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So a while ago I made a post asking about CRMPI (Central Rocky Mountain Permaculture Institute) and the courses they offer. I just finished the 2016 PDC which ended on August 19th, and had a rather unpleasant experience. I won't get too far into detail unless somebody asks, but as an overall assessment I would describe the course as overpriced, overhyped, and conducted in an extremely unprofessional manner. I would not recomend that anybody take this course. This is the website advertising the course if you're curious. I'm still quite angry about my experience there so I wouldn't mind answering some questions or talking with anyone else who has been to CRMPI.
 
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Location: Northwest Lower MI
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Hello John,

YES ... we are very interested in learning all the details of your experience.  We have friends on the verge of signing up for a course there.

It would be most helpful to all of us if you would "get it off your chest" and let us know your complete and candid assessment.  Please tell us your story.

Thanks very much ...
 
John Smithington
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Jay Vinekeeper wrote:Hello John,

YES ... we are very interested in learning all the details of your experience.  We have friends on the verge of signing up for a course there.

It would be most helpful to all of us if you would "get it off your chest" and let us know your complete and candid assessment.  Please tell us your story.

Thanks very much ...

Alright, I just started writing out a more detailed review of my experience. It might take a while, so you'll have to give me maybe a day. Hang tight!
 
John Smithington
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Pardon my delay, as well as the following wall of text.

I tried to break this into paragraphs so it’s easier to read.


So to start off, why did I sign up for this course in the first place?  I had spent maybe a year or so learning about permaculture through the internet, and various books like Gia’s Garden. I came to the conclusion that I was missing something, and decided to sign up for a PDC to gain some real life experience. CRMPI seemed to be an ideal choice. It was expensive ($1,875) but looked like it would be worth the money since they had been running for 30 years, and were clearly very experienced in the field. This is really important to emphasize – the idea that CRMPI was a professional institute, and well worth the money. A lot of the information on their website was vague but implied Professionalism, organization, and high standards. This was not the case however.

What was I expecting to get from the course? Obviously I was expecting something worth the money. This would include a professional learning environment, good food and lodgings, bathroom facilities, and the chance to gain knowledge I would not be able to learn through a book or website. I think it’s safe to say that I was expecting a permaculture institute with 30 years of experience to have a well refined system of operations.

So what did I get and why was I disappointed? First of all, the emails we used to communicate back and forth were questionable. When I paid for the course, they suggested I pay with either cash or check through the mail. I’m not sure what their policy is now, but that’s probably the most insecure method of payment possible. They have been operating for 30 years and never went to a digital method of payment? The money order I sent to CRMPI was addressed to Mr. Jerome Osentowski personally, as instructed. I found this suspicious since CRMPI is a not for profit organization that is advertising and offering these courses. Through the emails they also made it clear that it was common for students to arrive from abroad, and that they were able to provide transportation from a nearby town to the more remote CRMPI location. Since I arrived by plane, this was a requirement for me – having no access to a personal vehicle. It turns out there was no structure for transportation in place, and that I was the only person not driving to CRMPI from a local area. Long story short, I had to make several phone calls to CRMPI, until Jerome finally answered the phone, and agreed to come pick me up personally. As you can imagine, the idea that CRMPI was professionally managed in any way was quickly disappearing from my mind at this point.

Next I’ll start at the experience I had at CRMPI itself. Let’s start on a positive note – the food. The food was actually very good. The chef, Gordon, was fantastic. It was a testament to his skill to be able to produce 3 meals a day of such high quality for 25 people in the conditions he was working in. I was however, disappointed that very little of the food we ate came from the surrounding forest garden - most was purchased offsite. Now when I say, “conditions” I am referring to the fact that the entire PDC is taught from Jerome’s personal house and living space, which as you could imagine creates a very cramped environment to do anything in, especially with the large number of students. The classroom was a very small room, which looked to be a living room of some kind, and had bad vision, no desks, and mismatched chairs. The kitchen was not equipped to handle the number of people - not enough seats, very crowded, and flies everywhere. The composting toilets that were advertised turned out to be a single one, which students were not allowed to use. Instead we used two porta johns, that were not emptied or maintained regularly, and were disgusting. I heard from a few people that some students were resorting to digging holes in the ground rather than use the porta johns. I know I held everything in for as long as I could in order to use the porta johns as little as possible. In the house there was a regular washroom labeled, “Jerome’s Personal Bathroom” which needless to say was off limits to students. There was no dedicated area for students to use as a personal hygiene area, washing, drying, showers, etc. Instead there were the porta johns, solar showers, 1 washing machine, and a line for which to dry clothes on. Now I’m not complaining about solar showers or drying lines, those are fine systems, but I am unhappy about how poorly these systems were managed in the wake of so many students. The camping was alright, but nothing beyond a flat spot to place my tent was provided by CRMPI. The only problem I have with this is that their website states, “Tuition is $1,875 and includes meals, camping, and all curriculum materials…” which implies part of the cost is going towards camping. No fire pits, tents, sleeping bags, or lodging of any kind were provided. I’m alright with this, as long as it’s made clear beforehand that these were the conditions. The website seemed to over exaggerate almost every regard of CRMPI. The majority of the infrastructure (Greenhouses, irrigation systems, animal pens, aquaponics, etc.) would be best described as ramshackle, and were shoddily implemented. Again, I’m alright with this as long as it was made clear that these were the conditions, which the website did not.

So obviously I wasn’t happy about the environment the course was taught in, but what about the course itself? Most of the course was an introduction to the theory of permaculture principles and its design methods/ethics. I felt like I already knew most of it, or could have learned the concepts online or from one of the many books on the subject. It did not teach details about plant guilds, or very many practical applications of permaculture design. More of the course seemed dedicated to teaching us how to apply permaculture to social situations rather than plants and forest gardens. I suppose what I’m trying to say is that there was nothing I learned which would justify taking this course. Very few hard facts about the patterns of nature, plants, animals, or ecosystems, and mostly just vague theory and methodology of these systems. The hands on classes had little structure for education, rather they seemed to be used as a way to get manpower for chores, such as spending hours picking noxious weeds, or digging swales. It’s important to note that I’m not criticizing the activity itself, but the poor structure in which the activity was implemented. Specifically, the lack of educational value for most of them. The teachers were mostly very good in my opinion. Despite my general dislike for most of the course content, the teachers could be described as enthusiastic, willing to discuss subjects, and able to create interest in topics. I say, “mostly very good” because of the exception of Jerome himself. He was very difficult to communicate with, or learn anything from. It’s worth mentioning that he is 75 years old and has poor hearing, which makes him even more difficult to communicate with, and thereby learn anything from.

I think I also need to dedicate a section of this review to what I’ll call, “customer service”. Overall it was very unprofessional and even offensive. what do I mean by this? When I brought up my concerns about the course, Jerome agreed to meet with me later and hear me out. During the meeting he reacted with hostility and dismissed what I said. At one point he even sarcastically asked if I would like a refund, then proceeded to taunt me, and make it very clear that I could do nothing to get my money back. I was very offended, and my view of CRMPI being unprofessional was only solidified by our meeting and the way Jerome acted to my critique.

Overall I think CRMPI stands as a poor example of professionalism. Somebody new to the idea of permaculture would not leave CRMPI with confidence in the value of permaculture practices. Being somewhat new to the whole concept of permaculture, and this being my first experience with a site which practiced it on a large scale, I can attest to this feeling. They present themselves as an elite and experienced group of leaders in the permaculture movement, yet from everything I’ve experienced, it seems more accurate to describe CRMPI as an overpriced, overhyped, and unprofessional organization. I honestly feel that I’ve learned more from reading books and posts on forums like Permies.com, than I ever did from this PDC course. In the end this is just my opinion, and maybe I’m just crazy or have unrealistic standards/expectations.

The one thing I can safely tell you though is; please do your research before signing up for any PDC or permaculture course. They are expensive, and the amount of effort you put into finding one that is right for you could make the difference between an experience of a lifetime, and flushing thousands of dollars down the toilet (or porta john in my case). I went into CRMPI with only the information that was given to me on their website and was disappointed. Try finding people who have actually taken the course you’re interested in, and ask them what they thought about it. I can’t recommend a PDC since this was the first one I’ve attended, but it shouldn’t be hard to find a better one.
 
John Smithington
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Just wanted to give a quick update on this post. It looks like the staff at CRMPI did listen to my concerns, and updated their website to be more informative. Here are two links to their PDC page, one from February 2016 advertising their 30th PDC (when I signed up) and the other from their current page advertising their 31st PDC.

February 2016: http://web.archive.org/web/20160216211437/http://crmpi.org/learn/courses/permaculture-design-certification/

Current page: http://crmpi.org/learn/courses/permaculture-design-certification/

Notice the sections added on the current page describing in more detail,

- when to arrive
- alternative methods of payment
- "CRMPI" section describing living conditions on the grounds

I'm glad they made these changes to their website, as it gives a more accurate description of CRMPI, and doesn't leave the customer guessing at the details as much.
 
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As another student of CRMPI I feel compelled to share about my experience with their PDC, as it was much different than Johns...

I took their PDC in July 2015 and it was one of the best courses I have ever taken. I am someone whom needs to see things in action in order to understand them, and that's why taking a course works for me, instead of just reading information about permaculture. Before the course, I had only a basic understanding of the permaculture principles, and I left with so much information, a notebook filled with ideas and concepts.
I felt that the course was completely comprehensive, I loved that the instructors addressed topics beyond agriculture.  Sure, I could read all of the books written on permaculture and probably learned a good chunk of whats out there, but a bonus to doing a course is the connections you get to make and ideas that come from the others there.

I can see how someone might think Jerome is maybe unprofessional or sarcastic, but you know what, he's not a business man, and thats one thing I loved about meeting him, you see his love for life and plants beam out of him when he is doing his work. He loves nature, he loves simplicity, no wonder he hasn't focused on setting up a paypal system for the course!

I also loved the facilities (I will admit, we did not have to use a porta-jon). The intimate setting of the class room in Jerome's house made it easy to get close to each other and make connections. It was awesome for me to see that this place was primarily a home, and then secondly, an education center. It made it clear that a home can be an education center. The green houses were amazing, I mean, to have tropical fruit growing int the high desert is an accomplishment. Doing the actual work was a bonus for me, too. I enjoyed when we made swales, grafted trees, mulched the garden and acted out scenarios. This helps solidify the information in my brain.

I also loved the field trips we did. We got to see a variety of alternative buildings in the area which instilled so much inspiration in me.

I am someone that does a lot of research before committing to something, especially when the price is high, and I thoroughly read the CRMPI website before signing up. I did not feel misguided at all. Camping is camping, personally, the fact that we had access to a home, made it not even seem like camping...The activities we did were engaging and dynamic. We got to do actual projects for actual clients in the area. I felt taken care of and supported the whole time. It was a beautiful experience and I would really hate for someone to miss out on it. It's not your average university course, it's an interactive experience at living a permaculturally-focused life. I am forever grateful for the facilitators at CRMPI and my experience there.
 
John Smithington
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Thanks for your reply. I can't tell you you're wrong since a great deal of this topic is subjective, However I would like to point out some things that I disagree with in your post.

Goldie Mariola wrote:I can see how someone might think Jerome is maybe unprofessional or sarcastic, but you know what, he's not a business man, and thats one thing I loved about meeting him, you see his love for life and plants beam out of him when he is doing his work. He loves nature, he loves simplicity, no wonder he hasn't focused on setting up a paypal system for the course!

I also loved the facilities (I will admit, we did not have to use a porta-jon). The intimate setting of the class room in Jerome's house made it easy to get close to each other and make connections. It was awesome for me to see that this place was primarily a home, and then secondly, an education center. It made it clear that a home can be an education center. The green houses were amazing, I mean, to have tropical fruit growing int the high desert is an accomplishment. Doing the actual work was a bonus for me, too. I enjoyed when we made swales, grafted trees, mulched the garden and acted out scenarios. This helps solidify the information in my brain.


Jerome is a businessman. He runs a business (CRMPI) that takes people's money in exchange for a service. I don't disagree that he has a passion for permaculture, but his management of CRMPI is extremely underwhelming. I understand what you mean when you say that you liked CRMPI for being primarily a home, and secondly an education center, but I would have prefered that CRMPI was an educational center first, and a home second, or not at all, especially considering the cost and length of the PDC. I felt that the systems they had to manage and teach the course could have been greatly improved, especially if the grounds were designed to teach a PDC from the beginning.

I am someone that does a lot of research before committing to something, especially when the price is high, and I thoroughly read the CRMPI website before signing up. I did not feel misguided at all. Camping is camping, personally, the fact that we had access to a home, made it not even seem like camping...The activities we did were engaging and dynamic. We got to do actual projects for actual clients in the area. I felt taken care of and supported the whole time. It was a beautiful experience and I would really hate for someone to miss out on it. It's not your average university course, it's an interactive experience at living a permaculturally-focused life. I am forever grateful for the facilitators at CRMPI and my experience there.


I did my research as well, but found hardly anyone giving a detailed review or description of the place, except the CRMPI website itself. Back when I signed up for the course, their website gave no information about the setting of CRMPI. They continually described themselves as an, "Institute" or, "with 30 years of experience" which implies a degree of professionalism, that I did not find while taking the PDC. Their current PDC page paints a far better picture of what the setting was like. Read the section titled, "CRMPI"CRMPI_PDC. If this description was there when I signed up, I would have had a different idea of what to expect from taking this course.

Like I said, most of this is subjective, but I feel that if the words, "unprofessional, and expensive" come to mind when considering something, it probably isn't worth your money or time.
 
Of course, I found a very beautiful couch. Definitely. And this tiny ad:
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