What Exactly is a Permaculture Design Certification and What Isn’t — 50 Comments

  1. I believe that circumstances will push Permaculture into the mainstream in the next 5 – 7 years. This will force the “you need to look just like me to practice REAL permaculture” in to obscurity as many Entrepreneurial designers open up shop. Good old market forces will prevail.

    My real fear is that the movement will be cooped or regulated into oblivion by big agra. Especially after seeing what became of “organic”.

    • Permaculture is by its very nature a distributed system. It’d be much more difficult to co-op or regulate millions of backyard systems than it would the big ag centralized systems. They haven’t found a way to regulate (most) backyard vegetable gardens yet, so hopefully the same will be true with permaculture.

  2. GREAT article Jack! You articulated perfectly what I’ve felt for a long time. Well said, well written & I couldn’t agree with you more.

    • Couldn’t agree more, especially with the “agenda” that is often behind the scenes.

  3. Thanks for the time you spent to articulate your thoughts on permaculture. This is one of the best articles you have written. I have wanted to design our 2 1/2 acres since the late 1980s when I first heard of permaculture. Alas, all this time later it is still a hodge podge. I’m not interested in a certificate, nor am I into dancing or chanting. I just want a sound design on my property – without spending a fortune! I’m hoping the costs to do this will be within my reach once the supply side meets the demand! Again, thanks Jack for articulating the thoughts of many of us!

    • “Dancing and chanting” LOL, I’ve seen my share of these that follow permaculture. They love to beat on drums and talk about mother earth and climate change. If they spent just as much time on practical aspects of permaculture they would be much more effective in marketing it.

  4. EXACTLY! I don’t want to learn to make ju-ju and pretend to be the local shaman. I want to start a business based on permaculture principles, and if it doesn’t work out, at least be able to feed my family. The nearest in-person permaculture course to me is 552 kilometers away in the bush and the tuition alone costs more than double Geoff Lawton’s course. It is 120 hours spread out over 6 months on weekends, because the instructors do not think 72 is adequate. Apparently, they know better than the founders. How is all that commuting kind to the planet? I really do not want to camp out in the bush in the bitter Canadian winter, and I don’t see what it has to do with permaculture. Blackfly season in Ontario is horrific — even aboriginals who have lived in the woods since birth have difficulty with it. We have a well-known song about it: This is why permaculture hasn’t taken hold in Canada as it should. The present instructors in Ontario should remember, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

  5. Wonderful blog article Jack. Quite possibly your best. Thank you for addressing so many of my concerns about choosing this road less taken and greatly mitigating them in the process.

  6. Jack, thanks for bringing the wonderful world of permaculture to me and many others. I wish I was aware of Bill Mollinson and permaculture 20 years ago but getting started “now” is the best I can do.

    I really enjoyed the Global Gardener series. Thanks for pointing out those resources.

  7. -golf clap-

    “Proper” politics has nothing to do with effective, pragmatic strategies and learning. I’m glad you understand this Jack, sadly, many more do not.

  8. Well said, Jack. Permaculture is a design science, and science is non-political. It just is. People view it with the glasses they are wearing, but the core truths are the same. Thanks for writing this article. I’m sure it will tick some people off, but I see that as a good thing. If we really want to make a difference, then we need to bring Permaculture to the mainstream, and being a neo-hippy and singing around a campfire is not going to do it. Showing how Permaculture design can change lives and change communities… that is what is going to change the world.

  9. One of the better blog posts I have seen in a while. I need to practice not bringing up politics as often. Great post Jack.

  10. Jack, have you considered changing the name of the podcast to the “Permaculture Podcast”?

      • And even if he’s not a troll, he’s absolutely short-sighted. Pculture is very helpful for long-term survival. I’d hate to be his neighbor when his stored food, fertilizer and pesticide runs out.

    • @Scott have you considered calling in or emailing content instead of just bitching?

  11. Great post Jack! All great suggestions for finding a PDC teacher. But what suggestions can you give for those of us that can’t afford to take a PDC course. For us we are a family of 6 with 4 young kids. We live in the suburbs and are doing what we can with all the free info we can get our hands on. I’d love to take a hands on PDC someday, but at the current time we have no plans to become certified designers. We simply want the knowledge for our own private use.

    • Find or start a Permaculture meet up in your area, take a short course, use the BILLIONS of bit of free info online, I mean there is plenty available.

    • When you’ve exhausted that, the PRI Au store has an audio PDC by Bill from 1983 which I believe is under $100, there’s the DVD set for $500 with both Geoff and Bill (which I agree with Jack, it is excellent) and there’s the actual Permaculture designer’s manual which I don’t recommend you read cover to cover but is a HUGE resource.

      After immersing yourself in the free information, grabbing one of the recorded PDC’s and being able to cross reference anything you have questions about in the PDM you’re pretty much there except for the certificate. You can understand the system without the certificate and you can use it in your own life as long as you understand.

      Besides, Jack and the TSP community are here to help with questions 🙂

      • Exactly certification isn’t for everyone, really it isn’t. Like I said in response to Ben Falk’s great comment go to a research institute or find a designer in your area and if they are the real deal go tour their property or one they designed. You learn so much just SEEING it in action. Many times such things are free or perhaps pay the guy 50 bucks for his time (well worth it). Things don’t have to be expensive.

        To me certification is for three things.

        1. People that really want the skill to design in any climate in any part of the world.

        2. People that want to make permaculture part of what they do professionally.

        3. People that just plain want it and are willing to make the investment.

        If you ain’t one of those three you can become an amazing permaculturist without being certified. May be I should add “unless you are certified you are not a permaculturist” to the list of lies about what permaculture is?

    • Look up Permaculture guilds in your area, not sure where you’re from but most large cities have them, I was a member of the Houston guild for years and that was over 10 years ago.

      Good Luck!

  12. Permaculture is a new thing for me, I only discovered it after discovering the Podcast. Most of my exposure to it is due to Jack Spirko.

    That being said, I want to thank him for exposing a lot of the potential pitfalls that come along with seeking knowledge along the Permaculture path. He is exactly right about keeping politics out of the design process. I am an architect (by education) and I can assure you that the only thing that keeps a building from falling on your head is physics. It doesn’t matter which party or church you belong to, the laws of physics don’t care. Permaculture Design is no different, it just has a different set of “laws”.

    Thanks again Jack, I look forward to sharing Geoff’s new online PDC experience with you and all the others, and hopefully many more in the future.

  13. This is a good contribution to the field. I would add that:
    -if a course is not giving you an opportunity to observe, assess and solve for patterns in systems, than it is not a “real” PDC.
    -skills application is a bonus, but not a core part of a PDC. We are offering it simply for the need.
    -the ability experience a permaculture site: an actual real place in development where solving for pattern is actualized, is hard to overstate in importance. An online course simply can’t offer that aspect.

    • Great additions. So let me add if you are taking an Online PDC, find a Permaculture designer or research institute and take a field trip to that place, do two or three if you can. If you are in VT or near there go see Ben his place is amazing. If you are in Illinois (leave and move to a free state) but before you do go see Bill Wilson’s back yard, awesome is an understatement.

      If you are in Florida get over to Barking Frogs they were Bill Mollison’s beach head when he first brought Permaculture to America in the 80s.

  14. Great article. What you’re talking about is Liberty – a lost concept in this country. I recently happened upon Geoff Lawton’s videos. I went out in my yard and saw the potential possibilities…and then got to work on it. I also recognized that I was accidentally doing a lot of it already. That’s called common sense.

  15. Nail on the head, Jack. If you were starting over, what resources would you watch/read to get you as quickly as possible to where you are today? And are there cheaper alternatives to those very resources which perhaps would be slower but would save hundreds? Like, this book instead of that DVD.

    • If I was starting over I would go strait into a real PDC. I had to be sold on that the first time around. I would buy Permaculture One and Two and the Designer’s Manual. I would watch everything that is free online, all of Bill’s old stuff. I would get all of Lawton’s DVDs and I would trust design and patterns from the beginning not test them piece by piece to convince myself they work over time.

    • Thanks. Can you / have you recommended some “real” PDCs? I see you mentioned Barking Frogs and Midwest Permaculture; Any others?

    • Another question: Isn’t “Permaculture One” + “PC Two” the same as the “Designer’s Manual”? I already have the DM, just wondering if I need to drop another $75 for what I already have.

      • No not at all. The first two are more a book book, easier to read though. As you know the DM is that a manual, some material from one and two are in the DM but not all of it. Look for used copies on Amazon, etc. I got both of mine for under ten bucks each.

        • Where do you think I got the cost of 75 bucks? 🙂 Prices have risen a little in five years…

  16. To think that science is not political is at best naieve. If focus on results and free market is the way to go, than ask yourself how we got into these troubles in the first place. If you think you can keep driving the gas-guzzling cars but your doing your bit with an edible garden, than you don’t get the system-thinking of permaculture. This not about PDC, everything is linked. It’s transferring from one system – that is destructive – to another – that is sustainable. You can not pick and choose what is acceptable for you. You have to go for the whole system, as you abandon the whole of a defunct one.

    • Spoken like a completely indoctrinated drone! You really don’t get it do you? Don’t go telling me I don’t get the system level thinking, I most certainly do, I just know not everyone is ready for the full system and some can’t yet afford it. Likely you are the typical person to spout this crap. All or nothing but I bet you don’t have a solar power car and I bet your house is on grid.

  17. Jack has great insight. I am an architect. I am enrolled to take Geoff’s PDC on-line. All for the very reasons Jack so eloquently presented. When I started, I din’t even think about the full ramifications (designers tend to act first, then rationalize) of why I wanted a ‘food forest plant list’. As I went through the introduction to Geoff’s PDC I discovered I been lead to a teacher who truly speaks of design and the problem solving skill set. His methods are very much like those of my professors years ago in architecture school: thought provoking, engaging, exploratory and evidence based. I don’t know if I will every use the PDC certificate (assuming I can make it that far) any more than I have with my architectural licenses, but I want to learn the ‘permaculture’ skill set, not just implement a recommended plant list.

  18. Listen up and learn, Democrats: If you want to convince more to take care of the earth, SHOW Permaculture. Don’t just talk about it, SHOW working gardens. This former Republican knows that seeing Permaculture lets the cat out of the bag. There ain’t no going back after eyes are opened ^_^

  19. I appreciate this perspective.
    I might even take it a step further and say, the pattern-observations and design science are key and even doing backyard ‘food forestry’ is not obligatory. (Of course healthy soils, clean water supplies, and good food are critical human quality-of-life issues, and I hope many more people do jump on the productive horticulture bandwagong.)
    I’ve used permaculture design principles to re-organize an office, and they teach some remarkably similar principles for manufacturing (TMP e.g. ‘kaizen’) assembly work. We were making a transition to carrols instead of an assembly line, something that is pretty similar to ‘keyhole’ garden beds if you think about it.
    Learning to observe, think for yourself, and improve the efficiency of your surroundings – using natural laws, not arbitrary conventions that may or may not favor your actual goals – is valuable anywhere.

    • Your point is valid, I think you could likely come up with 100 questions for a perspective teacher, pick 5 at random and effectively screen out those who are not teaching a PDC the way it was designed. The questions I came up with just so happen to be the ones I have most commonly found to be missing as I checked into a few PDC courses. I likely should have also included that if the school says you need a 2 year course to be certified they are completely full of shit. Doesn’t mean their course isn’t valuable but as a PDC it isn’t valid.

      PDCs are not full of extra baggage, you can learn all you need to academically in 72 hours and though the design of a project and feedback on it via a qualified instructor.

  20. Having just discovered permaculture I am very glad I found this article. It is nice to have this information for the future.

    Great article, thank you.

    Regards, Martin.

  21. Thanks for writing this. One of greatest concerns about teaching is that students will leave the course with out being skilled and confident to design and implement. The less the course focuses on the design process and ecological principles, the more they become too “wu-wu” as Bill Mollison described it, and the students are not really equiped to design and meet human needs as permaculture’s early writer’s and practioners intended. Prospective students should seek a course with at least a few teachers with years of practical experience.

    Michael Burns

  22. I agree with most of what you say and certainly think it a very important contribution to permaculture.

    You list the questions you would want good answers to before choosing a permaculture design course. Very few people will be in a position to ask those questions before choosing a course. Elsewhere where this article is being discussed I have noted people who are well on with their diploma who had to look up what a sill is.

    I would question whether the design course should enable one to go anywhere in the world and produce complete permaculture designs. Perhaps the Diploma course that requires the PDC to start it here in UK should.

    When I do my design course I want to learn more about things I can apply in the UK climate. If I later go to a different part of the world later the onus is then on me to learn about the local conditions and what they imply before using the ethics and principles in any designs I produce.

    As to politics, wouldn’t it be great to have a political party whose policies all followed the permaculture ethics and design principles?

    • Dave I think you are missing the point, design is design that is the entire point. UK, US, Russia, Africa, should not matter if you know design you can design. Finding what plants will go well in a given climate is simple to do, placing them together and sculpting the land with them is where the magic happens.

      Diploma programs? I find that a suckers game! The PDC is 72 hours, if you want to learn the system as designed it is all you need, from there what is lacking is experience. This can be gained by independent work or perhaps an internship. But taking something that is designed to be taught in 72 hours and turning it into a two year course? That is exactly what Bill wanted to prevent when he copyrighted the word, permaculture, Bill stated, “I wanted to own the word so I could keep it out of Universities, because I knew universities would destroy it”.

      As to politics? Actually that sounds like a terrible idea, based on the way so many twist the ethics if we did get such a party it would end up being the twisters that ran it, they are always the ones that are most political. Politics is about telling others how to live and controlling them with laws. Taking money from some by force and giving it to others in wasteful ways that are against natural order. Permaculture is about SHOWING others how to live and letting nature take its course. Reinvestment of surplus to the end of the first two ethics as it is decided by the PRODUCER OF said surplus. Not some clown in the capital 1,000 miles away who didn’t do a damn thing to create a surplus deciding what happens with surplus.

      Politics do not belong in Permaculture, frankly the way the clowns are running things today, government doesn’t really belong here at all any more.

    • As my niece would say back when she was still a 5 year old little girl, Pazackly!

  23. Permaculture may be apolitical but the scientific principles of permaculture could be applied to politics with great effect. Can you imagine how different the world would be if politicians followed the permaculture ethics?

  24. Thank you so much for the great advice and info. I am new to permaculture the lable. But living a lot of my life on remote ranches, I’ve seen the remains of a sustainable life style. Some still in use. I will say a lot of ranchers have gotten a bad rap. Most generational homesteaders I knew lived in harmony with nature, they had to take care of the land and neighbors to continue to servive sustainably. One of my elderly neighbors and closest at three miles away. Said, “During the great depression years, they were not affected at all. Its the big industry cattle raisers that have raped the land, and others who were ignorant Those who are in it strictly for money and themselves, and government agencies who are supposed to be protecting the land and wildlife, out of their ignorance as well. Unfortunately government always has a political agenda no matter who or what they hurt or destroy in the way of their agenda. And I’m not talking about the government of the people, that doesn’t exist anymore. Because our constitution is of no effect on an ungodly people, according to our founding fathers. Permaculture is needed as much now as it was in the beginning. It’s also the pathway of health. I want to be able to help as many as I can. Thank you for giving to the Lord.