Looking for a permaculture design course? There are plenty to choose from—here’s how to find the right permaculture course to meet your needs.
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My First Permaculture Design Course
When I first began hearing about permaculture in the early 2000s, it was barely a whisper in the wind. There wasn’t much of a permaculture presence online so I didn’t know a whole lot about it. Nonetheless, something told me I needed to check it out.
When I stumbled across a permaculture design certification course (PDC) being taught in my city, I signed up.
Hind Sight is Always 20/20!
I should have compared the class I was about to take to other PDCs offered around the country.
I also should have looked at the teacher bios to see if the teaching style of the instructors would resonate with me. After all, 72 hours (the instruction time required to receive the certificate) is a long time. I should have looked to see if the instructors would frame the information in a way that was relevant to my life, interests, and needs.
Luckily, my local PDC had great value for me, and I was able to grasp a cursory understanding of permaculture and enough confidence to continue learning through my own practice. This is the goal of any PDC, though there are always rumors of course instructors who fail to meet this goal, either through lack of experience or lack of planning.
Nowadays, we’re more easily able to use the internet to connect to people and courses both locally and afar, to hopefully find an educational experience that meets our needs.
6 Questions to Ask Before Choosing a Permaculture Design Course
If you’re interesting in taking a permaculture design course, there are many options. The following is a series of questions to ask yourself when searching for a course. These questions will help you define your goals and interests surrounding permaculture so you find an appropriate course for you. They might also help you save time and money.
1: Why do you want to learn permaculture?
There are a lot of prominent permaculture teachers and “gurus” out there who would be excellent to learn from, but don’t let star status get in the way of picking a permaculture design course that meets your needs. Unless you have all the time and money you need—then by all means take all kinds of courses and learn from many different teachers!
For the rest of us, we need to make sure we’re spending our time and money wisely, learning what will be most relevant to propel us further with our goals.
Be specific about your goals.
2: Do you have specific needs or interests?
If your goal is to develop a specific property, define whether it is a large-scale, rural property or a small-scale, more urban or suburban property. Many permaculture design courses nowadays focus heavily on one of these niche categories.
What kind of climate is your property in? A course taught in the desert might be interesting, but don’t expect the lessons to be completely relevant to your temperate climate property.
Likewise, if international non-profit work is your interest, look for a course that covers a wide range of climates, and even perhaps a teacher who has had experience with this kind of work.
3: Do you want to learn By-the-Book Permaculture or a Specific Permaculture Skill?
The permaculture design certificate (PDC) is a very specific 72-hour course. The standardized course is designed to give students a foundational knowledge of permaculture ethics and principles. The content is generalized and will skim over all climates, soil types, scales of property, etc.
Many people start with a PDC, but in my opinion, it isn’t always necessary. Again, it depends on what your goals are.
You’ll find an introduction to permaculture plus step-by-step instructions for many permaculture techniques in my book, The Suburban Micro-Farm.
Another useful book of mine for independent study is: Gaia’s Garden: A Guide to Home-Scale Permaculture.
Once you have a solid foundation of permaculture principles—whether through a permaculture design course or independent study—you may be more interested in a course that hones in on specific permaculture skills or areas of study, such as water catchment, food forestry, etc.
4: Do the permaculture “extras” interest you?
Permaculture is a design approach for growing food efficiently with ecological integrity.
Sometimes the waters get muddied when permaculture instructors dig deeper into socio-political, spiritual, or dietary conversations and apply permaculture to them based on their own perspectives in life. This can be instructive if you have an open mind and are interested in learning more.
However, if these “extras” don’t interest you, you’ll want to sift through permaculture design course descriptions and instructor bios to know if these extras will be a focus in the course.
5: Find the Right Instructor(s)
Have you ever had a teacher you loved but when you mentioned how much you liked him to your friends they were like, ‘I can’t stand Mr. So-and-So!’
We all like different types of teachers. Some teachers are very dynamic, funny, personable, and engaging. They go on long tangents with stories that may or may not be on topic. Other types of teachers are no nonsense, factual, well-researched, and to the point with information.
Either way, they should be able to communicate clearly and passionately. Their bio, portfolio, and/or testimonials should demonstrate that this is the case.
Seek out those who resonate with you.
6: In-person or Independent Study?
I can say with certainty that an in-person permaculture design course will be the most valuable commitment you can make to your progress in learning about permaculture. There simply isn’t a replacement for direct interaction with human beings.
If you don’t have time for a big commitment, then self-study may have to do for now.
There is only one independent study permaculture design course available on DVD that I can vouch for: Permaculture Skills: A Cold-Climate, Applied Permaculture Design Course. This 4-DVD set includes almost 8 hours of instruction with high-quality video from two in-person, 10-day courses. It’s a nice mix of lecture and scenes of hands-on projects.
Searching online for in-person, local, and/or online permaculture design courses is going to help you find the most choices.
Kick your Learning into High Gear
After my PDC, I went on to practice permaculture in my own front yard, and at my community garden before I began teaching and consulting. It is only through project-based experience that I have the confidence to write the words on this page. You can read all the books in the world, but in-person courses and project-based experiments will be what give you the confidence to design appropriately and learn from the results.
When searching for the right permaculture design course, be clear about what your goals are, and whether a particular course/instructor will meet your needs. Independent study will get you started, but in-person classes and project-based learning will help you soar.
Need more ideas for growing a permaculture garden?
- 3 Reasons to Hire a Permaculture Designer
- Create a Food Forest for Low-Maintenance, Edible Rewards
- What is a Swale & Why You Need One
Do you have any resources that will help people find a quality course or instructor? Leave your comments below!