"My other hammer is also an Estwing." In some circles that's all I'd need to say to explain myself to a stranger in seven words or less.

Granted, those strangers are few and far between, which makes an encounter with one all the more cherished.

I love talking to on-to-it builders almost as much as on-to-it farmers — those with both passion and understanding of their professions.

Sharing an appreciation for quality tools, innovative ideas and robust systems is my happy place — although surfing is also my happy place. I haven't got to combine the two yet, but one can still dream.

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I recently had the pleasure of presenting at the 44th annual Northeast Organic Farmers' Association (NOFA) conference in Amherst, Massachusetts — the oldest and largest event of its type worldwide.

It's been a decade since I presented there — the distance between New Zealand and New England prohibiting a weekend away.

By chance the stars aligned this year with my father's 80th birthday a weekend before and 40km away from the conference.

My family enjoyed the gap week of cousins, swimming pools, fresh tomatoes, and sweet corn before heading to Amherst.

What an event! The kids were safely tucked into the children's conference while my wife Dani and I strategically planned which of the diverse offerings to attend.

What struck me most — what I had forgotten over the past 10 years — was the robustness of conversations taking place among the 150 presenters and 1000 attendees.
The thoughtful management systems, specialised agriculture vocabulary, and engaging Q&A reminded me why I came back year after year while farming in nearby New Hampshire.

What defines the conference is professionalism — people who really know their stuff because they do it day in and day out.

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Agriculture, especially small-scale organic agriculture, has little tolerance for amateurs — it's survival of the fittest and many are weeded out along the way.

The women and men who persevere and ultimately make a living growing high quality food for their communities embody the perfect marriage of environmentalism and professionalism.

The following week I spent time on a long board near Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.
Surfing alone provides time for reflection, and I pondered why that unique skillset of professionalism and environmentalism is so rare outside organic farming.

Over the past seven years that I've worked in the fields of housing and permaculture, it's become obvious that few in either field have a robust combination of professionalism and environmentalism.

Nelson Lebo
Nelson Lebo

Most building professionals have little regard for the environment and most permaculturists have no professional experience growing food or building and renovation.

This means the general public is under-served by both and too often misled by bad advice.

People and the planet suffer.

Time on the board confirmed what's become a combined mission — promoting a higher level of environmentalism in the building industry and promoting a higher level of professionalism among permaculturists and environmentalists.

Although results have been mixed, I'm pleased to work with a small but talented group of colleagues locally and nationally to advance these goals.

Our farm in Okoia has become a learning hub for regenerative agriculture, home building and renovation, and we're proud to offer programmes at prices ordinary people can afford.

Following up on another successful Whanganui Permaculture Weekend, upcoming events include an Introduction to Permaculture on October 7, and Affordable Eco-Home Building on November 18.

When it comes to the environment, everyone deserves professional advice.

Nelson Lebo is an eco-design professional working in the fields of home building, renovation, and farming. Programmes and Services: theecoschool.net