When Andrea Read first surveyed the land on which the Newforest Institute now sits, it was badly damaged, and the prospects of growing anything there were dismal.

But Read along with her husband, Russell, and co-founders George and Kathy Callas envisioned that with hard work and imagination, the land could be transformed into a veritable demonstration site for permaculture, a framework for sustainable living in all aspects of human activity that is modeled on relationships in natural ecosystems.

That was in 2005. Five years later, both Newforest and the land are blossoming. Lauren Buyofsky, one of Newforest’s garden managers, said there was still a lot of rehabilitation that needed to be done in order for the land to be fully recovered, but things had come a long way.

“It’s incredible to see the garden come along,” said Buyofsky. “It feels really good to come in with a positive human touch, do this restoration, and then have a sustainable food system as a result.”

There are gardens, ponds, green houses and a food forest. Harvests are being sold at the newly established farm stand and community supported agriculture cooperative. And the organization has successfully incubated and launched numerous outreach and educational programs aimed at teaching and demonstrating principles of permaculture.

Since 2007, when Newforest began offering permaculture design certification courses, 40 certificates have been awarded. Workshops and apprenticeships continue to increase in popularity. And projects like Independent Brooks, which was launched in an effort to weatherize homes, have initiated meaningful dialogues on sustainability and energy efficiency.

The organization has been in a mode of creation and vision, said Read, and it has grown tremendously. Now, she said, it is time to switch gears.

“In the life of an organization, we have just finished the birthing process,” she said. “Our goal now is to transition into longer-term sustainability as an organization.”

In April, the Newforest Institute hired Jim Merkel and Susan Cutting, who are a couple, who have stepped into Read’s role as co-executive directors and will work to create infrastructure, establish a fully functioning marketing plan, diversify their income sources and develop a budget that will secure programming for the future. Their goal, in other words, is to continue the work that Newforest has set in place, but enable the organization to do the work more effectively.

Merkel and Cutting both have extensive environmental activist backgrounds. Merkel, a former military engineer, wrote the book “Radical Simplicity: Small Footprint on a Finite Earth,” and has taught about sustainability at Dartmouth College. Cutting organized programs dedicated to conservation service during her time with the Student Conservation Association and has overseen environmental sustainability efforts at various nonprofit organizations.

Cutting, who has experience creating and managing budgets, hopes to diversify the organization’s sources of funding, which in the past has come primarily from private donations. She said she wanted to see Newforest seek grants, offer more educational workshops and increase fee-for-service programs, like permaculture design services for schools and residences.

By the fall, she said, the pair hopes to have a media and fundraising database, a strategic planning process in full swing, and funds secured for programming.

“It’s really a time to reflect on what the strategic goals are for this organization for the next five years,” Cutting said. “How can this organization really provide a service, a mechanism for connecting with community, bringing the community here to learn about another way of thinking about food and life?”

Merkel said he and Cutting were drawn to the Newforest Institute because of its energy and its mission. It was an organization of people who weren’t merely throwing around the word “sustainable,” he said, but actually practicing sustainability.

“There is a blending of ecology and the human interface here,” Merkel said. “Some people call themselves environmentalists but they’re spraying pesticides, tilling the earth and planting huge monocultures. That’s not environmental. Permaculture is what we’re doing here. It’s a different type of growing where we don’t use chemicals or genetically modified organisms and our machinery is mostly our own hands.”