Eli & Jesse

Eli Marienthal and Jesse Sachs are co-directors of Back to Earth and the founding faculty of W.I.L.D. They have been best friends since meeting at Berkeley High School more than twelve years ago, where they bonded over a shared love of poetry and the wilderness. After a decade of following their respective passions they decided in 2014 to come back together and do the work they’d always dreamt of doing.

Their considerable experience in the backcountry and exposure to numerous wisdom traditions underlies their teaching philosophy and mentorship of young men. Eclectic in skill and attentive to detail, they are cooks, climbers, builders, backpackers, storytellers, cultivators, and medicine makers. 


Jesse is a passionate, nature-loving Renaissance man. He has spent hundreds of days backpacking, mountaineering, climbing and paddling - in the Yukon, North Cascades and the wilds of California. He has received extensive training in outdoor education, leadership and wilderness medicine from the National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS). He is a certified Wilderness First Responder and has been trained in desert survival by the Boulder Outdoor Survival School.

Jesse has also kindled his passion for the natural world through a formal education in ecological design and the arts. He received a Permaculture Design Certificate from Bill Mollison in Australia and later received an MFA in Combined Media from Hunter College in Manhattan. His thesis project at Hunter consisted of a series of urban food-forests, participatory/educational paintings and a gallery exhibition of experimental cartography.


Before starting work with Back to Earth, he spent a year managing Oz Farm in Mendocino, starting an organic CSA and tending an antique apple orchard, all while honing his skills as an herbalist. His broad experience connecting to and participating in nature serves as the foundation for his work as a guide and instructor. Contact him at jesse@backtoearth.org


Eli is a lifelong learner and educator. He is trained through The Tracking Project in Corrales, New Mexico, a non-profit led by John Stokes devoted to peacemaking, nature awareness and cross cultural respect. He is a NOLS alumnus and a certified Wilderness First Responder.

In addition to his work at Back to Earth, Eli is PhD candidate in Geography at UC Berkeley, working on a dissertation about public space and the politics of belonging in Oakland.  He has previously conducted research in Haiti and India, and holds a double bachelor's degree and a master's degree in international development studies from Brown University.


Eli is also a poet, dancer, songwriter and spoken-word performer. He was a first generation Youth Speaks poet, and was (maybe still is) the youngest member of a winning Brave New Voices National Slam Team, as well as the youngest to win the Bay Area Slam. He continues to perform original work in a wide variety of venues . Contact him at eli@backtoearth.org