There are literally hundreds of definitions of permaculture and as far as we are concerned, they are ALL VALID. Part of respecting and valuing diversity and self-regulation means tolerating ideas or interpretations that one may not agree with. While we spend a lot of time in the garden and working in nature, permaculture is applicable to all aspects of life. A more technical approach to permaculture suggests that we mimic nature and natural patterns to design and implement ecosystems that meet our collective needs. A deeper definition considers the whole of human culture and suggests that permaculture is a tool for designing new ecological culture, considering the whole of the earth in all of its strategies. Whatever definition works for you is cool. We like to say, it doesn’t matter what you call it, just so long as the work gets done!



The original land, bought in 2009, is comprised of 2.2 rocky acres with a year round river marking the western border. By taking advantage of this river, the whole farm now has reliable, gravity-fed water, a system that has no moving parts, pumps, energy usage, or regular failures. While the land does have an abundance of water, the original soil was another story. The whole farm is rocky and covered in only thin layers of soil. Due to irresponsible corn cultivation techniques over the past few generations, our farm soil was very worn out and, while still rich in some minerals, it was severely lacking in organic matter and major nutrients. We should note that the original condition of our farm  is representative of much of the valley floor in which we are located. Naturally, the goal is that each year we are actually building more soil, covering rocks, and creating fertility.


Farm Area Breakdown

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The farm area can be classified into three types as seen to the left, not counting the human and animal buildings:

These three types of cultivation are employed based on the natural lay and geography of the farm, which creates an interwoven patchwork designed to capture water, soil, sun, and other valuable resources, while also producing high value products for sale and trade. The creation of these smaller plots also enables us to have control over the grazing patterns of our animals. This design is constantly evolving and has been based mainly on Permaculture and Innovative Organic Gardening Techniques.


The Team

Here is a brief introduction to our team. We are all focused on building and maintaining a fully-functioning, profitable, organic permaculture farm.  We are proud to say that we are able to support 3 families of our staff member with vegetables, fruit and animal products.

 Shad Qudsi Co-Founder



Shad Qudsi has 15 years experience in organic and commercial gardening and farming. He is certified in Permaculture Design and has over 6 years experience in holistic site development and homesteading. Shad originally set out to study mathematics and work in big business, but long ago had a change of heart. He can now be found dancing in his garden in Tzununa. Aside from all of this, Shad is an enthusiastic teacher who truly believes in the work he is doing. Human resiliency cannot be erased from the landscape and now, it is coming back with a gentle loving caress.

 Nicholas Hernandez Farm Manager


Farm Manager

Born and raised in the town of Tzununa, which lies right below Atitlan Organics, Nicholas has worked with Shad and Colleen since Day 1, helping to craft the this amazing landscape. Nichloas is a supreme ninja farmer with skills beyond explanation. Shad and Colleen are endlessly impressed with his resourcefulness, ingenuity, and sheer motivation. Nicholas runs the day-to-day operations of the farm and manages the other farm workers.

 Colleen Donovan Co-Founder

Colleen Donovan


Colleen was born and raised in Rhode Island and moved to Guatemala with Shad in 2008. After teaching for five year at Escuela Caracol, Guatemala’s first Waldorf School, she stepped back from education to become more involved in Atitlan Organics. Today she does much of the marketing for the courses and workshops offered through the farm In her free time, Colleen likes to cook and ferment, dance, read, and knit. She loves life in Guatemala and is happy to help others to discover the magic of Lake Atitlan.

 Max Benjamin Earth Works

Max Benjamin

earth Works & Homesteading ninja

After earning a degree in mechanical engineering, Max spent eight years enjoying rich travel experience in India, Southeast Asia, Latin America, USA and Canada between stints faking it at a handful of 'good' jobs.  Eventually, Max left his marginal existence in New England and opened El Jocotel, a small ecoretreat on a slope around Lake Atitlan in the western highlands of Guatemala.  There he studies, practices and teaches permaculture to visitors from around the globe.  

 Neal Hegerty Volunteer Manager


Volunteer Manager & Beet-Man

Neil is originally from Ireland. He grew up on a dairy farm and has been around animals all his life. He studied agriculture in Ireland and has worked as a permaculturist for the past 10 years in Antigua. During his weekends he helps families to start permaculture gardens. Neil runs the volunteers every day on the farm. He makes sure they are on task and answers any questions students may have.

 Haley Calderwood Propogation Ninja

Haley Calderwood

Plant Propagation Ninja

Haley is from suburban Southern California. Having changed her major multiple times, and feeling a lack of practical skills, in 2013 she dropped out of University to travel through Central America, where her real education began. Permaculture Certified for 3 years, Haley is passionate about reconnecting others to live in harmony with nature. She has made Lake Atitlan her home, where she manages a small farm, teaches, and gives consultations. 

 Benita Hernandez Dairy Ninja

Benita Hernandez

Goat & Dairy Ninja

Bonita has worked at Atitlan Organics for 2 years. She grew up here in Tzununa. Her job on the farm is to prepare breakfast for the volunteers. She works very closely with the goats. Every day she takes them on a 2 hour walk so that they can eat fresh shrubbery and get some exercise. She loves her job and feels very privileged that she has the opportunity to work on the farm because work for women in Tzununa is often very hard on the body.  

 Lesyk Cenko Lead Developer

Lesyk Cenko

Lead Developer

Lesyk has a degree in Biomedical Engineering from Johns Hopkins University and is currently studying for his master’s degree in Biotechnology and Business Management at Carnegie Mellon University. Lesyk is partnering with Atitlan Organics to implement a local expansion project which includes the construction of a sustainable living education center. In his spare time, Lesyk is a kiteboarding instructor, avid skier and motorcycle enthusiast.

 Juan Cumes Vegetable Ninja

Juan Cumes

Vegetable & Animal Ninja

Jaun has been with the farm for 4 years. He is in charge of all vegetable production beginning with seeding, composting, weeding and finally regular harvesting for markets. Juan also walks the goats. He is the farms closest neighbor living across the river where he tends his own small garden with his family.