Aaron Perry


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  • Episode 27 – Jennifer Menke – President, Regenerative Earth


Jennifer Menke, President and Founder of Regenerative Earth, and Director of the Regenerative Economy Lab, discusses the essential importance of nature immersion, especially for busy corporate executives, institutional investors, and philanthropic leaders. Elected an Emerging Global Leader by the Academy for Systems Change, Jennifer manages a multi-stakeholder conservation and sustainable development project on Costa Rica’s Osa Peninsula, where she facilitates a multi-stakeholder collaboration with government, local residents, entrepreneurs, investors and philanthropists. “Systems thinking is the key,” she tells us. Her knowledge-dense community resource mapping and collaborative multi-stakeholder facilitation techniques are emerging as a powerful model for easy adoption world-wide.

And, with over 700 days of solo retreat time in wilderness settings, Jennifer curates retreat and immersion experiences in the rain forests of Costa Rica as well as the rugged Rocky Mountains of Colorado – helping busy professionals unwind, unplug, and connect with the awesome natural intelligence of our living planet. Connect today at regenerativeearth.org to sign up for her upcoming retreat experience, May 12-18, 2019.


(Automatically generated transcript for search engine optimization and reference purposes - grammatical and spelling errors may exist.)

Welcome to the YonEarth Community's Stewardship and Sustainability podcast series.

Today we have with us Jennifer Menke, hi Jennifer.


Great to have you here.

Yeah, thank you so much for inviting me on this podcast.


Jennifer is the project director of Regenerative Economy Lab and founder and president of Regenerative

Earth, a 501c3 nonprofit corporation.

In 2015, she was nominated as an emerging global leader by the Academy for Systems Change

and resides as a fellow of the organization.

Jennifer has been managing a project in the O'Suffin insula Costa Rica for the past three

years, facilitating local communities and governments to develop and implement a regenerative

rainforest economy in which the community, ecosystem and economy all thrive.

Jennifer's community resource mapping and facilitation techniques translate to diverse projects

around the world, facilitating the rapid evolution of sustainable economic models.

She also curates nature-based immersion retreat experiences for executives, investors

and leaders in their field.

Welcome Jennifer.

Thank you.

I am so excited to chat with you today and to talk with you about the various threads

that you've woven together in your personal life and your professional life and the ways

in which you're able to bring so much value to executives and investors, others who

are doing their part to help heal our planet and to help create restorative and regenerative


I want to ask, before we get into some of the technical sides of this, how did this get

started for you?

I know that this is a journey you've been on for a number of years, how did that get


It worked specifically in the OSAT.

Yeah, yeah.

You look.


Since I was 22, I've been studying, being mentored by different indigenous elders and spiritual

leaders and elders in guiding retreats and learning how to guide retreats.

So since I was about 15 years ago, I started on that path and every winter I would do retreats

on in Baja.

The Baja host started getting developed where we would put people out on nature solos and

so we looked for their cells to find a place for the winter time for these retreats.

And Costa Rica was the best option that we saw, so we went down there and discovered

very shortly after that was the peninsula.

And we decided to do the retreats in the peninsula because it has one of the largest or longest

stretches of low-lying rainforests left in the world.

So it's fairly undeveloped, it's sort of the wild west of Costa Rica, and so it makes

a really conducive place for these retreats in nature where people can experience that

we're seeing untouched wilderness and in the case of the OSA, that's primary rainforest.

So we went down there and started doing retreats there and I just fell in love with the rainforest

and also saw the means that were being expressed by the community around needing help with

supporting people's livelihoods, sustainable livelihoods, as well as protecting the rainforest

because it was on the map for development just from coming in.

So it's not that critical during time where people know about the OSA, they're attracted

to it, and there's more potential development coming in.

So there needs to be, you know, the plants, the structure in place to really protect

the rainforest, protect the people and the culture, and just nurture it.


So because I understand that that peninsula, which is on the very southwest part of Costa

Rica, is one of the most biodiverse places on the planet, and it's an incredible treasure

in terms of genetic diversity with all those different species there.

So that means on the one hand, it's a really important place to be protecting, and on the

other hand, it's an incredibly powerful place to bring executives and professionals to

have this deeper connection with nature and with a primitive old growth rainforest environment.

And this is interesting, right?

Because a lot of these executives are spending much of their time in boardrooms and front

of computers with spreadsheets and reports and often office buildings in the middle of

cities is a very authentic experience for them, and I'm curious, what do you observe when

you're leading these retreats and these sessions with folks who are coming down from that

kind of environment?

Yeah, I mean, it's a great question, because we definitely get people that come on this

retreat in Costa Rica who have never been camping before in their life, and then they're

trying to obviously spend the night in the rainforest for a seven-night alone.


Some of them, we've had people from Wall Street, I mean from all walks of life, really.

I would say one of the things that is common throughout people who are coming from the city

and more of an office environment is that they relax and they open up to the beauty of life

and the beauty of nature.

And so part of the awareness training that we put people through is helping people to deeply

relax and call to be a level of presence and awareness, and when that happens and when

you're in solitude, practicing that, when naturally unfolds, the heart starts to open up

and connection begins to happen, and it's not a mental connection.

It's a very sensory orientation.

It's through your senses that you're connecting with the world around you.

And then just this love, you know, well that's in terms of love and appreciation for life.

So people come out just glowing or either, you know, beaming and they find that joy and happiness

which is the nature of all of us, which is sometimes we step away from that when we're really in our minds

and stressed out and pushing ourselves to meet deadlines and all of that.

Well, let me just think that for many of us professionals these days who are so busy

and might relate to this metaphor where it sounds almost like a muscle that if we are exercising it,

knows what to do.

And it's the way you describe this as a sort of natural or innate ability that we each carry,

even if we, many of us have never been to an old growth forest, let alone,

spent a night, solo, sleeping in an old growth forest, and what a powerful experience

whereas probably most of our ancestors had some sort of experience along those lines,

depending on how many generations back we go.

So there's this piece in our humanity that kind of knows what to do.

And it's really cool to hear that you experience that when you're leading people on these retreats.

Yeah, and one other thing I'd like to say too is when you're in wild nature

that has had very little kind of impact or development,

you know, that nature is really unfolding in flow, you know, with what I recall,

just universal energy.

And when you pull yourself in that environment and relax,

and open up and connect to that environment,

I would say on a cellular level, you start to calibrate to it.

And that's part of, you know, that's part of the beauty of just the, you know,

unlocking of tension and really coming into that connection, that flow,

that all life is emerging out of.

Beautiful, that is so beautiful.

Well, you've mentioned this solo retreat idea.

And that's something that might be a bit unusual or foreign to many of us.

And I understand you've done quite a number of these solo retreats.

And what is the number?

Yeah, like, Mocle made also more or less about 700 stays collectively, you know,

over the last, actually over the last 17 years.

So this is for you a real practice.

I mean, this is such an integral part of who you are now as a friend with family

but also professionally, so that when you're bringing folks who maybe haven't

had this experience before, they're with a real seasoned expert.

Yeah, yeah, I kind of felt like, well, if I wanted, I mean, a young age,

I wanted to address just the destruction of the environment and look at how to

help that and just saw that one of the root drivers of that was humans

disconnect with the natural world.

And as far as like, well, if I'm going to help humans connect with the natural world,

I need to learn how to do it myself.

And so that's why, yeah, I've just put myself through that,

that those experiences, that training, all of that, so that I could really understand

for myself what that really meant to connect, you know, with the natural world and,

yeah, just be more in harmony, right?


And so now it's become a personal practice that sort of my touchstone, you know,

when I really get busy and when I'm traveling a lot, when I'm,

I'm up against the lines that I'm more in strapped.

It's sort of the place where I touch back into going out in nature to really

settle into that deeper support of the earth and really just all life, you know,

the universe and then come back to that relaxed centered place so that I can then move

out into action more effectively and more in harmony with, with all life.

That's really incredible, really beautiful.

My sense is that as more and more of us seek that kind of experience out,

especially those of us who are working in the realms of finance and some of these

other professional disciplines that are having tremendous impacts worldwide,

as more and more of us get these connecting experiences, my sense is that might

help us as a society evolve in the direction of being better stewards of taking

better care of these important places all over the planet.

And I'm struck when you're talking about that direct connection.

I've heard it said that we probably can't care for that which we don't love.

And we probably can't love that which we don't know.

And so there's sort of this invitation, right, to get to know this living planet

in a different way.

Right, it's really well put.

Yeah, absolutely.

Yeah, because that's, I mean, that's where I think a lot of destruction happens

and resource extraction and all of that is because there isn't that,

just that empathy for how that is impacting other species.

So deforestation, when we don't have that connection ourselves,

then we don't feel the impact of cutting down trees and destroying a whole

habitat because it becomes more of a transaction, you know, for the financial

profit and benefit rather than, yeah, just understanding, you know, not only

what it's doing to those species, but then even for ourselves down the road,

how that's impacting our own lives and the lives of our children and grandchildren.


Yeah, it's not just so many thousand board feet of December on a spreadsheet.

Right. Right. Right.

So yeah, we have that direct connection through the census.

You know, and that love well up and there's a deeper carrying its relationship.

I mean, it's all about relationships.

So when you intern to a relationship with anything, you know, whether it's in

other human or a tree or a place, you know, there's much more care that goes

into making, you know, to carry for it.

And then when you understand the mutual benefit, you know, that that relationship

is providing that other being is providing, then there's an incentive to take

care of it because it's actually doing a service to you.

But that's where, yeah, I think in our economic system, it kind of wasn't designed

taking that into consideration.


Well, I'm so struck and inspired by the fact that you are working with an amazing

array of people.

And down on the other peninsula, one of the projects you're engaged in is sustainable

economic development for that region with the local communities included in that


And with great attention and care given to ways in which those people and their

families can make sustainable livelihoods going forward in such a way that

it isn't extracting and degrading that incredible ecosystem that exists there.

And I know you're doing some collaboration with some of the government entities down

there and some others.

It's just remarkable.

I've seen some of the maps that you use to basically visualize some of these

relationships and interdependencies and connectedness.

And I'm curious, what might you share from that?

Well, obviously a lot of expertise there.

And there's also an incredible wealth of experience you've had working with a

variety of people in that place.

Yeah, I would say.

So the reason why I started getting involved in more of this, what I would call

external system changes, because with the retreats, I was seeing people go through

these deep, intertransformative processes.

And then definitely some of them would go back to their lives and create

significant change in their lives and in their workplace.

But a lot of times you would go back and they go back to the same structures that they


And so it was really hard for them to allow the seeds that were planted to germinate

and grow and blossom.

And so what I really started seeing is that there has to be the intertransformation

that happens, but also the external systems need to change, because

unless those are really changed, then people will operate in the same pattern,

the same structures that are creating the disharmony, you know, on the planet.

So with the OSAT, you know, the people are really, I would say, very

tired up around wanting to have the region be a model for regenerative

economy, for, you know, to single practices, all of that.

So we're really supporting them and their vision.

And one of the things that we initially did was to really understand what that vision


And so we did an interview process for about a year and a half with all the different

stakeholders in the region to simplify and understand what is that core vision

that is shared amongst all stakeholder groups.

And then what are the key challenges that, you know, that we have to, like,

what are the key challenges that you see in the region and what are the opportunities?

And so with all that information, we just analyzed it, put it into a fancy

system, not the cobaloo from all of that, and then validated it with the different

stakeholders to see, okay, this is what you're communicating to us.

And they basically, most of them had a lot of that information that they had,

but it would help, I think, to have it just on a piece of paper to, you know,

to visually look at it and to be able to communicate with it.

So it was really used as a tool for communication, for understanding, okay,

the use of the dynamics happening and how do we, how do we shift those,

those vicious cycles of negative dynamics to that, so that they're actually

supporting this core vision. And the core vision was thriving, or is

thriving communities, the thriving ecosystem and the thriving economy.

And how do you, how do you have a virtue of feedback clues that really supports all three?

And so yeah, now it's now basically the community leaders that are identifying

projects, and so we're looking at that structure for the community to identify

those projects, and then to be able to leave those projects and to fix that.

And then to help match up investors with those projects and support the

regions, so that there is that environmental protection, cultural protection,

and sustainable livelihoods.

So it sounds like it's mobilizing now. There's some action that is getting

underway and it's so exciting to hear. What is one of the projects or the

ideas, or one of the outcomes with the community that you're most excited

about, you know, a specific example that our audience might enjoy hearing

about and sort of visualizing.

Yeah, so the projects range right now from agricultural project to educational

projects, conservation projects, let's say even hospitality,

eco hospitality and eco tourism. One of the, so there's one exciting project

where there's a cooperative of farmers who are wanting beach have their own

parcels of land, and they've been growing palm oil, they're palm farmers,

and they're wanting to transition out of palm and bring in these other

sustainable crops, you know, and that creates more resilience for them,

so that they're not dependent on one commodity and cash crop, and then they can

also begin to, yeah, I'm dealing with a crop like a cow and coconuts and

turmeric and all these different ones.

Like my favorite thing.

So they're wanting to purchase a pot of land to where they can basically start

growing these different crops and learning which ones to well in the region,

and instead of having it as a community owned and governed parcel of land

to really start to transition off the palm, which is exciting and yeah,

and then there's another group of women, women farmers that have a collective

cooperative, and they're really working towards no classified use, combating climate

change, you know, being using sustainable practices as possible,

and they're amazing.

So they've created a council to really advocate for this and bring the best

sustainable practices into their farming practice.

So, yeah.

So beautiful.

So excited.


I love thinking about two, obviously there are many ways that people can

get involved and support this work that you're doing, and as some of these

sustainable enterprises get underway, one of those ways down the road,

will be buying the sustainably produced turmeric or chocolate or what have you.

And I love it because things like turmeric are bringing great health and healing

to people all over with the anti-inflammatory properties and more and more people

are becoming aware of how wonderful turmeric can be for us in relieving aches and pains

and all that kind of thing.

So there's virtuous cycling emerging here that goes well beyond the geography

of the OSA, and it seems that it's that kind of deep pattern for sustainable

development that by dolly, if we can do this well in OSA, if we can do this well

in other places around the world, we might just end up where we want to go over time.

Yeah, yeah, definitely.

Yeah, so excited.

Well, I want to ask you also, I know that we talked a little about these

solo retreats and coming up in a few months, it sounds like you're going to be

hosting a retreat down there on the OSA peninsula, and it sounds like there are

still some spaces open, at least as of the time that we're recording this.

What is that program going to look like?

And can you tell us when that is and what that will be like for people to experience?

Yeah, so that program will be a May 12th through the 18th.

And basically the intention of the program is to begin to link up the

inter-transformation process, and this is some exchange work that we're doing.

So basically, this retreat will have a combo of both, so there will be some

awareness practices that will be taught, and then we'll do a little bit of

nature solo time, and then we'll teach about some thinking and really share

the process that we went through in the field in the OSA and look at how

systems thinking can be applied in the field.

And then we'll have an experiential journey of meeting some of the project

leaders and seeing some of the change that's happening on the ground.

And our target audience is really investors and donors,

and that's primarily because we also want to look at how do we start moving

our financial resources or many towards projects of impact,

and how do we assess what is a project with impact that can have environmental

and social impact.

And so at the end of it, we will allocate some of the money from the retreat

towards a project that's collectively decided on or a collection of projects.

Wow, that really, you know, it would be interwork and then the learning

with the experiential learning, but then action.

So that's something that I'm really wanting to bring forward is,

how do we do retreats, but then take action together.

You know, so that you just don't, people don't leave and then nothing happens.


Wow, it's really sort of elevating what we refer to as eco tourism on a certain


What you're offering, folks, is this incredibly rich and profound immersion

and experience of the systems thinking, as well as what's going on in the community.

And the group will be essentially investing in great work that's being done

right there in that location.

My gosh, that's incredible.

What a cool experience.

I really look forward to hearing how that goes for everybody.

It sounds like it's going to be an amazing talk.

So that's May 12 to 18 in the year 2019.

And folks can go to regenerativeerf.org to get more information and to connect with you.

Is that right?

And regenerativeerf.org is spelled basically as those two words,

no punctuation between them.

And if you want a little help with spelling, you can look

to the show notes and it'll be listed there.

And I want to also mention in addition to going to regenerativeerf.org to check out

the amazing work that Jennifer is doing and to learn more about this retreat

opportunity in May.

If any of you would like to go to yonearth.org, you can also check out some of

our ebook and audio book resources and use the code podcast, the word podcast.

And you'll get discounts on those.

We are excited for you to check those out and hear a little more about stewardship

and sustainability through that lens.

So I, Jennifer, I'm so in awe of the work that you're doing on the OSA.

And I know that there are some really special creatures living there.

Jaguar and others.

I'm just curious, you've shared with me a couple stories in the past of some

really magical encounters and experiences.

And I'm just curious if one might come to mind that you would want to share with folks.


I've had so many just, we had just experiences with the wildlife down there.

I mean, that's one of the things that I love about being down there.

So there's just such as abundance of wildlife.

I would say the one that sticks off the moats right now is I was hiking with one of my colleagues

in the Korkovata National Park.

And we crossed the river and then about maybe 10 feet after that.

There was a puma that was just laying on the ground about five feet away from us.

And she was so calm and just batting her eyes and wasn't scared at all.

We weren't scared at all of her either.

And so we just sat there.

And our guide ran and got some other people that were hiking on the trail to come and see.

But we had about five minutes just standing there with her, you know, kind of moving her head,

batting her eyes, feeling very relaxed.

And then the rest of the people came up.

And she got a little food, got off and walked away.

It was such a powerful experience, you know, to have that type of an encounter that was very,

we just felt very safe and very, yeah, like there was just the connection.

That sounds like what some of my friends and colleagues would call good medicine.

And I know that part of your practice and part of your journey has involved working with Indigenous wisdom keepers

and working with different types of spiritual medicine, maybe, is one way to describe it.

I'm wondering if you might like to share with our audience a little bit about that aspect of who you are and what you're doing.

Yeah, so those studies are really, again, it's deeply in that relationship with the natural world and beyond, you know.

It's really cultivating the practice of cultivating those relationships with the individual species in the ecosystem and then the whole ecosystem collectively.

And then cultivating intuitive capacity.

So, you know, really learning how to access one's intuition or how to, you have to interpret, I would say, the sensory information coming in and then clear away.

And then, yeah, just just learning how to communicate with nature, you know, in the different species of nature.

So, part of those studies are really with the underlying intent of being a good environmental guardian and a good environmental steward, you know, to really walk in a way that is ideally as altruistic as possible.

So, you know, my practice is really to have my actions be in alignment with all life, to support all life.

And, of course, I'm completely not perfect in that regard.

But I try, I try for that.

But that's kind of the point.

It's just keeping those relationships really, you know, having your actions be aligned with that altruism, that great altruism for the benefit of the planet.

And to support the planet.

And we do, and yeah, there's a lot of prayer, there's a lot of that type of stuff.

Yeah, I understand that although solo experiences and solo practices are a big part of how you live, you're also doing a lot of this work not alone, right?

You have a teacher and you're working very specifically in certain traditions and lineages.

And is that something you'd like to speak to?

I find it really interesting and something I think a lot of our audience would find interesting.

Yeah, yeah.

So, I actually first started working with the Talplablo native when I was about 19 years old.

And she started opening me up to, I would say, the solo experience in nature and connecting to, I would say, much more, just to the subtle round.

And also introducing me to healing, you know, and that depth of work.

And then I met John Milton and started signing with him in the way of nature when I was 22, so it was about 15 years ago.

And fell in love with his whole process because I felt it was a really nice and effective structure to help people cultivate those awareness practices and learn those tools and to also establish a deep connection to all of nature, to all of life.

And then seven years ago, I started studying with a patchy folder and really learning about that process of environmental guardianship.

And yeah, so she's a primary teacher for me now.

And yeah, I learned so much.

I mean, the Unbroken Lineages, the depth of knowledge that they carry is beyond explanation.

I mean, they're kind of like these walking libraries that hold so much wisdom and so much knowledge.

And they have so much integrity around how they share that wisdom and knowledge and how they use it, you know, and their integrity is really around utilizing that wisdom for the benefit of all beings and for the benefit of this planet.

To me, it's such an important aspect of our human experience in these times in particular.

You know, there are so many of us who have, through the forces of modern industrial culture, become disconnected from the incredible spiritual wisdom, spiritual technology that our ancestors held and cultivated and practiced.

And looking back through an anthropological lens, we might say that we are all from peoples, from places all around the planet that have possessed these incredibly rich and essential forms of wisdom and knowledge as to how to live well on this planet, on this planet Earth that we all share the best spaceship ever that we've come across and that we share and that is hurting so much now.

And part of the indigenous wisdom I've had experiences with over the years makes very clear that a big component of that knowledge is ecological awareness is how to be good stewards and that is in some traditions the function, the reason why human beings exist on this Earth, right, to be good stewards of it.

And I just, I know that when you're working with executives, when you're working with teams that are doing the kind of regenerative work like that team you helped on the Baja Peninsula to go deeper into this reconnection with this wisdom and knowledge is so important to the work we're doing.

And you know, my hope is more and more of our friends and colleagues executives and otherwise will take that step into experiencing this kind of incredible wisdom and magic that you're offering.

And so I'll encourage our audience again to check out regenerative earth dot org and connect with the work Jennifer is doing.

But you know what what you're helping to bridge is a lot of different world views, a lot of different versions of what's true and I'm curious if does that ever is that hard.

Yeah, it is sometimes it is I try to meet people where they're at sort of my philosophy and I think a lot of what would be considered spiritual work is also very grounded and very very rational as well.

I mean, for instance, you know, as you're well, so with some of these programs we're teaching awareness cultivation tools and practices.

So how does that translate to utilize the how has that been official to, you know, a business or something.

And very practically, I mean, if you're more aware, if you're more aware of of yourself in the room with others, if you're more aware of, you know, the environment around you, then you'll you'll hands out you a better listener, you'll be able to pick up more information that that's arising.

If you're relaxed and aware, there's much more access to creativity and creative intelligence that arises.

And if you have done your inner work around your triggers and yeah, just some of the things that might trigger you because of whatever it is possible in your experience, you've done your inner work around that, then you won't be as triggered, you know, in conversations or in experiences with other colleagues and you'll be able to instead of react to situation, respond effectively.

So it actually allows you to become better at what you do by cultivating awareness. So it's not just about cultivating awareness, you can have some spiritual experience.

It's actually doing that so that you can you can just be more effective in your life and and happy while doing it.

Sounds great, right. What's not to like we become more effective and it sounds like we enjoy a better quality of life in our in our day-to-day experiences as well.

Well Jennifer, I want to thank you so much for joining us today and before we sign off, is there is there anything else you'd like to share or mention to our audience?

I think that that was pretty good. Yeah, I mean just I encourage, I always encourage people, you know, if they have an opportunity just to go out, find in the morning or just at some point in the day and and feel the air with your, you know, just for your senses, feel that sun on your skin.

I mean just have a moment where you're connecting to some element, you can be in a city anywhere. I mean it makes such a huge difference to relax, to feel and to be grateful, you know, for for the lives that we have.

Wonderful. Well thank you Jennifer, I am grateful for the work you're doing and grateful that you could join us today.

Thank you so much, thanks for having me. Okay, thanks there.

Y On Earth - Podcast Cover
Stewardship & Sustainability Series
Episode 27 - Jennifer Menke - President, Regenerative Earth

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