I have collected a few questions people usually ask me about both Permaculture and my own lifestyle changes.
If you don’t find what you are looking for here, please send me a message or add a comment and I will do my best to incorporate your questions (and the appropriate answer or a link to resources) to this F.A.Q.
(Please notice that I may be adding answers to these questions and more questions over time, I encourage you to visit often as changes in pages don’t reflect in posts)
- What is Permaculture?
We are all designers, but many are not aware. We observe, interact and make choices based on what we observe, believe and expect. We build and follow patterns, interact with sectors that flow through our spaces and lives and constantly move between zones…
We are continuously designing our spaces, activities, relationships, life…
Permaculture is about making this design intentional: to become aware of our power and responsibility, our influences and impacts
Permaculture is about using this power to design with ethics, knowing that whatever we do, whatever our choices are, they will have an impact on the planet ecosystems, on other beings and other humans, including future generations…
- Is Permaculture a fad?
Permaculture started in 1978 and has since spread around the world: there are hundreds of Permaculture groups and teachers and it has already changed the life of many.
For people who may change some light bulbs and buy a hybrid, it may be a fad. But for all those who have decided to embrace the transformation and start living in a more responsible and ethical way (at all levels), Permaculture is much more.
It is also much more for those who have made Permaculture their livelihood: teaching, living and doing Permaculture every single day and not only evenings and weekends.
It is also much more than a fad for the thousands whose lives have been changed after a disaster (such as Katrina, Haiti and here or Sandy, as just some examples) or for those who didn’t have access to clean water, food and education and now have thanks to Permaculture.
For more Permaculture projects around the world, many supporting entire communities, schools and households in impoverished countries, check this (not comprehensive) list here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_permaculture_projects
You make your own judgement 🙂
- Is Permaculture a sort of cult or religion?
Not at all, Permaculture can be defined as “systems thinking” and “ethical, critical thinking” (acknowledging that everyone and everything is connected in this planet and that each one of our decisions, or the lack of any decision, affects the lives of others, both presently living and future generations)
Permaculture has been evolving, evaluating what has been done, embracing new discoveries, experimenting and incorporating feedback since it started.
There is no dogma, no “guru” and no “authority” in Permaculture although you may find many “schools”, some following certain principles more than others and some reading books from certain authors more than others. However, all converge in one important point: the ethics. And these ethics are born from a combination of common sense, the study and exploration of ancient and aboriginal cultures as well as religions and philosophies, deep observation of how nature works and the principles of science.
The ethics are simple and can be summarized as:
Care for the Earth
Care for the People (acknowledging that “people” are more than just humans and includes all living beings) and
Return the surplus (this ethic has changed from “Setting Limits to Population and Consumption”, originally published by Bill Mollison and is sometimes found as “Fair Share). Some permaculturists call this one the “care for the future” ethic, at it reminds us that there is not only “today” and our current needs and wants, but that we have a responsibility towards our children and other people’s children…
- Do Permaculturists belong to a particular “culture”, political view or religion?
No. You may find that the two Permaculture founders are declared atheists, but many great Permaculture teachers are Pagan, Polytheist, Hindu, Buddhist, Taoist, Christian, Muslim, Druid, Agnostic or Atheist, among others. Most don’t mix their personal views with Permaculture and standards from the main Permaculture Institutes (see under links/resources) clearly state that Permaculture shouldn’t be mixed with any religious or other type of belief.
As Permaculture embraces social justice and people empowerment and is against any kind of oppression or colonization, many may align it with leftist, green or liberal political views. However, there are permaculturista from the right and in any case, most permaculturista do not promote any particular political view, recognizing that all of them are imperfect, discriminatory and artificially isolated from reality.
Reality, permaculturists acknowledge, is complex and goes beyond any particular view of the world.
Reality is at the same time simple: there is a reality of limited resources and a rapidly changing climate that will affect us all; no matter what religion, party or worldview you have chosen to belong to.
- Isn’t Permaculture a sort of sustainable gardening?
Yes and no.
Permaculture is systems and ethical thinking put together for the intentional design of human settlements so they are resilient, fair for all and sustainable.
This means that Permaculture touches on many aspects (if not all) of human life: gardening and farming are probably the most important ones because we all eat and because the way we produce food and make it available impacts our lifestyles and the ecosystems of the planet that we need to continue living.
But Permaculture also includes how we deal with energy (from catching, storing, distributing and using it), water, soils, buildings, technology and science, parenting, finances and economy (how we work and how that work impacts our communities and households). It also involves how we manage social issues: how we govern ourselves and deal with common challenges in community.
Many start in Permaculture through creating edible gardens or going farming, but slowly or quickly, most permaculturista embrace all the other aspects of it, as the saying says:
“Live simply so that others may simply live.” ~ Mahatma Gandhi
- Why should we care about Permaculture?
There are many reasons:
The “Green” economy has been another fad and it has become “greenwash” (a trick for you and me to continue buying stuff, just that this time is “green” so we may feel relieved, for a while, thinking we are being responsible and caring for the planet while continue with our abusive and immature lifestyles). Permaculture is not a fad and doesn’t ask you to just change lifebulbs, buy local and get a hybrid. It proposes a complete life change that will move your foundations and all what you believe and expected, but will create a more just and truly sustainable world for all.
The green-fix will not last much more and will soon show (as it has already started) that its proposals are superficial.
Climate change is more real than ever: if you don’t “believe” in it, I suggest you take a few serious courses at Coursera, from any university and read a little. The climate has already been changed by our consumption and exploitation of fossil fuels and for the way we do agriculture, raise livestock and expand human developments. It is creating draughts, floods and wildfires everywhere and depleting the natural mechanisms for buffering the impacts of most natural disasters. It is impacting many populations, mainly those who haven’t done much to create the climate change in the first place, and it is expected that all these combined conditions will create a perfect storm with hunger and pandemics going rampant in the world…Permaculture has a way to reduce the impact by creating resilient communities and households, at the same time that we responsibly stop what is causing all this.
Peak oil and peak resources in general (think not only fossil fuels as a source for energy, but as a source for many of the raw materials needed for producing most of the things we use, including plastics and all its different forms; also include here all the rare metals and other resources that are finite, even more than the fossil fuels, some non-recoverable after being used and transformed by manufacturing, and that are being used for our “convenience” such as cell phones and iPads)
Permaculture doesn’t ask us to trash our devices. However, it makes us to re-think how we live and whether is so important to be so comfortable and up-to-date in the last technology, entertainment and comfort, that we have to rape the entire planet, taking the lives and livelihoods of other peoples and beings around the world so we can live like this.
I can continue with many other reasons for a “case for Permaculture”, but I will save them for my future posts.
- Who do you follow? Mollison or Holmgren?
I don’t follow anybody, but I do like to read and watch what the elders have to say about the world, and not only Permaculture founders such as Holmgren and Mollison who I respect, but many others, some of them not even related to Permaculture.
The beauty of critical and ethical thinking is that they give you a tool to scrutinize each book, video, project or conversation and take what applies to you and your life without the need to be judgemental with anybody.
Having said that, I think that my approach to social justice, a scientific and experimental way of practicing Permaculture and the fact that I translated Holmgren’s last piece (Crash on Demand, December 2013), all make me more into Holmgren’s ideas.
- Are Permaculturists Survivalists, Doomers or Preppers?
None of them.
However, the opposite is true in some cases: there are many survivalists, doomers and preppers who come to Permaculture as a way to ensure they will “survive” the collapses they predict, because Permaculture teaches how to grow food, conserve and get water and energy and so on.
However, Permaculturists rarely are ok with weapons or with the idea of sudden collapse. Permaculturists are usually pacifists and peace-makers, they don’t tend to believe that you have to hoard guns (as many survivalists and preppers do) in order to protect your family or stuff.
Survivalists and preppers are more into hoarding stuff, isolating in the mountains and learning how to survive any disaster (mainly human-induced ones) while doomers are a rare species that may become either a survivalist or prepper, a permaculturist or nothing.
Permaculturists are also optimistic people who believe that we have to do with what we have (hoarding may be counterproductive and comes from a scarcity mentality) and that the strength to survive and even thrive any potential disaster or collapse is not in weapons but in resilience and, more than that, in community resilience.
- Do you have to own land to practice Permaculture?
No. You can rent land, share land or swap land for another service or product you provide.
Also, as Permaculture includes so many other things, you can become a permaculturista while living in the city, in an apartment or in a shared basement.
One of the tricks Permaculture teaches is to be creative and open to opportunities. You can create a sustainable life almost anywhere and with scarce resources.
Remember: only the Permaculture perceived as elitist and only for those who can afford land, a PDC and extreme life changes is the one that requires you are young, healthy and at least middle-class.
Real Permaculture is much more than that and that is the quest of this blog and my own life experiments with it.
- I have no gardening or farming skills, can I still benefit from Permaculture?
Yes, read the question above this one…
You can reduce your energy use and bills, create more space for real enjoyment and family life, help to save water and biodiversity, regenerate places, make the local economy thrive for real local people and many other things that don’t necessarily involve gardening.
However, I can assure you, once you start growing your own food and live the pleasure of being responsible for your most basic needs, you’ll forget about whether or not you know farming/gardening…it is easy, fun and very, very rewarding…and you can do it in containers, in a windowpane, a balcony or a small deck…
You can also grow your food at the local plaza, at a friend’s house or start a community garden.
- Do you need to take a PDC in order to practice Permaculture?
No. You can learn Permaculture ethics and principles anywhere in the Internet or from Permaculture books (see my list of resources under “Links/resources”, always expanding)
You can also learn from attending Permaculture meetups or free introductions at community events.
You can start practicing many of the ideas I’ll be sharing here or follow other excellent blogs and authors.
Or you can take a PDC.
There are some teachers that are creating more affordable options for PDCs, and many have at least one spot for single-mothers, people with disabilities, homeless or unemployed. Many are also willing to accept work or some other resource or service they need in exchange for the PDC.
- If I can learn by myself, why should I take a PDC?
PDCs tend to change lives. While you can learn many things by yourself, when you learn in a group and from somebody who has organized the content in a structured course, you can see how the different pieces fall together.
For many, just the fact that PDCs put like-minded people together under the same roof makes a big impact in their lives. For many, attending a PDC is the first and only opportunity to connect with others who are aware of the status of the world and are willing to do something about it.
For others, attending a PDC keeps them from falling into doom and nihilism, depression and isolation, so PDCs can be very inspiring and create a supportive community of learners.
However, not all PDCs are the same and not all cohorts stay in touch and do projects together.
- What are the bests? Full-immersion/residential, part-time or online PDCs?
It really depends on your needs, what’s available in your region and for your budget and your own style of learning and processing.
Each option has a benefit and a drawback:
Online courses, if well designed and delivered can create community beyond borders through forums and social media. They can reach people who live in remote places and cannot afford traveling for two or three weeks; they may be good for people with disabilities, people working full-time, people with small children, people with businesses they can’t leave or people with mobility problems.
The challenge for online PCDs is that they may not all be well designed, monitored or delivered. Just being exposed to videos and text doesn’t do it, they have to incorporate feedback, interaction, “live” chatting and videoconferencing and hands-on projects people can work and then record to share with others.
Another challenge with online PDCs is that you may be missing in all the sharing and exchanging that happens in real life when you share meals, a walk or work side-by-side with others.
Full-immersion/residential PDCs are probably the more life-changing ones because they bring Permaculture together with the being “separated” from the real world for a couple of weeks (or more), living with other like-minded people under the same roof, sharing meals and learning what it is living in community. They may also be challenging for those not ready to live in community or who have strong beliefs and ideas and are not prepared to be challenged or open to opinions and behaviours different from theirs.
If not well organized or if the teacher is not good, they may be painful and overwhelming, even frustrating.
However, immersion/residential PDCs have the ability to show much more of Permaculture and “live it” while teaching and learning it, as most are held in ecovillages, farms and other already sustainable locations where people are together 24/7 for the duration of the course.
Part-time PDCs have proliferated recently, as well as online ones because for most people, leaving family, studies and work behind to attend a PDC may be really challenging. They accommodate people with families or working/studying full-time and business owners. The challenge is that the groups tend to disintegrate and the pace may be too slow to be transformative, so people lose momentum and inspiration as life comes between PDC classes.
The positive side of part-time PDCs is that they tend to be more inclusive and reach more people. They also allow people to digest what they are learning from class to class and provide enough time to work on assignments and design projects.
In summary, any format is OK as long as the instructor is good and allows for people learning styles and needs.
If you can afford it, taking at least one PDC of each may teach you more about Permaculture as even with a similar curriculum, teaching styles and is actually included in each PDC changes from teacher to teacher.
- Are all PDC teachers good to teach PDC?
Until recently, there were not enough PDCs and PDC teachers. Since a few years back, however, PDCs and PDC teachers have proliferated, showing a wide range of quality and depth in their teaching.
In most cases, it is best to look for accredited PDC teachers: somebody who has taken the PDC with another accredited PDC instructor. You can also check what they have done, in what have they specialized and how long have they been practicing Permaculture.
Most accreditation institutions are preparing standards to be followed by anybody wanting to teach under their umbrella, to protect quality.
You can check my “links/resources” for more information
- Where can I take a PDC?
There are many places offering PDCs. Some are starting to be offered at local community colleges and community centres, some may be offered at ecovillages or farms and some may be online.
You can ask at local forums and meetup groups or follow blogs. I will be adding links to organizations who offer PDCs worldwide under my “links/resources” but please understand that I have no responsibility over the quality or credibility of any particular course, institution or instructor, unless I specifically say so because I have experience with the source.
- What is the path after a PDC if I want to continue training?
There is not fixed path, but if you want to continue learning you have different options (you can combine them all, which is what I am doing):
Take another PDC to compare teaching styles and learn more things, as no two PDCs are the same in content and way of delivery
Start a Permaculture Diploma under an accredited mentor in your region (check the links/resources page to see what institutions are offering Pc Diploma)
Take a program at Gaia University: http://www.gaiauniversity.org/
Really read and re-read the main Permaculture books (with a critical eye) and try the ideas in projects and experimenting with your own life (see under books section at the links/resources page of this blog)
Watch quality videos about other Permaculture projects and try what you see there
Join or create a Permaculture study/work group in your area
Start slowly applying Permaculture to different aspects of your life
If possible, start community projects including Permaculture, such as community gardens, community kitchens, workshops for local people on re-skilling, etc
Ask around and see whether you can create designs for friends and family for free (to practice) and once you gain more experience, you can try offering your services to others for a small fee
Check what your area needs and see what skills you may lack or where you want to specialize (not everybody needs to become a PDC teacher, a consultant or a farm/garden designer) and take courses on the areas you want to develop
Check my posts on career planning for permaculturists for more idea
- Is Permaculture training recognized?
It depends. It is recognized within the permaculturist community, but still doesn’t transfer to mainstream colleges and universities and it is mostly ignored by the general public.
- What is the value of a PDC if it is not recognized?
The value is for you and for what you can do to help the world to make a real shift beyond sustainability.
If you take a PDC to accumulate certificates, it won’t work. PDCs only work if you do something with the inspiration and knowledge you get from them. Unless mainstream certificates that inflate your resume even if you didn’t learn a thing, PDCs are only valid for other permaculturists and the world if you can do what you are supposed to do and have projects to show
- What else do you suggest to study if I want to improve my options in Permaculture?
It depends on two factors: what were you doing before the PDC and what you want to do after the PDC.
If after completing your PDC you realize that you want to continue with what you were doing before (just enhanced now with Permaculture approach), then you may not need to take any other courses, just adapt what you were doing to Permaculture ethics and principles…or you may want to take a couple more of courses to upgrade your skills in a particular area.
For most people, a PDC may make them to re-consider what they are doing and change careers altogether. In this case, you may want to explore the different options (see my posts on career planning for permaculturists) and then take courses in those areas.
For example, I wanted to explore horticulture further and I’m taking a certificate in sustainable horticulture now (2014)
- What career options are there in Permaculture?
There are many more than what it has been explored so far…as one of my Pc teachers said, with the challenges our world faces we can’t afford to have everybody just gardening: we need “all hands on deck” to make it float and thrive…so you can explore many options, using the Permaculture ethics and principles, such as:
PDC teacher, Pc consultant for livelihood, Pc consultant for household or institutional edible landscapes, designer, community sustainability instructor or coordinator, alternative energy auditor and installer, local business owner (producing, offering and selling all kinds of products and services from composting bins and tools to worms, plants, seeds, solar panels, re-skilling classes, books, etc), construction worker with natural building, any of the regular trades (but permaculturized) and so on…
In any case, Permaculture asks for people to become more directly responsible for their own needs, so you need to re-think the whole idea of work: you may not work full-time or you may not work for others but for you and your family and exchange some skills or products for the things you and your family needs. As Permaculture will make you reduce and reconsider what you “need”, you may find that it is easier not to work or work less and still have a life (or, have a life because you work less)