New York City Getaway: Omega Institute Offers New Perspectives

Permaculture students uncover a stream; images by Donna Connor

I longed to commune with nature, but knew I would need more than just beautiful scenery to keep me occupied. The Omega Institute, a retreat in New York’s Hudson Valley that offers myriad classes and seminars, seemed like just the right fit.

Once the site of a summer camp, Omega now specializes in bringing in teachers, healers and artists to share their expertise with adult learners. Always on the cutting edge, Omega proved a natural venue for Andrew Faust to offer his five-day workshop on permaculture, a multidisciplinary approach to green living that incorporates  organic farming, sustainable development and ecologically minded design.

Classes took place outside on Omega’s lush 190-acre campus and in the OCSL, a LEED-certified platinum center for waste water processing. The facility boasts an “eco-machine” consisting of plants, snails, bacteria and fungi that process waste water, as well as a geo-thermal system, a green roof and solar cells to enable it to have a zero-energy impact.

Omega’s offer of yoga, tai chi, and meditation classes at 7 a.m. got me up and going. Mid-day found me in a movement class –– a welcome physical and mental release –– and then off to dine on tasty and satisfying vegetarian treats in the cafeteria.

On walks during classes, more discoveries awaited: We unearthed a stream and sampled mustard greens and the bright green ends of the edible Hemlock tree, which I’m happy to report were not the poisonous herb famously –– and fatally –– ingested by Socrates.

Like me, the group of 15 taking the permaculture seminar wanted to discover less-costly, more fulfilling ways of living that would be more harmonious with nature. They ranged from a father of three planning a family farm to a life coach to a young couple wanting to live more sustainably in Manhattan.

As someone who loves to travel, I also learned ways to incorporate permaculture into my life on the road. Instead of hotels, I might choose to find a place to stay via CouchSurfing, so that I could travel with less environmental impact and get a local’s perspective on a new place.

Another way to take permaculture with you is to dine in restaurants that serve local foods; opt for walking or bike tours, instead of ones on buses; buy souvenirs from local craftspeople; and team up with local groups to volunteer to plant trees or clean up a park.

My time at Omega offered just the recharge I sought, provided me with a new framework to live more sustainably –– and gave me new hope for the future.


  • Frank Brown

    Thank you, Donna, for this informative report. I don’t know the Hudson Valley but this gives me reason to begin exploring.

  • Andrew

    Nice synopsis! Great having you in the class!