Episode-1521- Can You Actually Earn a Living with a Permaculture Business — 40 Comments

  1. I have had similar feelings, though I tend to view it more as- is this actual education/skill development, or am I just entertaining myself here?

  2. I sometimes got or get the feeling that the permaculture certs seem a bit pyramid schemeish.

    As a listener of the show you could here over the years the shift from survivalism to permaculture. At some point it did seem odd that Jeff went quicly from learning and listening to teaching and selling certifications quickly. It seemed to follow what many of the other guys in the field are doing.

    There’s a lot of other great ideas put up there especially all the back yard stuff, but it does feel like this was a podcast built on modern survival, and became ground zero for the permicultur sales.

    On the flip side I think jeff has showing that he is growing and learning and being flexible just as the market needs. I think we all need to take that as a lesson.

    • PokeShell, What does modern survival mean to you? Also it is unreasonable to expect a show that has been running as long as this not to evolve and encompass different and often better ways of accomplishing the desired goal. Preparedness.

    • @PokeShell, wow, what the heck are you talking about.

      If you mean Geoff Lawton the man took his first PDC in 1984, if you are referring to my recent guest he doesn’t teach, he does design work and is just getting his feet wet.

      Again I’d find the term pyramid scheme insulting if it didn’t so clearly demonstrate ignorance both to pyramid schemes and to permaculture.

    • Permaculture IS modern survival, really.

      Especially the design side of it more than the agricultural application side of it.

  3. Jack, so far none of the “highly adaptable” Bob Wells plants (at least the ones I’ve heard) have been cold hardy enough to live where I grew up.

    And, cold hardy down to 10 above, damn I wasn’t aware there was places that stayed above zero year round! Lol!

    • Climate’s a funny thing. Where I live (Pierce County Western Washington) it stays above zero year round… rarely touches 90 (perhaps 8 days per year fall somewhere between 90 and 95) and most years doesn’t reach 100 at all.

      Oooof course we also have thick cloud cover more often than not during the winter months (and much of fall and spring), so a lot of the microclimate hacking you see done to protect tender plants either don’t work or don’t work nearly as well in places that get much colder but get a lot more solar gain in the winter.

      • Where I grew up (northern Minnesota) it gets up to 90 all the time during the summer (with thick cloud cover, of mosquitos) and it hit -40 quite frequently. And the wind chills. Don’t even aak about the wind chills.

        Climtates are totally a funny thing though, because in that harsh environment, the like 4 months of growing season are the most beautiful, verdant, fertile months I’ve experienced. Out in the country you can just feel the life energy of nature. Not so here in Colorado where I’m living now. It’s like dead here and it kind of makes me sad, I like being around plants.

  4. Jack,
    Just wanted to let everyone know after listening to your podcast for way too long, I finally took your advice and started a side business. I heard one of Luke’s podcast back in December and thought hey there is something I can do. But then I saw the price of his ebook and thought man that’s way too much for a “ebook” But the next day I purchased the book and set out to find the “cheapest” way I could get started. I followed all his steps and slowly gathered all the needed materials. I found an online farmers market in my area and signed up to be a producer and before I knew it the first week in January I was making my first sells. I’m working on getting into some restaurants and working with a few people outside my direct area to sell my product. I will also be selling at my local farmers market as soon as they open back up. I know I have a long way to go but now I know I can get there as long as I keep working at it. Thanks for everything you do and will do! And I can’t wait to be able to take the plant pro. course in the near future. Maybe side business 2!

    • And let me ask, now how do you feel about your initial feeling that “that is way to much for an ebook”?

      God I have a great story about the value of an eBook I will tell on next Monday’s show.

  5. I can see where people can pick up on a pyramid scheme vibe. I had hired a permaculture designer to come out to my place. Yet I also felt a lot of pressure from this guy in his enthusiasm in evangelism for permaculture that he wanted me and my kid to get PDC’s. Well, hey, you have to have a final market for this stuff, not just keep making more and more teachers. Now I know this guy was not intending it to come across as a true pyramid and he certainly was not looking for a cut or anything. But I can see how that would be a red flag for someone you do not know well. I don’t really have intentions of making a living off my permie adventures. For me, it is just a better way to live that best life now and if times get tough.

    • Man none of you people have a damn clue what a pyramid scheme is. Please contact your local Amway/Quixtar rep and find out!

    • Yes, Jack, yes, I do know what a pyramid scheme is. I don’t think you read my post very well. I never accused you and I am not even accusing this guy. But I got sucked into Mary Kay when I was 19 so please don’t tell me what I know or don’t know.

      • I got your comment and you made an invalid analogy. If you know what a pyramid scheme is you sure didn’t act like it in your comment.

  6. Why do people feel like they need to give you grief?
    You are doing a great work. Why do they give you a hard time?
    That makes no sense.
    Spock was right and humans are illogical?

    Personally I’m suffering from culture shock, being the new kid in town, no network, living in an apartment. Would be hard to talk someone into loaning me their back yard for gardening since they don’t know me.

    It’s a process, marketing, and requires a great deal of energy input for marginal reward. Therefore my plans for guerrilla gardening come Spring. First have to wait for 6″ of snow to melt off. It’s the dead of winter here in Ohio, so everything is on hold for the next 3 months.

  7. Interesting podcast. I think more could be done with maple syrup/sap. Perhaps sap as an overwinter/early spring bee feed or as a drink similar to coconut water. My family and I make about 45 gallons of syrup per year and it is a truly enjoyable process.

    • Agreed and we just learned the walnut makes really awesome syrup too. Wow does that open up the potential for long term timber crops, doesn’t it.

  8. If anyone out there is a lawyer or paralegal, a CPA, or a real estate agent, here are some other ideas for you.

    The permaculture world needs people in these professions who are knowledgeable about permie practices. A lawyer can help someone make sure all their plans are compliant with the layers of regulation and bureaucracy. A CPA can help someone walk that line between personal and commercial production (in relation to deductions, etc.).

    What I’d really love to see is something we’ll call PermaFlip for now. Buy land, build earthworks, dig ponds, plant trees, build a small home (or renovate the existing home), shed, and greenhouse then turn around and offer it for sale.

    And what I’d really, really love to see is a full-blown permaculture REIT. Investors pool money together, buy various plots of land, install systems, and in turn take money from property managers (Fiefdom Rulers) who produce from that land.

    • I’ve actually strongly into Permaflip (or a rental version of it,) but at the moment I lack the capital and ‘credential’ to finance the goal.

      That, and it may be challenging to market perma homes. Some things we do are appealing, but others clash very much with typical opinions.

      • I think the key to PermaFlip is really to keep the ‘Perma’ name out of it, like Jack mentions. Prospective buyers or tenants probably won’t care that the property has been flipped and rebuilt using permaculture principles. What they’ll like is the handout you can give them that outlines “You buy this property for $200,000 and here are all the ways you’re going to save money this year, next year, and beyond.” Look at berries alone. Our family of four easily spent several hundred dollars per year on fresh in-season berries. A PermaFlip property could provide that (and much more obviously) as just included in the price of the property. No need to use the word “Permaculture” there…

        • Indeed, I had no intention of marketing the ‘perma’ by name.

          The fact remains that MANY in our society- particularly among those in a position to finance a new home- have no interest in that sort of thing, like the people who choose to install those non-fruiting pear trees Jack hates so much.

          I’ve seen people tear bearing trees out of their property because ‘the fruit attracts yellow jackets.’

          That being said, there’s bound to be a market for such homes and if I were in a financial position to go for it I’d definitely like to give it a go. Just acknowledging finding the right buyer will take some work.

  9. I like the movement. Not the hippie part. But the part that teaches you how to make a business, I love. Planting trees, making stuff, parents teaching thier kids, I love all that. I like the urban food forests, planning food along your lines, gorilla gardens.


    Without attending a permaculture event, and seeing the contents, it can look like a scam especially in an unregulated, underdeveloped market. I take a course, You sign a paper, then I now have the right to sell courses. You buy my ebook, it tells you how to make, publish, and create your own ebook.

    In highschool, I placed adds in the back of “Weekly World News” selling everything from “brochures” on how to flip cars, to palm readings from a xerox of your hand. Some i did bordered pyramid schemeish. The palm reading was a brilliant idea with perfect audiance though /insert evil laugh

    I don’t want governmental regulations. But, the market has not yet flushed out the good from the bad, & unless you do a ton of research. From the outside, it can look like any other scam. Do, due diligence.

    Jack, I believe in what you do, but sometimes you get overly excited and loose focus on the drive by listener.

    I buy your msb memberships, I ware your swag. I drink from your cups, I support family farms you defend without doing my own research, I own your silver. I even went 40k liquid and positioned myself to be a 150k investor within 90 days notice, in Land or partnership in Perma Ethos 1 (the Trinity river land).

    I believe that there is true value in your stamp of approval. But, I felt the same pyramid feeling expressed, the first time I saw Geoff ‘ s video and pricing.

    I’d still take a course from you Jack before permies or Geoff.

    • There is NO HIPPIE part to Permaculture, none.

      There are hippies that do Permaculture to say that makes any actual part of Permaculture a hippie movement is like saying my Volkswagen Jetta was a hippie car because many hippies like Jettas.

      There is NO SCAM, no one is scamming anyone. Not one teacher is making any claims that are invalid about the value of a PDC credential. If there are show me one, just one. I promise you no government is necessary, I and every valid member of the teaching movement will slaughter them.

      Thing is we don’t have to! Even most of the hippies and others I have major ideological differences with a good teachers. Skeeter for example hates me because he hates guns, BUT, I think he teaches wonderfully at PDCs and his knowledge of wild plants alone makes taking his course worth doing.

      Here is the deal, if you have worked with an instructor you know them, I value your opinion of their teaching. So do most people and now we have the internet! I know it is a new thing and all. Anyone that is any good is getting students mostly by referrals. Shitty teachers STARVE to death and do something else. Conversely if you have never worked with an instructor and have a poor opinion of him, I consider your opinion worthless to say the least I rank it with one star amazon reviews that begin with, “I don’t own this item and never held one in my hand but…..”

      FWIW, I have three PDCs the only one I publicly cite is Geoff’s. Geoff is one of the most giving men I know, he has done years of relief work, he has raised millions with his teaching yes but most it has gone right back to Permaculture. Much has done things like fund his work with orphanages in Africa. Please do not say that anything this guy does is a pyramid, I find it insulting. Lawton is my greatest mentor, he is honestly hugely responsible for my success here at TSP. I don’t believe TSP would be what it is without Permaculture and I would not be a practitioner, teacher and advocate if I hadn’t found Geoff.

      To this day I have not been a part of any PDC as worth the Price of what Geoff did online. I aspire to make our PDCs from PermaEthos to his level at some point. That is our goal. Not so you can go teach PDCs but so you can gain as much knowledge as possible to use as you choose.

  10. Hey Jack, I’m looking forward to listening to this show later today when I get a chance, and I’ve enjoyed “the duck chronicles”. I was wondering if you had planned on publishing your costs and income from the ducks at some point once they’re laying? I’d love to hear something like a year one retrospective on it in the future.

    Re: the “pyramid scheme” thing. There was a good thread on Darren Doherty’s “Regrarians” facebook group on this stuff specifically back in December. I encourage people to check that out, if they get a chance.

    Also, just a comment, it seems to me that the articles that have been coming out on slate, nytimes, etc. about not being able to make a living farming are on not making a living by doing one thing. If we REALLY believe in the value of “polyculture” it seems like our income streams shouldn’t be a monoculture either, i.e., “I only sell vegetables at my farm stand, and wish I didn’t have to bake bread, do carpentry, etc. to make ends meet.” I think it was Mark Shepard in his TSP interview who said, “no one venture can make the farm float.” Salatin in “You can Farm” said essentially the same thing. There should always be multiple income streams. It’s a lifestyle, not a job.

    Income shouldn’t be a monoculture either. I’m saying this, not as a farmer (yet), but as a full-time freelancer who knows the danger in relying too much on one income stream…

    Maybe that’d be an interesting show to do, Jack. Something on how to successfully manage multiple income streams, budget, financial plan, etc. when one stream of income isn’t large enough to survive off of. We always talk about “side jobs” with the assumption of having a stable income. What are the nuts-and-bolts of living off 5 “side” jobs?

    • You are spot on! When you here me talk about a core in this episode I describe it as a hub onto which spokes are placed.

      Just here is one example, people are waiting until 2017 I shit you not for cider apple trees right now. But you can get scion easily! HELLO!

      So someone could learn to graft from oh I don’t know Nick Ferguson’s course. Order a crap ton of scion and start doing bench grafts. 1.80 for the roots, do one bud bench grafts and 1 scion might make 5-10 trees! Scion is cheap.

      Now this person if they have land can…

      1. Plant trees for their future production for under 2 dollars a tree. Build a huge variety of cider apples and get data for their region at almost no real cost. In fact they can make money before the first bud breaks, see step two.

      2. Put up a simple website selling bench grafts, sell them cheap since you are new to grafting and unknown, say 7-8 bucks. You can easily sell enough to profit and pay for your own plantings. And this will create profit, see step three.

      3. Take all unsold bench grafts and plant them into sand beds, grow them out as one year whips. (These sell for 20-40 dollars and again people are waiting two years to get trees or more and being told we have a limit of 1-6 of a certain variety).

      4. After one year take the whips that don’t sell (if you have any) and plant them in your own orchard.

      5. By now you have many established trees, all need to be pruned each year, free scion.

      So that is a core, cider apples and the long term core is producing them either to sell to craft makers or make your cider yourself BUT you are making money along the way and paying for everything with a bit of sweat equity.

      Anyone does this, email me your fricken list, I will buy the crap out of your bench grafts. So yes, there is a market.

    • When I think about transitioning from IT to a farm-based income, I always come back to what you said in your comment @Stephen. It really does come down to multiple income streams. Farmers can’t make all their money from one crop or one distribution channel or one skill. I like how you put that – monoculture income. It really does have to be a polyculture income. When I start my fruit and herb farm, it will have to be built on produce, value-added products, multiple distribution streams, and maybe even online content where I can get sponsors and team up with other farms and producers somehow. I look forward to all those pieces of the business though. It will prevent me from being bored and, like Joel and Mark said, each business unit will prop the other one up (some years one unit will carry the others while other years other units will be successful) and they will help each other to form the bigger unit that I control as my business.

      • And why not contract your IT skills at say 20 hours a week. That is a polyculture income.

  11. HEy Jack,

    Whats the name of that orchard/nursery cuffle creek or cuddle creek? I could not make out what the name was.


  12. Listened to this show 3 times Jack. Great info. I had the idea of tiny houses a few months ago. The land we are looking to buy behind us borders a small lake. It crossed my mind to put in 3-5 tiny houses and market them as camping places where folks can fish etc. I’ve been in the rental business before so something we have experience in.

  13. I think there are a lot of folks, especially older folks who have used permaculture, but never called it that. My great grandfather had an apple orchard which he cleaned out every fall with his pigs. They ate the poison ivy and spent apples that may built up over the growing season. He then let the chickens run through.
    He had been doing things like that for years. If you would have told him about permaculture, he would have looked at you like you had three heads. To him, it wasn’t permaculture, it was how you ran a farm.
    There was a wood cook stove (function stacking), and he planted walnut saplings when he was in his 80s. No, he never heard of permaculture, and permaculture wasn’t even in existence when he was making a living off his land, but he embodied more than most of us who “do permaculture” do.
    When I tell my dad about these “new” concepts I’m learning about, he smiles at me and tells me that’s how his grandfather did it years ago.
    My point is that the word permaculture is packaging. The ideas are good and useful in every area of your life.

    I also find this idea of pyramid scheme a little silly. I work for a fortune 500 company. And I believe most businesses, especially large ones, have a pyramid shape to the responsibility, and rewards. I am moving up and taking a more managerial role of my clients and working as more of a consultant. Analysts are doing the work. As they progress, so I will I. It’s how a lot of corporations are structured. The better a job I do, the better the reward manager will see. We are all directly tied to one another.

    Anyway, great show, full of good ideas.

  14. Hey Jack you referred to a video about Joel Salatin and raising hogs on rented ground. Could you link to that.


  15. Great conversation.I have used PC as a part of a design tool box for more than a decade.I have had lots of success,it is inherently profitable if you go at it right.When you start a business and you apply the principals correctly and follow the ethics,you can make great money. I’ve never made a dollar off Education,it’s the easy way out in my opinion,and from what I’ve seen it’s generally some faker who has a farm but produces nothing, making cheap dollars off playing the Guru.(not Joel S obviously)
    These videos going around at the moment and the online courses are total proof of this to me.
    Obviously I am not allowed to name names,but I will tell you that some of these farms are total rubbish.One in Australia is an absolute disaster,so buyer beware with these things.
    The way these things run are use a little fear,tell some great tales and charge some suckers some money,take some video beat it up make more cash,it’s preying on people and setting them up for failure with false hope about PC.
    Good farms,micro enterprises,ideas,services should all be able to build free education into the model as part of return the surplus.You can do this without exploiting the old intern/volunteer route.
    I have always managed excess of 80k per year and now have residual incomes off many of the projects I’ve been involved in.Moneys my motivator,sounds shitty and selfish.However when you make good money and then free yourself up you can achieve lots of good things.Make cash,set up good systems and follow the ethics.PC design turns good ideas into cash cows because they are efficient,efficient business have higher margins of profit.If your into selling education you better have a good farm or business or people like me are straight up going to talk shit about you.