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.