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Teaching permaculture  RSS feed

 
Todd Parr
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I’ve been pretty critical of the way permaculture is taught sometimes, and it seems intellectually lazy for me to complain without offering a possible solution.
That being said, here are some of the problems, as I see them, with the way permaculture (PDC) is taught currently.

Expense – The courses can be quite expensive, especially if you are talking about a two week course. You have travel expenses, two weeks missed work, possible lodging expenses, and the cost of eating away from home if food isn’t included, in addition to the actual cost of the class.

Time commitment – Anything worthwhile is going to take a commitment of time and energy, but many people can’t take a week or two off of work. It simply isn’t possible with some jobs. Some people are older, or have medical issues, that make many long days with lots of outside activity hard on them.

Information overload – Midwest Permaculture, for instance, runs the PDC classes from 8am to 9pm. You are going to cover a lot of information in a short period of time. I have done this in various classes over the years, and with more complex subjects, it seems by the end of the course, you can’t even remember the first days
.
That being said, one possible solution may be to break the classes into smaller chunks. Most of the material I have read about permaculture says to handle water works first. So instead of a 72 hour course on permaculture, how about a two day course that only talks about water works? Now instead of costing me thousands, maybe the weekend costs me a hundred or two. That is a much more manageable chunk of money to come up with for most people. The course could be held on a weekend so I don’t have to take time off work. Maybe the first half day or day is spent on theory, explaining how to do this and why. The next day could be spent hands-on, teaching how to make your swales level, making your overflow, sealing the bottom of your pond, etc. If the course is more about forest gardens, you could do the same teaching step 1, building your windbreaks. Day two takes you into the field so you can see how tall the trees are and as you walk away from your windbreak, you can feel it when you are out of the wind dead zone. You could learn which plants/trees work best for windbreaks, how closely they need to be spaced, etc. Now the information is in smaller, more easily assimilated pieces. Now I know how to set up my water works or my windbreaks. See you in a week, or a month, or a year, when I am ready for step two.
This is just one possible solution, but maybe it would work for some people that may otherwise not be able to attend a regular 72 or 80 hour PDC.
 
Tyler Ludens
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You can teach permaculture without teaching the PDC.

 
Todd Parr
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Tyler Ludens wrote:You can teach permaculture without teaching the PDC.



Agreed, but it seems that the PDC is setup to generally correspond with Mollison and others teachings of permaculture. I have no problem with that structure, and I can see advantages to it. Regardless of whether you teach PDC, I think the basic idea still stands.
 
Tyler Ludens
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I think many people are confused about it, thinking you can only teach permaculture if you have a PDC and that you can only learn permaculture by taking a PDC. These misconceptions cause endless bitching and whining about "how expensive permaculture is" and "permaculture is a Ponzi scheme" etc.

 
Todd Parr
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Tyler Ludens wrote:I think many people are confused about it, thinking you can only teach permaculture if you have a PDC and that you can only learn permaculture by taking a PDC. These misconceptions cause endless bitching and whining about "how expensive permaculture is" and "permaculture is a Ponzi scheme" etc.



I'm one of the people that bitched about it. That's why I tried to come up with a solution
 
Neil Layton
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My thought on the subject is that Permaculture, as taught, does have many of the hallmarks of a Ponzi scheme. I was another of those who bitched about it. I have a list of other issues too, having to do with the extent to which external inputs from mulching straw to supplementary livestock feed are not sustainable, along with the tendency of many of the teachers to use loads of heavy machinery, with all that implies for sustainability and our relationships with the rest of the planet, which is why I'm not even sure that I want to describe what I want to do as "permaculture".

It has much to do with agroecology, but that often lacks a human society element (although, to be fair, that's improving), which could be one of permaculture's great strengths, but is often ignored.

I would turn it round and think not about teaching permaculture but about learning permaculture.

There are endless books, DVDs and free videos out there. Books are expensive (and the fact that many are very expensive seems to me to be a legitimate complaint), but the public library is your friend - in most overdeveloped countries the library service will obtain any book for no more than a nominal fee. Others often turn up secondhand. Beg, borrow, scrounge, seek promotional copies. Check out the book review Grid on here for recommendations and other people's opinions: http://www.permies.com/t/31762/books/Book-Review-Grid (my own listings on there might be retitled "Neil's Autodidact Agroecology Course Reading List", and there will hopefully be many more to come (although I haven't reviewed much I read before I joined the site)).

There are people to ask with varying levels of practical and/or theoretical knowledge. WWOOFing in the right place can teach you endless skills - you might end up exploited, but there is something to be said for working for your keep and education. Free skills and knowledge are often passed on through free courses and so on in many towns and cities (I recently learned to graft fruit trees from an experienced expert - and it was 1 to 2 free tuition, dropping to 1 to 1 for an afternoon of practice on his saplings, ffs: I effectively learned the essentials of setting up my own tree nursery for the cost of a local return train fare!). Meetup groups are often a good place to start (there are some people locally to me doing free workshops linked to this MOOC: http://open.oregonstate.edu/courses/permaculture/ )

You don't need to hand over thousands to someone running a Ponzi wheeze when all the material comes from a couple of standard text books (typically Mollison's Permaculture: a Designer's Manual (read the freaking book, people!) and/or Crawford's Creating a Forest Garden), coupled with access to Youtube to actually see how it's done, and plenty of people who think that learning ought to be free.
 
Todd Parr
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That sounds like the way I have been learning it.
 
Tyler Ludens
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Neil Layton wrote:I have a list of other issues too, having to do with the extent to which external inputs from mulching straw to supplementary livestock feed are not sustainable, along with the tendency of many of the teachers to use loads of heavy machinery, with all that implies for sustainability and our relationships with the rest of the planet, which is why I'm not even sure that I want to describe what I want to do as "permaculture".


That's one reason why I'm a big fan of Brad Lancaster's work and books; he focuses on low input, hand labor, using on-site materials, in a very harsh climate: http://www.harvestingrainwater.com/ Lots of free info.

 
Su Ba
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Todd and Neil, are you aware of the free online course going on right now being presented by OSU? So far, it's been a good overview of the basics.
 
Neil Layton
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Su Ba wrote:Todd and Neil, are you aware of the free online course going on right now being presented by OSU? So far, it's been a good overview of the basics.


I wrote:
there are some people locally to me doing free workshops linked to this MOOC: http://open.oregonstate.edu/courses/permaculture/


I assume that's the one you mean, or is there another?
 
Jan Cooper
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I think you are all onto some ideas that an instructor could "harvest" to make their courses more effective. Since I've been reading and watching videos for some months getting more confused, would any of you care to tell me: what are the principles of Permaculture? A permaculture farm would look like____________________ and be based on these principles________________________. I see keeping water on the land. I see planting by zones. What else?
 
Tyler Ludens
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"Permaculture is the conscious design and maintenance of agriculturally productive ecosystems which have the diversity, stability, and resilience of natural ecosystems. It is the harmonious integration of landscape and people providing their food, energy, shelter, and other material and non-material needs in a sustainable way." Bill Mollison, Permaculture A Designers Manual

Permaculture systems will tend to look a little different in different bioregions, but they will tend to be lush, diverse, and productive. They will tend to be centered around water because without water there can be no life.

(imo)
 
Neil Layton
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Jan Cooper wrote:I think you are all onto some ideas that an instructor could "harvest" to make their courses more effective. Since I've been reading and watching videos for some months getting more confused, would any of you care to tell me: what are the principles of Permaculture? A permaculture farm would look like____________________ and be based on these principles________________________. I see keeping water on the land. I see planting by zones. What else?


Much depends on who you ask. At its simplest, the most obvious way of defining it would be to go back to the person who coined the term in the first place, Bill Mollison, so Tyler is right to quote him. Water and the zone idea are emphasised by Mollison, but the latter not so much other authors. Most of us do think a lot about water, the single most valuable substance in the universe. I think it's also Tyler who talks about Permaculture being a design science (apologies if I've got this wrong: it's 2am here and my brain is barely ticking over). I consider it a "technology of inhabitation" - a means of applying that science to the questions of inhabiting a place and living on it sustainably, and this is compatible with both Mollison and Tyler (you need the design in order to develop sustainable habitats).

Note how Mollison's definition could also apply to the science of agroecology:
“the application of ecological concepts and principles to the design and management of sustainable food systems” (Stephen R. Gleissman: Agroecology: the Ecology of Sustainable Food Systems).


Similarly, the way any given farm would look would depend on where it was and on the needs of the organisms (including but not restricted to humans) living on it.

If the videos you have been watching have been on Youtube, I'm not surprised you are confused. The same applies to some of the books, but the former are a bigger problem. There are many people shoving any number of practices that more or less sustainable than conventional monoculture, calling it Permaculture, and hoping that nobody will notice and with the realisation that there is no way to objectively call them to account.

There is a lot of overlap. Agroecology takes a more scientific approach and often ignores a lot of Mollison's ideas (some of which are good; some less so); many people try to use practices such as hugelkultur, which can be compatible with Permaculture but would not be a necessary feature. Biodynamic agriculture overlaps with agroecology, but contains a lot of woo that agroecologists would laugh at and that would not be considered necessary in Permaculture. Then you have various cattle ranching practices which are lumped by some under the banner (and I think, although others disagree, is a lot of greenwash and shouldn't be there).

I can see why you're confused.
 
Jan Cooper
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Is creating food forests in the Permaculture design a part of Permaculture? I've see food forest being mentioned alongside of Permaculture. I ask because I see ideas being batted about but the ideas are more caught than clearly defined.
 
Neil Layton
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Jan Cooper wrote:Is creating food forests in the Permaculture design a part of Permaculture? I've see food forest being mentioned alongside of Permaculture. I ask because I see ideas being batted about but the ideas are more caught than clearly defined.


It can be. I certainly would include a food forest, and might even have it dominating the farm ecosystem - this is certainly how I'd plan to do it - but it's not necessary. A well-designed food forest will provide food and other things, such as medicines and wood, for the foreseeable future.

The main problem is that, with climate change, growing zones may change faster than natural succession in a long-lived food forest.

There are various reasons the ideas are not clearly defined. The main one is that the techniques you use will be largely contingent on the individual circumstances you find yourself in. A secondary one is that there are many practices some people have tried to include as permaculture in order to conceal the fact that they are not as sustainable as their advocates try to make out, but I don't want this to turn into a major argument, so I'm not going to get in to what I think they are in this forum. It also opens up a lot of philosophical questions that will quickly turn into an essay, and I need to check the rules before posting such a document.
 
kirk dillon
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Ahhh the "teaching" questions again....
I read a few books , watched every video I could find, and learned from this forum as much as I could about Permaculture. Then I took a PDC. The depth of the knowledge at the PDC was far greater than I expected. Information overload for sure but in a good way. I enjoyed the total immersion and the group dynamic of the 2 week course but there are also many PDC's taught in a summer long, weekends only type of setting. There is one going on right now in that format in northern Michigan.
As far as expense go, in my opinion, I would have been satisfied if the course was twice as much because the information is the most important that I have ever learned and will be used for my entire life. If you go for the weekend only format and you can take it in a nearby area, then the expenses are much lower. Lets say you're 50 and you paid $2000 for the course. If you live to be 70, that's only $100 per year. If you're younger and you live longer, then it's even cheaper per year.

Let's talk PDC......... If you want to be a "Certified Permaculture Designer", then you need the certification. You can only get that from a certified teacher. If you don't care about the certificate and you just want to be knowledgable about Permaculture for whatever reason, then you can learn from anybody. You can even teach Permaculture but you cannot "certify" anyone unless you are certified. I was also told at my PDC that you are not supposed to use the word Permaculture in a business sense, (ie.. "Bob's Permaculture Farm" or "Jane's Permaculture Classes", etc.) unless you are certified.
I agree that Permaculture knowledge should be free. After all were trying to change the world - in a good way, but the integrity of the knowledge needs to remain intact or we risk dilution of truth and it becomes just "another" way of gardening. I give my knowledge to others freely every chance I get. I said it before in these forums, "be the change you seek", become a teacher and teach for free if you want.

The word "Permaculture" means "PERMANENT" Agriculture, (some will argue that it also means permanent culture). This should not be confused with "sustainable". In my opinion and many others, if you die and your "Permaculture" farm receives no more input and remains or better yet, increases the over all health and diversity of the ecosystem, then "that" is Permaculture. In that context, the more annuals and animals you have, the less Permaculture-ish it is. The animals and annuals might take care of themselves for a while but will eventually die or wander away. The Perennial food forest needs no input once it is established. Yes, it would be better (for humans) if it had "some" inputs but it should survive without you just fine, and "probably" in some form, forever..........
 
Jason Silberschneider
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Do permaculture teachers in the PNW teach arid lands and tropical permaculture techniques in their PDCs? Or are the courses tailor-made to their climate? Are the PDCs being taught at wheaton labs the full and complete course, or are they tailor-made to a Rockies style climate?

I'd like to think the only reason to take a PDC that teaches you every technique for every climate is that you intend to become a globe-trotting international consultant like geoff lawton clearly is. And maybe the sheer amount of information in such a course totally justifies the $2000 cost.

But if you only want to learn permaculture for - say - Texas, and you only ever intend to do permaculture in Texas, and if you ever one day intended to teach permacultre, it would be in and for Texas.... well maybe you only need to do a PDC that is tailor-made to your area in Texas. And of course it would be priced accordingly.

I don't know if regionally bespoke PDCs are taught, I hope they are. This would seem to be a much more useful concept than a PDC being all or nothing.
 
Dougan Nash
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I don't want to cheapen the idea of a PDC, in fact I really want to take one. Unfortunately I have basically zero disposable income and probably won't for a few years now. Someone here can try to rationalize it for me if they would like, but if I had 1-2K burning a hole in my pocket - I'm putting it towards my debts before spending it. I live in a small town far away from anyone who offers a PDC, so on top of spending the money I will have to miss out on work and pay for significantly more gas (read, more money lost). This is extremely discouraging. I think I would rather buy Mollison's now extremely expensive book and save roughly $900 than pay for a course.

I learn by doing. I am a much better apprentice than student and regrettably I cannot find anyone close who practices permaculture either. I am visiting my first food forest next week and I am very excited about it, but to visit and/or work there even once a week will still cost me a pretty penny in gas. All I can do for now is practice in my back yard and learn what I can for free.
 
Tyler Ludens
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As I understand it the PDC covers all the chapters of the Designers Manual, so that all students who obtain a PDC know the same information. The PDC isn't meant to give someone specialized knowledge of a specific bioregion, it's meant to give them general knowledge of permaculture. That doesn't mean people can't or don't teach regionally specific permaculture, just that isn't the purpose of the PDC. As I understand it the purpose of the PDC is to make sure that anyone who has taken the course has the same knowledge set, can use the same vocabulary, etc.
 
kirk dillon
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A PDC "is" based on Bill Mollison's designers manual. That's the way it was set up. The information is non specific to a particular bio-region on purpose. Nobody knows where the students will end up living in the future. The course is designed so that you have the information to design a Permaculture system anywhere in the world. Swales, nitrogen fixing trees, companion plants, insect attractors, insect confusers, dynamic accumulators, etc. all do the same job no matter where they are. You just use different types for your area. Africa, New Caledonia, Sweden, USA, etc. all have nitrogen fixers growing locally but they will be very different varieties and will fit into their local Permaculture system in different ways. I learned in Utah and applied the information in Michigan. You will need to do "some" homework where you design to find out which plants in the area fit the desired outcomes. In my opinion, there should be "some" local information taught but if a PDC teaches too much about a specific region then it is doing an injustice to the student.
 
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