Permaculture for Life ~ What, Who and How

When you make a choice, you change the future.”
~ Deepak Chopra

blank element analysis

It is said that there are as many definitions of permaculture as permaculturists, and because permaculture is basically a decentralized and flat “movement” without a visible “head” or “structure”, it is also easy to make mistakes: when you choose where and with whom to take a PDC (Permaculture Design Certificate) or whether you want to hire a permaculture consultant or a coach, there are a few factors to consider:

Do you need a PDC?

It depends, as I wrote some time here, getting a PDC is optional. I would add that here that if you want to get a more than basic understanding of what permaculture is, a PDC is highly encouraged: but your learning doesn’t stop there, nor there is a single book that will give it all to you: learning and understanding permaculture may take the rest of your life and some more: you’ll need to read many books, blogs, articles and posts, watch many videos, engage in conversations with many other permaculturists and most importantly, go back to Mother Nature and observe with humility what she has to teach. It is in the implementation and continuously testing of the ethics, principles and design strategies that you’ll learn, and by following the “observe & interact”, “use & value diversity”, “integrate rather than segregate” and “self-regulate & accept feedback”, you will slowly integrate these learnings in your life.

How to choose the “right” PDC:

This is a difficult answer, because what’s “right” for you may not be “right” for me, but here are some tips to consider:

  • Attend a free introduction (see resources at the bottom of this post): most serious PDC teachers will hold free sessions that allow people to see their teaching style and their approach to permaculture, ask questions and make an informed decision.
  • Ask those who have already taken PDCs: they will have first-hand feedback on the instructors, the venue, the content and the general approach used in the PDC. These days you can use social media too if you don’t know anybody personally.
  • Check the instructor/s’ bio and see if they mention their philosophy or show a syllabus of what they will be teaching. A good PDC should be based on the original Bill Mollison’s curriculum and cover the main topics of the design process but may have more than that, never less.
  • Check what is the focus: a serious PDC should focus on the design process and the design “testers”: a good foundation on ethics and principles. Strategies and techniques are optional and in particular be concerned about those PDCs only focusing on techniques, as techniques are localized and rarely transferable, while principles, ethics, the design process and most of the strategies are all transferable and adaptable to different situations.
  • Any good PDC should have a balance between lecturing/presenting/filed trips to observe/discussion and design activities and the actual “hands-on”: everybody loves the hands-on part; however, this is the least important aspect of permaculture as it doesn’t necessarily teaches you strategies or principles.
  • Make sure that the instructor/s actually LIVE the permaculture concepts and principles: a good teacher/facilitator/instructor of permaculture needs to be non-judgmental, good listener and observer and open to feedback. They also have to provide opportunity for learners to interact with each other and the environment.
  • Check the schedules, dates and location and see how much of “people care”, “Earth care” and “Future care” are in them: A good PDC needs to be accommodating enough to provide people options (including seniors, people with disabilities and chronic health issues, etc.; some special PDCs may also allow children); the location needs to be transit and walking/biking accessible to those who have chosen not to drive or should offer alternatives for car-sharing; safe and comfortable enough and as much sustainable as possible; finally, the PDC needs to care for the locals and redistribute any surplus and/or provide support to those in need through the work of the participants.
  • PDCs may be taught by foreigners; however, the best choice is someone who lives in your area as they will be aware of local challenges and resources. If the instructor/s are from another region, explore if they took the time to observe and interact with the locals and allow a safe and open place for them to be the main decision makers about how projects will be addressed. One of the things we want to avoid in permaculture is the figure of the “saviour” who comes with all the solutions.
  • Check at the cost: PDCs may cost anything from $500 to $2,500 and even more depending whether they include meals and accommodation, etc. A good, local PDC should be accessible enough so local people can afford it but fair enough so the instructor/s can also make a decent living and pay for the materials, transportation/meals/accommodation (when needed) and rent spaces. Most good PDCs offer grants or scholarships to those who cannot afford and may be able to exchange some work and support, such as being a TA, catering meals, etc.


What other things may permaculture do for you?

Permaculture includes much more than learning how to design fancy food gardens or forests. The design process, ethics and principles are applicable to almost anything you can think of. Because it is an “ethical design” process based in nature and we all are part of nature, you can use permaculture for:

  • Designing your livelihood (making a living while having a purpose and making an impact on social and environmental justice, usually various streams of income as every important function needs to be fulfilled by more than one element)
  • Designing your own business and its continuity
  • Designing your own life (holistic goal setting and planning)
  • Designing your emotional, spiritual and/or physical health/wellness
  • Designing your household and/or community functions and processes so you live in a simpler, more sustainable and resilient, self-reliant and interdependent way
  • Designing your food sources (food gardens and forests)
  • Designing your energy and water sources
  • Designing your transportation means
  • And much, much more…

Would you need a permaculture consultant or a coach?

A permaculture consultant or coach may have specialized in one of more of the above areas: remember than what a coach and/or consultant may do is to help you with the design, not necessarily the implementation. However, the more complex and sophisticated the system you want to assess and change or design, the most important that you consult with someone who has experience, skills and if applicable, certification in the area. For example, you may need a certified life/career coach if you want help with livelihood, life and wellness design; a nutritionist when it comes to health, an horticulturist or master gardener when it comes to food gardens, food forests, soil management, etc.

Remember than someone who only took a 72 hour PDC may have the skills for design and observation, but not necessarily the skills to safely implement all the systems.

Tomorrow, I’ll be at UBC-Farm teaching permaculture design in small scale for urban environments and those with really tiny spaces.

My dear friend, mentor and teacher Delvin and the amazing and inspiring Kym will have a free introduction to Permaculture (see poster below for details) and will also run a local PDC:



Local  PDC (download PDF with info): BCCE Permaculture

For more info, please also check my previous posts:

7 Comments on “Permaculture for Life ~ What, Who and How

  1. I found the PDC a horrendous experience. I really don’t think it is necessary to do such a course any more than you need to do a course to learn a language (I’m a language teacher). Sitting in a classroom with people talking at me, being put down for my answers and having my personal details emailed to third parties are not what I paid any money for. And I don’t think asking around beforehand would necessarily have give me the information I needed to avoid this scenario.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m sorry to hear that Helen. Unfortunately PDCs are not regulated and people are, well, people. So there are good and bad teachers and good and bad PDCs. Permaculture teachers are supposed to live the ethics in their actions and nobody should be talked to or put down anywhere, much less in a PDC.
      Permaculture can be learned on your own but the best way is applying it and having nature as your teacher. Take care.


      • Isn’t ‘applying it and having nature as your teacher’ learning on your own? I was already practising permaculture before I even knew it existed.

        Anyway, it is sad that I was treated badly but I stood up for myself and this sent a shock wave through the PDC community where I live which I hope did it some good.

        Thank you for your kind words, Sylvia.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Yes,but it can also be very lonely experience. A good PDC can be transformative and doing it with the right people can open up doors that wouldn’t do so when you are on your own. Great to hear you stood up for yourself. My mom and aunt also practiced permaculture before it was even a word. The magic of permaculture is not in the techniques but in the design, the ethics and the principles, all derived from observing and understanding natural systems and then replicated as appropriate and used as a measure of a good design. For me it was the rediscovering of my already existent but buried connection with nature. My first PDC was also traumatic in many ways but I survived and saw the beauty in spite of that. My transformative moment was not facilitated through the main teacher but through one of the presenters he invited. It was a talk about the role of trees. I almost cried and my entire world turned upside down.
        Since then, I have been lucky to mostly meet caring and truly respectful and committed people who apply permaculture in many creative ways.


      • I’m pleased you’ve had such wonderful experiences, Sylvia 😊.

        I agree doing a PDC can be a way of meeting people and learning more deeply about permaculture. However, it is only one way. Before I even started the PDC, I was on the committee of my local permaculture network and regularly attending socials.
        I was also a volunteer on a farm once a month, where they practise permaculture. They haven’t got a PDC either but they are a flagship for the Permaculture Association UK.

        What I understand about learning is that most of it takes place by doing and reflecting. Being told is actually not appropriate for most people. I think situations where they have the opportunity to design is more important than telling them how to design.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Sorry if I’m bombarding you – I tried to post the other day but the comment seems not to have appeared.

    Anyway, I am pleased that you had a transformative experience.
    I had hoped to find the same but we’re all different and have our own paths to tread.

    Liked by 1 person

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