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Living off the Land

Environmental science teacher Lea-Ann 
Willems shares her sustainable lifestyle message with students, encouraging them to cultivate a passion for the environment.

Lea-Ann Willems leads an uncommon lifestyle. The environmental science teacher at St. Lucie West Centennial High School has consciously chosen to forego certain modern conveniences. She hardly buys any food in stores, uses a compost for most waste and is known to kill her own chickens. Willems and her husband, Jason, practice permaculture – a lifestyle focused on natural, sustainable living.

The seed for the idea was planted two years ago. “It was a big dream of ours that we hung onto,” Willems explains. The pair did their research, and eventually bought a farm in Indiantown where they are entirely committed to living a sustainable lifestyle. They raise chickens, keep horses and tend to a 900-square-foot garden. The goal is to be as close as possible to a 100 percent self-sustaining farm. “It’s a lot of work, but very rewarding,” she says.

Willems has always been environmentally aware. She recognized in herself a passion for science and a skill for communicating, making teaching an ideal career path. After completing a degree in biology education from Florida Atlantic University, the longtime Martin County resident took her first position at Southern Oaks Middle School in Port St. Lucie. She now teaches high school while working toward a master’s degree in ecological restoration from the University of Florida.

Being in the classroom allows Willems to spread her message of environmental awareness and influence younger generations. If her students gain nothing else from her lessons, she hopes they will at least recognize that their actions have an impact on their surroundings.

And she aims to inspire change through her own lifestyle. “Our little 8-acre plot of land might as well be a million,” Willems smiles, referring to how even the smallest actions have a significant impact. The property consists mainly of fields, which are allocated for different purposes. Of the 8 acres, 7 serve as pasture for two horses. The remaining acre holds the house, barn, shed and workshop, and provides space for the garden and free-range chickens. Every section is designed to support the life of the farm.

This transformation to permaculture didn’t happen instantaneously. It’s been the culmination of small steps made by both herself and her husband. “We worked very hard to get here,” Willems insists, including that the hard work on the farm has been beneficial for the soul. Growing organic vegetables requires constant tending, and the animals, more often than not, eat before the people. “It’s working in harmony with nature,” she says.

It’s this passion for eco-friendly, conscientious living that Willems tries to impart on her students. She encourages the kids to get involved in the local community through rallies and events, and has recently implemented a recycling program at the school. She leads by example, finding fulfillment in her chosen lifestyle. “I feel so blessed we have the 8 acres in 
Indiantown,” Willem says. And her dedication is truly 
proving influential.