Founded in 2015, Wild Folk helps learners build lifelong connections to the outdoors as well as to one another and the broader community. Through a deep, place-based connection, we cultivate compassionate, empowered, ecologically-minded citizens. We offer unique, fun, and informative programs that lead our students down a path of discovery and greater self-reliance. An environment is created where students take responsibility for their individual learning path as well as for collective governance.
Our offerings include an array of opportunities such as a Forest School, herbalism workshops, citizen science projects, and other programs based on the group’s interests and our community’s resources.
We are first and foremost a community, bound together by a deep love, reverence and curiosity for the natural world and all of its inhabitants. We are also a community of seekers, organizers, educators, artists, and dreamers who love to wrestle with big questions. Read about our team below.
You can find links to some recent articles about us here.
Polina Malikin, founder and director.
Polina has dedicated her life to working as an artist, writer, teacher, and a community organizer, all with the intention of promoting peace and social justice. She earned her BA in cultural studies at Brown University, and MFA in Film and Media from the University of Wisconsin in Milwaukee. For over 20 years, Polina has worked with learners of all ages in public schools, after-school programs, self-organized collectives, and university classes. She has traveled nationally and international to work as a filmmaker, humanitarian aid worker, and teacher. Before moving to Missouri, Polina ran a community art space, was a member of a feminist art collective, and started a community garden. In Columbia, she taught at Stephens College and helped start the Citizen Jane Film Festival. In addition to Wild Folk, she founded and directed the Education and Outreach program for the True/False Film Fest and Ragtag Cinema.
Chaz Prymek, mentor.
Since 2017, Chaz has been working with Wild Folk as a mentor, sharing his love of music, nature, and games. He is a musician who has recorded several albums and regularly tours nationally; he publishes music under the name Lake Mary and Nevada Greene. Chaz is also a skilled carpenter, builder, and farmer. Besides romping through the woods with Wild Folk, he also works at Goatsbeard Farm, the beautiful goat dairy right next door to Wild Folk's headquarters in Harrisburg, Mo.
Paul Sturtz, administrative assistant.
Paul is the co-founder and co-director of the True/False Film Fest, considered one of the great nonfiction festivals in the world. He also founded and programmed the Ragtag Cinema, an independent arthouse cinema, for two decades. Paul holds a degree in journalism from the University of Oregon, has served as communications director for the Missouri Rural Crisis Center, and worked as a reporter for the Columbia Tribune and an editor for the Columbia Missourian. He also served as a Columbia City Council representative, where he got an education in the grinding gears of government. Paul believes deeply in the limestone creeks of Boone County, Missouri and wants everyone to wade in whenever possible.
Sara Miller, lead mentor.
Sara is an experienced educator, having worked at a Montessori elementary school for four years in California and at a forest school in Denmark. Combining her degree in childhood development and education with her personal outdoor experience, Sara brings a wealth of knowledge and love of children and nature. Sara now lives full-time at Jade Green Farm in Harrisburg, and helps care for the land and retreat center there.
Hannah Hemmelgarn, founding mentor & advisor.
Hannah has taken the scenic route on her life path: after completing a degree in Anthropology and Sociology, she explored community farm life in Quebec and in Missouri. A permaculture design course, an herbalism apprenticeship, and a bicycle clown collective later, she launched an experiential education experiment known as Wild Wonder. In 2014, she honed her naturalist educator skills at Wolf Ridge Environmental Learning Center on the north shore of Lake Superior. Currently, Hannah is a graduate research assistant at the University of Missouri’s Center for Agroforestry, where her focus is on collaborating with high school educators to integrate agroforestry in their curriculum. When she's not gardening, bicycling, or studying, Hannah is deeply nourished by walking in the woods and making plant medicine with the Wild Folk family.
Anna Wilson, mentor.
Anna comes from the heart of Missouri, just south of Columbia. Anna has dedicated her life to fostering a deep relationship with the natural world, which she sees as an essential aspect of healthy human life on this planet. As a counselor in training and a yoga, meditation, and mindfulness teacher, Anna has worked with a diverse range of learners in a variety of settings. She is daily inspired by the vitality, sharp observation, curiosity, and awe that children can bring to their experiences within the natural world. Her passion is to fan the flame in each of us, to encourage continued contact with and a remembrance of our innate capacities of dancing in harmony with the natural rhythms of mysterious life on this planet. Anna likes to run, sing and play guitar, garden, and learn about indigenous culture and history.
Our community of advisors, mentors, and advocates extends far and wide.
Here are some of the key people who have helped create and continue to shape Wild Folk over the years.
We are grateful to the broad community that has nurtured our work and continues to support us.
Darcy Higgins, founding mentor.
Darcy is one of the founding educators at Wild Folk. Her own exploration of passion-based, whole-person education began at 16, when she wrote her parents a 6-page essay on why they should let her drop out of high school and unschool. She began teaching nature-based education in 2012, in Ohio coal country, integrating watershed education into public schools and community life. Since then, she has taught at residential environmental education centers, co-written curriculum for Missouri River Relief, pursued graduate education in inquiry-based learning at Miami University, and run summer camps in Alaska. Darcy strives for a balance of letting the land be the teacher, while also bringing thoughtful provocations and inspirations to the table.
Dan Bugnitz, founding mentor.
Dan studied philosophy at the University of Missouri, and has since traveled the world continuing his study of life's big questions, ethical challenges, and spiritual depths. Dan has focused on mindfulness, permaculture and healthy food production, woodworking, and literature.
He spent time directing a wind-power energy company, managing a youth hostel in Oregon, and building a timber-framed community center in Alaska. Since settling in Columbia, he has worked at Cafe Berlin, founded his own tempeh-making business, organized live storytelling events, and started a collective woodworking and carpentry business.