The Firefly Gathering’s new executive director, Marissa Percoco, traces the roots of her passion for permaculture directly to her grandfather’s garden. An Italian immigrant, he turned his middle-class California home into a sustainable microfarm, lush with vegetables and fruit trees.
“He was a permaculturist before that word existed. He fermented and made his own wine and grew about 60% of their food in his little backyard,” says Percoco. “It was just like paradise for me. It was the safest space in my childhood.”
Percoco and her four children have created their own sustainable paradise on their off-grid, tiny-house homestead in Barnardsville. A longtime friend of Wild Fermentation author Sandor Katz, she started teaching workshops on fermenting and mead-making in 2009 and attended her first Firefly Gathering as an instructor in 2010. Through her website, wilderlandia.org, she offers other sustainability and ancestral skills experiences as well, such as a forest-based mentorship program for young adolescents.
This spring, COVID-19 stay-at-home orders went into effect just as planning for the 2020 Firefly Gathering was about to go into full swing. Percoco and other organizers had no choice but to cancel the June event, which would have been her first gathering as executive director. “It’s definitely scary financially, because we’re a crowd-sourced organization that just makes our money from one event,” she says.
But she notes that the pandemic has also piqued public interest in resilience, sustainability and permaculture skills, which Firefly celebrates. “I really feel like there’s a new hunger for these things,” she says. In response, Percoco has partnered with her Barnardsville neighbor, Firefly Gathering and Wild Abundance founder Natalie Bogwalker, to create instructional videos on fermentation for an online self-sufficiency school.
“I feel like right now this COVID virus is forcing people to slow down and, hopefully, look internally and not just at their phones,” Percoco says. “I do hope that this virus does have a positive effect in our culture in a big way, like paradigm shifting and recognizing that we’re not secure — we’re not food secure, we’re not material secure. It’s interesting how something like this can come in and show us how vulnerable we are.”