“One of the most important things about Permaculture is that it is founded on a series of principles that can be applied to any circumstance—agriculture,urban design, or the art of living. The core of the principles is the working relationships and connections between all things.”
~ Juliana Birnbaum Fox, Sustainable Revolution: Permaculture in Ecovillages, Urban Farms, and Communities Worldwide
While people completing PDCs (Permaculture Design Certificates) come from all walks of life, ages and backgrounds, they have three things in common:
- They are usually concerned about the state of the world at ecosystems and social levels and tend to have an above-average understanding on the predicaments we face
- They are usually proactive and empowering people who like to get things done
- They are eager to start “doing something” with what they have learned but do not necessarily have a plan (or even a vision) of what this may look like
A well known BC Permaculture instructor from Permaculture BC shared with some of us at the 2014 Permaculture Teachers Training course that PDCs are like being exposed to an inviting and inspiring buffet: you get to taste a bit of each meal and all sounds awesome, but you don’t get to eat the full meal, and for sure, you don’t get the recipes either.
What usually happens after you complete a PDC?
PDCs, if well run, tend to be life-changing and transformative: you come with lots of expectations and, in most cases, have already done some reading, watching videos or researching. Still, a well organized PDC will change your life: you’ll see the world through different lenses: you’ll see the matrix, the connections, the challenges, the possibilities…
For most of us, however, finishing a PDC can be bittersweet and heartbreaking: most people don’t have the means, skills or support to go back to the land or engage in huge community projects. Some connections are lost (more if learners were coming from far away, which tends to be the case in most PDCs) and you end realizing that you were given a beautiful brochure, not an instructions manual: what do you do next?
What may come next?
What comes after a PDC will be hugely influenced by: 1) your vision/goals ; 2) your skills and experience in whatever you were doing before the PDC; 3) your current assets and liabilities (in all aspects); and 4) Your community landscape.
Let’s review them one by one:
- Vision and Goals:
As in any Permaculture project, all starts with a vision: what do you want for the world, your community, your household, your life? What do the world, your community, your household and you need?
You may have a vision/goal of:
- Becoming a Permaculture activist: promoting Permaculture in your community and engaging people so they can learn, apply its principles and start projects
- Becoming a Permaculture teacher: teach PDCs and eventually advanced programs such as Social Permaculture, Transition or Permaculture Teachers Training
- Becoming a Mentor for those going through the Permaculture Diploma program certification
- Becoming a Permaculture Consultant/Designer who helps others to visualize and implement projects in their lives and communities (and even here, what type of consultant? You may coach them at social/inner level, as a career coach for the Right Livelihood; full self-reliant systems such as edible gardens/forests, energy systems, etc…
- Becoming a Permaculture “doer’: beyond planning, you want to support people to implement and actually build the structures for the projects they dream
- Using Permaculture in your life and household with no further goals for now beyond improving yourself and your ecological footprint
Knowing what your dreams are will guide the next steps. A Permaculture teacher wannabe won’t require the same skills or experience than the activist, the consultant or the person who just wants to work on improving her own life
- Your skills and experience:
Your skills and experience, more if you were good at what you are doing and enjoy it, may be a foundation of whatever comes next in your life after the PDC.
Like in Permaculture design, this is your land: this is what you already have. Same as you wouldn’t abandon a landscape just because it is not a perfect fit for what you want (you are now a designer, remember!), you need to work with what you are
People with studies or experience in horticulture, gardening, biology, ecology and similar disciplines would feel much at easy teaching some of the practical side of Permaculture but may need to work on reframing many of the concepts to be able to see them through the ethical/systems-thinking approach Permaculture requires.
Similarly, people with backgrounds in architecture, design and arts may feel really comfortable working on visioning and design, but may lack the little details in relation to botany, ecology or energy to name a few of the other big concepts from Permaculture.
Do you have a background in trades? That will surely help with hands-on projects.
Do you have a background in social services or community work? That will be a great asset for community-based projects!
What about a background that seems completely unrelated? Such as business, IT, engineering, policeman, nurse, musician, to name a few? This may mean you may need to work a bit more in developing an “edge” (or not) depending on what does Permaculture mean for you in your future plans…
- Current assets and liabilities:
Assets and liabilities may come in many shapes and sizes: from social and inner ones (do you have dependants? Does your family support your Permaculture dreams? Are you emotionally and spiritually strong enough to change your life right now?,) to financial ones (do you have a mortgage and bills to pay? Are there other people depending on your current income? ) and even health-related ones (are you young and healthy, both physically and emotionally to embark yourself in this new adventure?)…both assets and liabilities are very personal and yours may include many others not quoted here.
Having certain assets (such as access to land to start a garden or time to plan and implement all your changes) help with the starting and maintaining momentum, but they are not all you need.
Having liabilities may slow you down or become a challenge: it only means it will be a bit more difficult for you and you may need to be more creative on how you use and work with what you have.
Same as we work matching needs, functions, products, services and inherent characteristics to get a resilient and self-reliant system in our Permaculture design, knowing where you stand will allow you to “design” your path after the PDC
- Community Landscape:
Your community landscape is like the different sectors and factors in your Permaculture design: some sectors and factors may restrict what you can do (such as community by-laws, regulations and even current neighbours attitude) and some may support your vision (such as an existent Transition group or community hub)
Permaculture teaches us that flows of energy (and we can see all in life as just that) can be captured and stored, used up, channeled or deviated or blocked…knowing what you already have in your community (or, in other cases, in your household) may provide ideas of where to go and how to address that: it will also tell you where the needs and gaps are and where the points you can use as leverage for your dreams
Your next steps:
Once you know where you stand (points 1-4 above) you have a much better understanding of what you need to do.
For some, the road ahead may mean years of engaging in projects, more reading and even formal education; for others, it may mean continue doing what you love, just adding a Permaculture twist
Here are some suggestions that may work for almost anybody:
- Start small and slow: apply what you have learned at home. No matter what your dreams are, if you don’t walk your talk people may not trust working with you
- Continue learning: either through a second PDC with a different teacher or a mentorship towards a diploma; you can also read more, not only about Permaculture but about the different topics in its flower petals: from botany and ecology to natural building, you will need to learn more: a PDC is only the start!
- Register to local and global networks: this will allow others to meet and connect with you and you will have more people to consult and invite to your projects
- Apply what you learn: engage in projects at home, work and community level. Join working parties, meetings and planning/designing projects
- Offer your consulting, teaching and designing services for free or as exchange to family, friends or colleagues and document all you do. A portfolio will help you if your plans are aligned with teaching, designing or consulting
- Specialize: although Permaculture is about systems-thinking, you don’t need to know it all. You can specialize in something you love, such as soil, or building resilience or social Permaculture…the advantages of specializing is that you’ll be offering something to the party instead of competing with others
- Just do it! There is nothing more disempowering that lingering and dragging visions and dreams that never take place…start working in small projects and stop postponing life!
A note about me and my own Permaculture journey:
I have been engaged in social work and education for more than 30 years. Through all those years, I was engaged in many projects that may be loosely considered under the “Permaculture” umbrella, such as helping people to prepare and deal with disasters and emergencies and become more resilient and self-reliant. In my teens and early 20’s, I was also involved in Nature’s regeneration and exploration projects.
At a more personal level, I always grew a percentage of the herbs and vegetables my family consumes and (without knowing the name for that) I used organic and Permaculture-like practices learned from my mother and maternal aunt. I also preserved food, saw and repair clothes, harvested rain water and composted.
In January 2013 I took a course in Master Organic Gardening at Gaia College (a course I’m refreshing right now for certification) and in August of the same year I took my first PDC with James Richardson from Conscious Design Collective in partnership with the UBC and O.U.R. Ecovillage.
In September 2013 I started my second PDC, this time with Delvin Solkinson from Gaia Craft, and in June 2014, I started my Diploma in Permaculture under his mentoring and registered as an apprentice at the Permaculture Institute.
Now, apart from Permaculture having enhanced and deepened my understanding of systems and Nature principles, I also use what I learned in many community areas where I’m deeply engaged: I am a facilitator and trainer for Disaster Management, Emergency Preparedness and First Aid and I give all this (DM/EP and FA) a “Permaculture twist”; In my everyday job as a certified career counsellor, I try coaching people towards what is known in both Buddhism and Permaculture as the “Right Livelihood”; I sit at the board of the Surrey and White Rock Food Action Coalition and coordinate Sources/South Surrey Food Bank Community Garden (“Food for Thought”) where I offer free workshops on edible gardening, Permaculture and food preservation; I am also part of the governance committee for a new garden in Ocean Park/South Surrey and support whenever I can the efforts of the local Transition group in which I was previously more involved
As part of my “Permaculture plan” I am taking a citation on Sustainable Horticulture at Kwantlen Polytechnic University and will be supporting Jude Hobbs as a TA at the upcoming Permaculture Teacher’s Training at O.U.R. Ecovillage
I am now preparing my exams and paperwork to be a registered Organic Master Gardener
I offer free workshops for community groups on the following topics:
- Permaculture for city gardeners
- Introduction to Permaculture
- Inner Permaculture: changing patterns from the inside out
- Exploring paths towards the Right Livelihood: earning a living beyond sustainability
- Emergency Preparedness and resilience building for communities
- Food Mapping for Food Sovereignty (where we are and where we want to be)
- Composting: black gold
- Vermi-composting: silent revolution
- Growing food in containers
- Food preservation 101
Anybody can do it…just start one little step at a time…
“Sitting at our back doorsteps, all we need to live a good life lies about us. Sun, wind, people, buildings, stones, sea, birds and plants surround us. Cooperation with all these things brings harmony, opposition to them brings disaster and chaos.”
~ Bill Mollison, Introduction to Permaculture