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Who is qualified to teach permaculture?  RSS feed

 
                    
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I know quite a few people who spend a large part of their time teaching permaculture.  They have taken many classes from many other teachers.  They may have even taken a course on how to be a permaculture teacher.  But the majority of these people have never had/created the opportunity to stay in a place and seriously PRACTICE permaculture for any length of time longer than a few months. 

A couple people have asked us if we plan to have an educational aspect to our farm. 
Our stock answer is: Definitely!  In twenty to thirty years, when we know what we're talking about! 

Older people who have lived and learned about the various aspects of permaculture through experiencing success or failure in a landscape they are intimate with, in my opinion, are the people who should be leading, guiding, and advising the rest of us.  Joel, Sepp, Diana, etc.  Inviting these sorts of people to lead a course at an inexperienced land owner's place is enormously helpful and informative. 

I'm all for the word getting out about the wonderful techniques that this wide ranging field offers, but I personally am a bit wary about trusting young people who are long on teaching experience and enthusiasm, and short on long-term land experience. 

After all, the basis of permaculture is not whose lecture you last absorbed, it's the observation of the existing ecosystems that surround each and every one of us.  There is no class that can make up for lack of long-term experience. 
 
                                      
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true, i understand your point, its awkward if somebody is telling an old experienced gardener that mulching really is better while that older guy might have never experienced any advantages, just disadvantages (slags and snails?), and the somebody only has one growing season behind him. awkward even when this somebody can back up his point because his teachers really did perfect the art...

but the problem is that the intimate relation that some people formed with their land is based on that land. things that work there, can not work somewhere else, and the other way around. they way i understand it, the goal of a permaculture course should be to teach the abilities for people to learn themselves about their land, and how to form that intimate relationship. its the way of listening to your land, the way of working with nature. the mind-set if u will, that can be taught to people, not the way how to.
(well to some extend you can learn 'how to' -knowledge that is quite universal, like how to make compost. what elements are necisary in a guild etc. but the basic knowledge and understanding of plantlife (for example) has to be learnt by people themselves. you learn this by experience, and preferably in the long term, forming a relation with that land, if you have land.)

When owning a piece of land, why not give educational purposes to it, without pretending to know it all. you can also teach without pretention. teaching is maybe a big word then, sharing knowledge or experience can also be done as you go cant it? Im involved in a project that promotes natural and organic ways of gardening in a city, learning about permaculture for us means a discovery quest, which, as we go and develop, we share with our surroundings, in a non-pretentional way, explaining:
"here we are trying out different ways of fertilizing, mulching, composting, liquid-nettle-comfreyfeed (whats the english word?) etc." and sum up the advantages etc we allready know of.

The problem here, i dont know how it is elsewhere, is that there simply aint enough pc-teacher, left alone pc teachers with a lifetime of experience. And i think it would build up to slow to meet demand, if everybody needed to perfect themselves, and their ways, before being able to teach or share...

Second thing i question (a bit, in a superfriendly way) is the notion (that follows from the point that you made) that you can only 'do permaculture' if you own land, or at least a garden, and that it neccisarily involves growing stuff yourselves... which i dont think to be true.... i think the permaculture designmethods can be used for designing gardens and land, but also a house or the way you live your life, an organisational structure, etc...

or dont you agree?
 
                    
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I was just thinking I maybe should asked who we trust to lead PDCs.  Lots of information is passed around in informal ways between experts and amateurs alike, and I think that's beautiful. 

I hope I didn't come across as saying "people who have less than 30 years experience and teach permaculture courses are EVIL!!!" because I don't think that at all.  But...

I think we should be seriously concerned about unsound practices getting spread around as permaculture truth.  It's such a new field that there are many different definitions and methods, but if genuinely bad information gets passed off as permaculture, that could hurt the movement as a whole. 

but the problem is that the intimate relation that some people formed with their land is based on that land. things that work there, can not work somewhere else, and the other way around


Well, there are many analogous environments and this has greatly facilitated the spread of permie know-how.  Sepp Holtzer lives thousands of miles from me, but we both live in alpine climates and many of the things that he's done can be copied with a safe expectation of similar results here. 

I think it's extremely important that people continue to experiment in different ways with whatever resources they have available.  A tiny urban permaculture garden on a wall is just as creative and important as a giant permaculture farm out in the sticks, as long as the practitioners are striving to appropriately respond to their environment.

Isn't there a possibility of permaculture innovation slowing down, if staying put and watching trees grow becomes seen as less important than traveling and regurgitating what others have already discovered? 

It's the difference between theories and hypotheses, sort of.  You can see watch a process and notice a result (or be told about the process and result) and that's an alright hypothesis of what happens in that context.  But without the ability to test that same idea in the same place the next year, and the next, how will you know what environmental factors made the idea work well?  The land on which a person lives is never the same from year to year, and different factors can lead to very different results even in the same place with the same technique.  I think this is where very subtle knowledge can come from. 

There is a big difference between first and second hand information.  In journalism, the goal is get first hand accounts of events.  It's most moving when someone who has seen it their own eyes is relating their own experience, right?  The message is watered down and subject to manipulation when someone tells someone else about this other person's experience. 

Fans of Joel Salatin (myself included) typing on this forum about his practices aren't going to be as inspiring or as trustworthy a source of information as watching a video of the man himself talking about his stuff.  Or reading his books.  Or, to take it a step further, listening to him in person. 

I don't think it's a co-incidence that many of the forerunners in the field spent a long time in the dirt, learning from nature herself.  How else were they to learn?  There were no PDCs to attend forty years ago.  And look how far we've come in that short time! 
 
Paul Cereghino
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What if there was actually is no permaculture, or it was just a new word for an old thing, and it is a stew of everything, and is nothing, and we were no more special than any of 6 billion living on land, and teaching and leading actually came from the spirit within each of us, and Bill Mollison and David Holmgren stood on the shoulders of giants, and all that really counts is doing the practice?  What if special words trigger catharsis that is not the practice?  That is illusion?  Then what would all this matter?

Otherwise, teach when you can teach, give credit to all the places and people that have learned you, take care of land, and take care of each other.

PRC
 
                    
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I think it's the details of the doing that really do matter, that actually matter the most.  Especially the further away in time you get from the initial act. 

For example.  Let's get basic.  The act of planting a tree next to another tree. 

The most common "bad information" I've seen deseminated by permaculture course leaders is in the act of planting fruiting trees way too close together.  This is SO COMMON, and happens regularly when people who are long on enthusiasm and short on experience plant some fruit/nut trees - as a good group activity for a PDC, and for the good of the planet! 

I know that many people would probably say that it's better that the trees were planted too close together than not at all.  But please consider: (and I think Paul might have similar stories)

I had the experience of being in an orchard 15 years after a PDC course spent a few days planting it.  These twenty or so trees didn't actually produce much fruit because most of them were too shaded by their neighbors, and some of them were starting to suffer from diseases because of their lack of sun.  The canopy was completely closed, you couldn't walk through the trees without stooping in half, the only thing growing under the trees was grass and unchecked comphrey patches growing ever larger.  It would have been difficult to cut out some of the trees without seriously damaging other trees (would require some seriously skilled fruit tree logging). 

The owner of the orchard (who had to live with the choices and actions carried out by eager PDC students) expressed regret about the sad state of the orchard, said comphrey was an invasive species and she hated it, wished things had been done differently.  Differently how?  If there had been ten, or even only five trees planted that day, and the land owner had been able to easily walk between trees and manage the comphrey properly (cutting it before it flowers) and harvest the fruit easily, she might have had an amazingly productive space to be proud of.  As it was, the mis-directed orchard in her yard created a sour taste for permaculture in this person - probably permanently. 

Now, in her case it didn't matter that the twenty trees didn't really function as a good source of on-location food.  But what if the stakes of a sure source of food 15 years later were high - as in, the success or failure of your orchard is directly proportional to the amount of fruit your family eats in a year? 

Who do you trust to advise the planting of your trees?  These are important questions! 

I imagine that the person who organized the planting of those trees continued to direct people who came to their courses to plant trees in that sardine-can manner (I have no idea who that person was).  I see other, perhaps even several more dis-functional (or at least less than optimal) orchards started because of this person's lack of experience with full sized trees. 

Who knows how many people this PDC leader taught to plant trees like this?  Do you see how the waves can get larger both with good and not so good information?  And that the not-so-good information also has real world consequences, for people, trees, and the earth?  I'm not so sure that's good for the earth (certainly not ideal for the trees involved) or all that great for permaculture's reputation.  A lot of people out there still think we're totally nuts, remember. 

I think that this lack of experience can be made up for by loads of careful and thorough research, but I also think that there's nothing like watching a tree grow from a sapling into something resembling its mature self to appreciate how large some trees actually become later in life, and to fully understand how to create ecologically appropriate polycultures that feed people without a whole gob of work.  There's a lot to it!

The whole field is such an ocean of 'stuff' to know.  It probably takes a good thirty years before a person could be well versed enough in enough disciplines to be truly informative.  All of the best (most knowledgeable, most clearly articulated, most widely ranging ideas)  permaculture teachers I have met have been in their sixth decade of life or more. 
 
Heda Ledus
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@Paul: There has always been a permaculture; in Sri Lanka, Sub Saharan Africa, California, Australia & South African. I was actually reading a new book on the Joan/Huu people of South Africa/Nambia calling their Tending Grounds permaculture gardens (I find it to be misappropriation but you get the idea).

There were tried and true methods that even the most bias antropology books mentions; digging certain tubers and beating/cutting/seperating then putting them back for next season; protecting certain trees, even "fertilizing" certain crops on purpose etc....

Most certainly I believe they were greatly influenced by those peoples, their backgrounds in traditional horticulture, and their live experiences trampsing around the woods/forests.

Which I feel holds much more water than saw some person from San Francisco who has no real life experience other than a small plot or visitng a farm for a few weekends.

I mentioned this before on the Australian Permaculture website but I got my arse chewed out; I guess its a touchy subject to question ones [s]cashcow[/s] I mean well-being.
 
                    
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On any other site I'd expect an ass chew.  As it is we're getting thoughtful discussion. Thank you!

their backgrounds in traditional horticulture, and their live experiences trampsing around the woods/forests.


I get so annoyed when this way of life is refered to as "primitive" or as "subsistance farming" by foreign observers.  The arrogance!  Jared Diamond enjoys relating exactly how dumb he felt while trying to keep up with native born New Guineans in the jungle. 

Right, the knowledge of people steeped in tradition and immersed in the wild probably trumps a whole gaggle of "educated" educators.  Merely incidental that Mollison grew up in Tasmania?  I think not.  A whole bunch of Sepp's knowledge seems to have come from his simple/profound childhood experiences on the slopes of the mountains. 

Children aren't predisposed towards permaculture (call it whatever you want, it's a really handy term for this discussion) because they feel guilty about their past consumption, are looking for a new career, or want to impress their hippie girl/boyfriend.  The only true perma-purists are probably younger than 10. 
 
Paul Cereghino
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Maybe the question is 'who is qualified to learn permaculture?'  PC has become a mix of design strategy, subculture identity, and marketing. We are from a culture that thinks things of substance can be bought and sold.

Buyer beware is a time honored tradition.  The mouth of wisdom speaks to the ears of understanding. 

Perhaps someone can introduce 'permaculture' but not know squat about orcharding, because permaculture at heart is not about orchards.  And to design an orchard based on a design theory without building knowledge of the reality of an orchards is just foolish.  And Fukuoka began with foolish experiments.  And so we should go ahead and be foolish.

 
                            
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Well said Paul.

Buyer beware indeed.  To break it down as a comparison of someone with 30 years experience vs. someone with 2 years background doesn't tell me enough.  What they were doing during that time period seems more important.  Just research the background of the person or group of people who are offering whatever it is they are offering, and if the price is worth it to you, go for it!
 
                    
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Fukuoka overcame his foolishness by spending many decades observing nature and reflecting on his mistakes.  Then he wrote books and became a teacher.  He didn't go "find wisdom" in a PDC.  He wouldn't have found what he was looking for, anyway.  There is no quick course around the slow process of learning from nature herself.  I'm concerned that american culture wishes and sometimes believes that isn't the case.  If you just go learn from the RIGHT (ie famous-er than yours) teacher, then you'll be a really super permaculturist, right?

Buyer beware, indeed. 
 
larry korn
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That was so well said, Marinna.  There is no substitute for experience.  Sometimes I see students come out of their first PDC and want to start teaching right away.  I think to myself, "Whoa!  Wouldn't it be better if you got some practical experience first?"

Also, some people are better at teaching than others.  A good combination, I've found, is to have one or two experience teachers lead the course...that is teach the basic curriculum.  If they are from outside the area it is helpful to have someone with experience with the local natural natural and cultural conditions there, too.  It add richness if guest instructors with hands on experience with practical skills, like setting up graywater systems or cob building, are in the mix as well.  So far we have no way to ensure that the PDCs are taught by competent teachers, but the vast majority seem to be fine.  The word gets out right away if a course is poorly taught and those courses have trouble attracting students the next time.  It's kind of ecological that way.

By the way, I'll be teaching a course in February in Western Washington.  www.sahalepermaculture.com Hope you can make it
 
jeremiah bailey
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That's what permaculture ultimately boils down to: survival of the fittest.
 
larry korn
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We are all bound by the laws of karma and ecology.  It would be weird to think that permaculture, of all activities, should be exempt.  I used to think that Muhammad Ali was exempt from natural law.  He seemed so god-like.  They he was thrown in jail and got Parkinson's. 

One thing about our permaculture community that I really admire is that it is grass roots with a minimum of structure.  I have always been wary of top-down structures.  Goes back to my college days at Berkeley.
 
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