to start a family, and weave ourselves into the fabric of the community here in Ithaca NY.
Since 2001, I have been working as a carpenter and nature instructor in the Ithaca area, for Earth Arts, Primitive Pursuits, Camp Earth Connection and the Ithaca Youth Bureau. Most recently, since Dale Bryner’s death (Earth Arts Founder) , I have been putting all of my energy into helping Julie develop new programming and infrastructure for Earth Arts. I have opened up our family farmstead as one of Earth Art’s new homes, nestled in a beautiful glacial valley with its incredible diversity of plant ,animal, and bird life. The Finger Lakes Trail and Shindagin State Forest are our back door to adventure. Our little red barn has been transformed into a pottery studio, where we continue to carry on the love for clay and art, begun by our founder Dale.
When at Earth Arts you can find me tracking an animal, running around on all fours, pretending I am an animal, telling funny stories, playing my guitar and co-creating a song about nature with the kids, starting fires with friction, all while occasionally breaking into a funny accent.
When not at Earth Arts, you can find me playing in the woods with my own three kids, wife and dog, playing guitar and singing with my friends, climbing a tree, feeding our chickens, working in our garden, or trying to check something off of the, never-ending projects that need doin’ around our house and “farm.”
Lane Walsh, Mentor
Raised in a large family in Cortland NY, I was always drawn to the serenity of the surrounding woods and waterways we are blessed to inhabit. In the early 70’s, I built a tipi on the majestic shores of fall creek, near .McLean. Soon I acquired 100 red pine trees marked for harvest by the Conservation Department and built a log cabin in which Carla and I raised and home schooled our two children, Pierce and Briony. In these idyllic surroundings my love of nature and children flourished. That experience, plus having been a go-to babysitter for four younger siblings, five younger cousins, and numerous neighbors, set the stage nicely for when my dear departed friend and mentor Dale Bryner invited me to join her, my son Pierce, and Julie, working with the kids (and my grandson Owl) at Earth Arts.
In 2009 I attended the Art of Mentoring session at Vermont Wilderness School and gained a wealth of knowledge about group dynamics and “Coyote” Mentoring. I gained a view, if you will, of the bigger picture of what the Earth Arts community is all about, just that… community.
I have been a first aid certified bus driver in the Colorado mountains, a tour guide in Lake Placid, and a newspaper reporter. In my four decades working in the building trades that gave me the creative problem solving mindset I used to pass on to the next generation… or two… or seven.
As a mentor-in-training at Earth Arts, I strive to emulate Dale’s uncanny ability to encourage kids of all ages to feel good about themselves and to respect and accept everyone else in the community, while (not incidentally) having lots and lots of fun.
When not at Earth Arts, you can find me practicing guitar, playing with my grandchildren, or tinkering around the Coddington Road Earth Arts site, mowing mazes or planning new fun stuff to do.
As a child I often took hikes with my family in Ithaca and elsewhere, but my earliest memories of really being outdoors are of being at Earth Arts. My mother signed me up for the homeschool program and that was that. I went from being a child who was afraid of dirt to one who loved getting covered in mud. I looked forward to every Thursday spent exploring the woods and meadows of Six Mile Creek with Dale and Julie. I loved learning about the animals and plants of the region, but of course getting muddy and collecting rocks were activities that drew me in as well. As the youngest of six children, I was always drawn to leadership roles outside of my home. At around the age of 11 I became more and more interested not only in the natural world around me, but in leading the activities and games at Earth Arts. As I started slipping into this role, Dale and Julie encouraged and guided me to begin mentoring. Since then I’ve been mentoring at Earth Arts programs for the past six years.
Outside of Earth Arts I like to spend my time playing my cello and reading and writing poetry.
Steve Gabriel, Mentor
My earliest experiences in the woods were on camping trips in the Adirondacks with my father as a young boy. A love for camping and hiking led to adventures in the woods, lakes, and rivers rock climbing, kayaking, and canoeing. As I grew up and learned more about the environment I was deeply troubled by the fact that the places I loved to spend time were being destroyed by human activity. I was convinced that I needed to learn not only about how to enjoy time outdoors, but also how to feed myself and restore the health of the land. Since moving back to the Ithaca area in 2005 I have devoted my time to learning and sharing ecology, nature awareness, and Permaculture with people of all ages and walks of life.
I have a great deal of knowledge in Permaculture/gardening/small farming/forestry. I am becoming proficient at all those “homeowner” skills of plumbing, electric, carpentry. I am First Aid/CPR certified.
When not at Earth Arts, you can find me on the Farmstead, feeding ducks and harvesting mushrooms, teaching gardening skills and researching mushroom cultivation through Cornell Cooperative Extension, outside in all weather swimming/hiking/xc skiing, watching movies & reading good books.