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Penny Livingston-Stark



Photo by Barbara Ries

When landscaper Penny Livingston met her future husband James Stark on a boat in Tomales Bay, there was an immediate attraction; however, there was also a major obstacle to the future of their courtship. He lived in Canada and was passing through Marin on his way to an NGO appointment in Thailand for two years. “This was the early ’90s, so I bought a fax machine to communicate,” she remembers. “This was before e-mail.” Stark cut his adventure in half, returned to West Marin, and the couple settled into a home in Point Reyes. Together they perfected the art of rainwater collection, edible landscaping, pond and water systems and watershed restoration as they observed self-sustaining ecological systems throughout the different seasons. As more people became interested in learning how to duplicate their unique lifestyle, the Livingston-Stark home became the Permaculture Institute of Northern California (PINC). She also kept busy by creating the Ecological Design Program at the San Francisco Institute of Architecture and cofounding the West Marin Growers’ Group, West Marin Farmers’ Market and Community Land Trust Association of Marin. Today, she is internationally recognized as an educator and cofounder of Regenerative Design Institute at Commonweal Garden in Bolinas, an offshoot of PINC.

You could live anywhere. Why Marin? I grew up here (Mill Valley, 921 Sunnyside Ave.). I know this place. I have never found a more desirable place to live. I feel deep gratitude to my parents for settling here.

What makes you happy in Marin? The natural beauty, public open space, local agriculture, the Golden Gate Bridge, the climate and the consciousness and awareness of the community are just a few of the reasons I love being here.

What bothers you here? Traffic… I don’t experience it a lot in West Marin, but in East Marin it can get kind of intense. Otherwise, I can’t think of anything that really bothers me here.

What do you value every day? Besides health, friends and family, I also have a practice of being grateful for the water, earth, wind, fire, trees, animals, microorganisms, birds, fish, marshes, the ocean, rain, sun…

What is your personal idea of luxury? Having time to myself.

Who has influenced you the most? Many people. My step-father, Norm Harrington, helped me become the adult that I am. Professionally, Bill Mollison, who developed the
permaculture concept. He is contiunally curious and wonderful to be around. Spiritually and emotionally, my husband, James Stark.

What has been the most fulfilling moment in your work? When I see people have “aha moments” and lightbulbs go off in their heads and hearts. At times people start to weep because they are becoming inspired to create a hopeful future for themselves and others.

What’s your desert-island favorite book or album? Again, it is hard to choose one. What popped into my head is a book called The Attentive Heart by Stephanie Kaza. She is a naturalist, Buddhist and writer who used to live at Green Gulch Farm. She wrote a book about all of her favorite trees in her life. I’m not sure if it’s still in print.

What’s your favorite place to unwind? At the ocean or near any living body of water.

How do you want to be remembered? As someone who deeply cares about the health of the earth and all of creation.

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