THE INSTRUCTOR TEAM
Mia Andler: Founder, Director, Instructor
Originally from Finland, Mia has studied the regenerative practices of earth based cultures around the world and has been mentoring children and adults for almost 20 years. She directed and co-founded the Bay Area branch of Trackers Earth, managed several outdoor education programs, and taught nature education in many California schools. She is the co-author of “The Bay Area Forager”, a guide to edible wild plants of the Bay Area. She has served on the board of non-profits including Sustainable Fairfax and Circlecenter and been an elected member of the Fairfax Open Space Committee. Mia’s deep knowledge of the local environment stems from hands-on experience outdoors. She has spent countless hours studying the flora, fauna and ecology of Marin. Mia brings a rich background of life-skills to her classes and has taught a variety of topics including animal tracking, nature awareness, survival skills, bird language, art, music, english as a second language, special education and conflict resolution to name just a few. Mia has been a featured expert in articles and films including Time Magazine and the Travel Channel’s “Wild Within”. Mia lives at Tara Firma Farms with her nature loving son, and is passionate about meeting our basic needs of food, water, shelter and connection in a balanced way with our environment. You can read more about Mia on her website www.miaandler.com.
Noelle Marquis: Program Director
Noelle was born and raised in the Bay Area. Her time playing and wandering the hills and oak woodlands around her hometown birthed a deep love of the plants, animals, and land here. Her first job out of college was teaching environmental education on an organic farm and wilderness preserve, and she has never looked back from sharing nature with children. She has worked for many public and private schools as a gardening teacher and naturalist, helped co-found and co-run a local nature-connection day care, and has studied permaculture, nature awareness, and mentoring nature connection in the Regenerative Design and Nature Awareness program. She lives with her husband and daughter in their hand-restored home in Woodacre, and loves to grow beautiful gardens and good food, dance, and do yoga in her spare time.
Spencer Nielsen: Director of Teen Programs
Spencer grew up in Novato exploring the hills and valleys of Marin County and the wild lands of northern California. After studying Ecology at UCSD and Environmental Education at UCSC, Spencer began leading youth nature programs in 2005. He has taken numerous Natural History courses at College of Marin with one of his mentors, Joe Mueller. He has also studied organic farming and permaculture, the latter of which he teaches at Regenerative Design Institute in Bolinas and Sivananda Yoga Farm in Grass Valley. In addition to consulting and installing gardens for families in Marin, he consults and supports farms internationally. He completed a Master’s degree through Gaia University in 2012, focusing on nature-based rites of passage in the context of regenerating culture.
Spencer has worked with youth ages 4-18, teaching about nature, gardening/farming, permaculture, and ancestral skills. He has been working with Vilda since its inception, leading and creating homeschool and after-school programs, summer camps, and backpacking trips. Having facilitated rites of passage for youth and adults, through other local schools & organizations - namely Stepping Stones Project and Wilderness Reflections, Spencer is passionate about working with youth as they transition into their teens, bridging the fields of eco-psycology with natural history. Spencer is a Wilderness First Responder.
Spencer lives and tends his garden in Fairfax with his wife Bonnie, who also works with food and the environment in Marin. He is also a lifelong student of herbalism, Ayurveda, yoga, and chi gong - all of which he teaches as well. Spencer is a passionate musician, who loves to play flute and didjeridoo, especially in his garden or in the wild.
Kelly spent a lot of her childhood high up in trees, alternately communing with the natural world in silent observation or singing her heart out. Since then, she has explored many different paths, but she always comes home to nature and songs, and she loves to bring others along with her! She is an ecologist, permaculturist, and mentor who has over 25 years of experience as an educator of children and adults. She holds a Master's degree from CIIS and has taught in a wide variety of contexts, including public elementary schools, private institutions, and camps. She was mentored as a Waldorf pre-school teacher and is currently in a Waldorf Teacher Training program. She is also the dedicated mother of a wonderful 8-year-old boy. In 2012, she graduated from Jon Young’s Regenerative Design and Nature Awareness program, where she realized the real value of her connection to the natural world. She has been a river raft guide and is a swiftwater rescue technician as well as CPR and First Aid certified. She is very happy to be part of the Vilda team!
DANE BOWMAN: INSTRUCTOR
Dane grew up running around barefoot, biking the Marin hills, and making frequent trips to catch some waves in Bolinas. He has early memories of feeling an affinity and love for the earth . From catching Crawdads, searching for snakes, to campouts on Mt. Burdell, to learning how to hunt and fish, Marin has been his home and his teacher.
Early on, Dane knew he wanted to work with children, but didn’t know which path to take. After studying with the Regenerative Design Institute and completing a 9-month intensive specializing in nature awareness, mentoring, and permaculture, Dane knew he wanted share his deep love for what is Wild through mentoring and connecting kids to nature.
Dane has been an instructor with Vilda for 6 years, leading Dirt Time Homeschool, Nature After School, summer camps, and skills camps. When not working with Vilda, you can find Dane wandering the many vast hills of Marin, climbing trees,tracking animals, foraging wild edible plants and mushrooms, tanning deer hides, or sitting by a fire sharing songs and stories with friends. Dane is First Aid Certified.
Shannon Savage: Instructor
Shannon has a tenacious love for diversity and is therefor a jack of all trades, with skills ranging from restoring riparian corridors, to bicycle repair, to herbalism to juggling to being an Emergency Medical Technician (EMT). She is well known in Fairfax as an excellent mentor for youth, having offered childcare and tutoring here for the past 13 years.
Shannon has worked extensively with children and youth in a variety of areas. She has held a position as an environmental educator with Next Generation, County Community School and Marin Conservation Corps. She has completed the WildCare naturalist teacher training and is a naturalist with The Salmon Protection and Watershed Network (S.P.A.W.N.). Shannon also holds a B.S. in Health Science Studies from Quinnipiac University and has an extensive background in holistic bodywork and natural medicine. She regularly attends the Women’s Herbal Symposium, and primitive skills gatherings from CA all the way up to Vancouver. She has taken her love of nature into community action by helping to establish The Bicycle Works in San Anselmo, working with Safe Routes to Schools, and at many other local businesses.
Shannon grew up on the east coast in upstate New York and Connecticut. Since early childhood, she has been meeting life’s challenges by tuning to nature. Her teaching style draws upon the many connections between nature, environment and the human body/self. For 10 years she competed in USSA ski racing, has coached soccer, skiing and aerial dance. Three years ago she learned to surf and has become totally enchanted by the sea! Now all free time is devoted to the water, be it training to swim Alcatraz, or looking for waves, seals, and limpets. She is a Senior Advocate, and Child Care Specialist at The Centers for Domestic Peace.
Amanda Fin: Instructor
Amanda has been bridging both fine arts and nature connection for 8 years. She’s taught at universities, schools and museums.
As a child, she grew up next to a small grove of oaks and a creek. There she found an endless adventure, full of crayfish, snakes and bugs to collect. She bought her first wild food guide when she was 10, and the whole neighborhood became her foraging ground. She honed her skills as a squirrel, gathering acorns and also as a deer, eating the grass and dandelions.
Pulled by the lore of the Pacific Northwest, Amanda moved to Seattle, met a group of artists, forests of mushrooms, and an amazing new landscape. She worked as a sculptor and her work earned her a scholarship to Stanford University, an MFA and two research fellowships to the Galapagos Islands to study bird breeding adaptations and eco-tourism.
Her passions include community and creating art, wild food creations and elixirs with groups of friends. She loves to bicycle to camp and attends the Buckeye Gathering with her two sons. Amanda is CPR and First Aid Certified.
TIANA ELLAURI: INSTRUCTOR
Tiana believes that nature has the power to heal individual and interpersonal wounds. A Marin native, she grew up singing, dancing, writing and playing in the bountiful lands of Mount Tamalpais, Pt. Reyes, and the San Francisco Bay. She studied dance, philosophy and English at UCLA and began working for California State Parks while in Southern California. For State Parks, she did everything from natural and cultural interpretation, school group facilitation, trail scouting and maintenance, to historic artifact management. For the past few summers, she has served as director for the State Parks’ Summer Learning Program in which she led groups of inner-city school kids on first-time campouts. Most recently, she received a Master’s degree in Ecopsychology from the California Institute of Integral Studies with which she continues to help children and adults develop meaning relationships with Mother Earth.
Nick Nutu: Instructor
Nick grew up in the land of blue hills known as Massachusetts. At an early age he was building forts/igloos, biking, and wandering with his dog in the woods. His father taught him how to ski, fish, and get “lost” in the wild. Nick has camped and backpacked all over the world, from the Appalachians and Sierras to the distant jungles of Central/South America. He's fallen in love with nature from foraging with Romanian gypsies, working on organic farms, and kayaking the Amazon rivers. He's as comfortable as can be outdoors.
Nick studied Media Arts and philosophy at the University of Arizona, receiving his Bachelor of Arts. He spent time his time in the desert hiking, riding horses, and learning about Native American history. Since then he has been on a quest to study with many different elders, participating in sweat lodges and traditional ceremonies. When he’s not traveling the world you can find Nick exploring with his dog searching for medicinal plants around Mt. Tamalpais. Nick is Wilderness First Aid and CPR certified.
Laura Avalos: Instructor
Laura brings 15 years of experience working with children and a master's in counseling psychology. However, her most shining qualities include her caring nature, ability to connect with children, and dedication to the skills and knowledge Vilda teaches.
Born in Costa Rica, Laura's childhood was full of outdoor adventures with her parents. Exploring tropical rain forests with her biologist mother and gazing at the night sky's immensity with her father.
Laura believes that reconnecting children to the magic of nature not only expands their knowledge; but also cultivates gratitude, compassion, cooperation, and a life-long relationship and stewardship to the non-human natural world. Laura spends her free time hiking, singing and listening to plants.
KATIANA GIACONA: INSTRUCTOR
Katiana Giacona believes that “real life skills” are very important for people to have and kids to learn. She is a mother and has a deep passion for the natural world and shares it enthusiastically. Katiana holds a Natural History Certificate from the College of Marin and has worked in the following fields: teaching outdoor education programs, landscaper for installing edible gardens, plant identification walks, garden teacher at a private school in Marin, and as a Biodynamic backyard farmer. She teaches kids a variety of primitive skills, nature awareness, arts and crafts and loves getting them excited about all things nature related. For example: painting kids faces with natural clay found on their hikes, making cordage bracelets, and teaching about the native flora and fauna of Marin County.
Katiana grew up in Marin and Switzerland with an Italian background. Her father is a master painter and she has adopted art in every sense. She has been a ceramicist for many years and an independent tattoo artist. She also has experience butchering, skinning, and working with buckskin. Katiana met her husband working for Trackers Earth Bay Area. They teach kids carpentry together and have a 4 year old girl named Hazel Nutt. View some of Katiana and her father's artwork here.
Ramsey Demeter: Instructor
Trained in outdoor survival and tracking through the Tracker School starting in 2010, Ramsey has been an instructor with 4EEE since Fall 2012. He has a natural gift for connecting with people and uses that talent to create an infectious enthusiasm for getting outside and playing one's heart out. His approach to education sees both teacher and student as part of a collaborative inquiry. For him, Earth Skills are about rekindling something primal within ourselves, awakening a resilient skill set and caretaker mindset - becoming fully human in the process. He strives to develop and share a well-rounded foundation in physical survival skills, tracking, awareness and philosophy.
A Nevada County local, he returned home in 2008 to get involved with local food, community and sustainability. He graduated from Soka University with a B.A. Liberal Arts, where he concentrated on social ecology and Chinese studies. He currently lives on an off-grid homestead with his family. In the future, he aspires to help offer international programs that blend education, adventure and service.
Erin grew up in Oakland and Oslo Norway hiking around Bushy Del Creek and catching crabs in the fjords. As a child she loved science and especially loved exploring the soil in her backyard. She won science fair awards for land stewardship in elementary school and began as a CIT in after-school science in sixth grade. By high school she was working with kids outdoors once a week and saving her money for exploratory trips to other bioregions including Hawaii, Alaska, and Wyoming.
After high school and with a goal of further helping kids learn about nature connection and land stewardship, Erin returned to her native land of Norway and studied at a folk school in Voss Norway. Since then she has maintained a lifestyle of concurrent learning and teaching. In 2007 she studied and volunteered in rural Uganda with an HIV clinic that supported its community through positive living, technical building and farming skills. Erin was inspired to teach nature connection not only for the sake of the land, but also for the wellbeing of the people. She completed her biology degree at Humboldt State University while working with preschoolers out in the garden, and developed an outdoor preschool for city children in Oslo Norway. Erin loves getting dirty with the worms and planting seeds of inspiration in children’s minds. When she’s not down in a duff hut you’ll find Erin balancing on a bay branch. Luckily, Erin is First Aid Certified.
Jonny has been teaching for 20+ years in a number of capacities, indoors and outdoors. Most of his time teaching has been in outdoor science and environmental education, including a few challenge courses. He's worked with the following outdoor schools: Point Reyes Summer Science Camp, Caritas Creek, Westminister Woods, Acorn Soupe, Walker Creek. In 2008, Jonny started his own Naturalist business called The Mycelium Project. He believes in creating learning experiences that feed the parts of ourselves that have to know "what's under that log?," or "can I really catch a fish with this cup?!" and the magic of "Sun, Soil, Water and Air!"
ASHER LYONS: instructor
With 13 years of experience as a youth mentor, Asher brings a tremendous amount of energy, joy, and enthusiasm for the natural cycles of life. He is passionate about supporting youth in finding their own authentic connection to the natural world and he is committed to fostering a container rich with group collaboration, positive play, and nature based learning
Asher has been working with a variety of youth wilderness programs, outdoor education organizations, nature based youth mentorship programs as well as youth farm camps. He has also been co-creating his own unique outdoor wilderness Rites of Passage youth programs with indigenous wisdom keepers, where they share a variety of earth based rituals, wilderness skills including tracking, fire making, plant identification and much more.
Dedicated to his own self growth, Asher has been working and training with Indigenous Wisdom Keepers from across the Americas for 14 years. He enjoys weaving their knowledge and wisdom into his mentorship style with youth through the art of storytelling, creative play, and his simple love of nature.
THE ADMINISTRATIVE TEAM
Joe Fox: Director of Marketing & Finances
Joe spent his youth in rural Mendocino County, hiking, camping and swimming in the Eel River. There he gained a true love for nature and wildlife that has (and never will) let go of him. He's studied design, music, psychology and biology and has been working in graphic, web and sound design since 1995. While work often keeps him in front of a computer and in an office, the call of the wild is never far behind and he's out hiking and backpacking every chance he gets.
At Vilda, Joe works primarily behind the scenes, handling marketing, bookkeeping, tech, and doing his best to keep the office in shape.