After a career on Wall Street, Marianne Cicala wanted to give back. When she began building the first organic farm in her rural Virginia community, she turned to Oregon State University’s Professional and Continuing Education for online training in sustainable landscape design.
Marianne started her farm with 35 acres of land and a log cabin outside of Kenbridge, Virginia. Here, her husband Jim Cooper could work on his art and she could explore her love of farming. She began with a small kitchen garden, but Marianne quickly determined that she needed more.
“I wanted to expand and actually have a clean truck farm,” says Marianne. “I knew I needed to educate myself beyond just a big personal garden, and I wanted it sustainable.”
When looking at options, Oregon State’s Permaculture Design Certificate—and Advanced Permaculture Design Tools course—stood out. Marianne had a lifetime of gardening experience, but she wanted technical training on sustainable landscape design. An academic program from a respected university was the perfect fit.
After starting the course, Marianne appreciated instructor Andrew Millison’s expert insight, the community she found in an online space and the opportunity to produce landscape design plans she could immediately use on her farm.
“I knew I needed to educate myself beyond just a big personal garden, and I wanted it sustainable.”
When talking about Andrew’s instruction, Marianne says, “I had somebody that had not only designed and understood the academics of water and wind and movement but had done installations by his own right. To have somebody that has that kind of experience and knowledge critiquing my design was priceless.”
Ultimately, Andrew’s feedback—and the knowledge gained from this course—gave Marianne the confidence she needed to move forward with her organic farm. Now, she shares this knowledge with others at Cricket’s Cove (her farm), where she hosts her own permaculture workshops and invites interns to work and train.
Marianne is out there, providing invaluable knowledge and experience on sustainable landscape design to aspiring farmers and ensuring these sustainable practices spread. When doing this important work and giving back to her communities, Marianne relies on the example set by Andrew.
“My favorite thing about Andrew is his absolute compassion and attention to everybody,” says Marianne. “I always have interns and apprentices on the farm, and the way he taught and shared and partnered with his students really gave me a wonderful mentor in the educational field of permaculture.”
“To have somebody that has that kind of experience and knowledge critiquing my design was priceless.”
In addition to giving back through her farm and training others, Marianne also has deep roots in her small Virginia town of Kenbridge. When looking to expand her business, Marianne opened Twigs and Berries, a farm store and fresh food store built in an abandoned building on Main Street. This store provides organic produce and gardening equipment to her community, and it was the first organic grocery store in the county when she started.
At the end of our conversation, Marianne reflects on where she is now and the experience that led her here.
“I hope I have conveyed how rich my current life is, absolutely without question because of what I have gleaned from Andrew in that class,” says Marianne. “At this stage in my life, that’s saying a lot.”