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.
This page may contain affiliate links. Please read my disclosure for more info.
The goal of a permaculture design course (PDC) is to provide an overview of permaculture design, as well as the confidence to take action and continue learning. However, there are rumors of courses or instructors who fail to meet this goal. In this article, I’ll dive into how to ensure you choose the right course for your needs and interests.
My Permaculture Design Course (PDC) Experience
When I first began hearing about permaculture in the early 2000s, it was barely a whisper. I didn’t know a whole lot about it, but when I stumbled across a permaculture design certification course (PDC) being offered right in my own city, I signed up instantly.
Hind Sight is 20/20!
Before signing up, however, there are a few things I should have done to ensure it was right for me. First, I should have compared the course I was about to take to other available PDCs, both online and in-person. How are they similar and different in their offerings? Just a few minutes of online research could have been informative.
Next, I should have looked at the instructor bios to see if their teaching style would resonate with me. After all, 72 hours (the instruction time required to receive the certificate) is a long time! Will they frame the information in a way that is relevant to my life, interests, and needs?
For example, although the PDC is a general introduction to designing in any situation, some courses are geared toward folks on larger acreages, while others are geared toward city and suburban folks.
Fortunately for me, my local PDC had incredible value and relevancy to my life. I met wonderful people, right in my own community. In fact, we’re still friends, all these years later. I know that if I get stuck with a design challenge, I can contact my peers for feedback.
Taking an in-person course locally is a great idea. There’s really no substitute for the connection and camaraderie. As an introvert, I would never have believed it. But here I stand as proof!
6 Questions to Ask Before Choosing a Permaculture Design Course
If you’re interested in taking a standard, 72-hour permaculture design certification course, there are many options.
Nowadays, we’re more easily able to get online and connect with people and courses around the world. As a result, there’s a better chance of finding an educational experience to meet your needs.
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 that star status get in the way of picking a PDC that meets your needs!
If you’re short on time or money, then make sure you’re spending wisely. Choose a course that will help propel you toward your goals.
Which leads me to the next consideration: Be specific about your goals.
Tired of generic permaculture design advice that you can’t apply to your specific goals? If so, check out my Permaculture Design Program and get the tools and support needed to create and implement your own permaculture design.
2: Do you have specific needs or interests?
If your goal is to develop a specific site, 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 a niche category.
Next, consider what the climate is like on your site. A course taught in the desert might be interesting, but don’t expect the lessons to be completely relevant to your temperate climate.
Although a PDC covers skills that should be relevant across many types of scenarios, you’ll likely have hands-on work projects in the course. Wouldn’t it be nice if that work correlates with your own site’s climate and conditions?
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 focuses on this kind of work.
3: Do you want to learn by-the-book permaculture or a specific permaculture technique?
The permaculture design certificate (PDC) is a specific 72-hour course. The standardized content of a PDC teaches you how to apply the permaculture design process, ethics, principles, techniques, and strategies to any situation, climate, site, etc.
For example, is a circle garden design appropriate for my new garden area, or is a contour garden a better choice? The PDC is where to start to learn how to design a site as a whole system and select appropriate techniques and strategies.
Many people start with a PDC, but in my opinion, a certification isn’t always necessary, especially if you’re not planning on practicing permaculture as a professional.
Of course, you’ll have a better understanding of the concepts and principles by taking an official PDC, but you might also be able to learn some of the basics by taking an introductory class.
Again, it depends on what your goals are.
Once you have a solid foundation of permaculture principles, you may be more interested in a course that hones in on specific permaculture techniques or areas of study, such as water management, food forestry, plant guilds, etc.
4: Do the permaculture “extras” interest you?
Permaculture is a design approach for growing food efficiently with ecological integrity, with a focus on the ethics of earth care, people care, and sharing the surplus.
Sometimes the waters get muddied when permaculture instructors dig deeper into socio-political, spiritual, or dietary conversations and apply permaculture ethics to them based on their own perspectives in life.
This can be instructive if you have an open mind and want to learn how to apply the permaculture design process as a whole systems design. Indeed, it can be applied to all aspects of modern civilization in positive ways.
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 are 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 her to your friends they were like, ‘I can’t stand Ms. So-and-So!’
We all like different types of teachers. Some teachers are 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.
Whichever style resonates with you, the instructor(s) 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.
Want to grow fruits, vegetables, and herbs in your front yard landscape without sacrificing curb appeal? Check out my mini guide, The Permaculture Inspired Edible Landscape.
6: In-person Permaculture Design Course or Online, Self-Paced Course?
I can say without hesitation that an in-person permaculture design course is the most valuable commitment you can make to learning about permaculture. There simply isn’t a replacement for direct interaction with human beings and professional teachers.
However, you can search online for in-person/local and online permaculture design courses to find opportunities.
If the official, 72-hour course or its certification isn’t up your ally, then try one of the following:
- 4-DVD set, Permaculture Skills: A Cold-climate, Applied Permaculture Design Course
- Book: Gaia’s Garden: A Guide to Home-Scale Permaculture
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 official courses—whether in-person or online—will give you the confidence to design appropriately and learn from the results.
To learn more about permaculture, see my article What is Permaculture? Designing a Resilient Garden OR browse my other articles on permaculture.
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 gets you started, but in-person classes and project-based learning help you soar.
Have you taken a permaculture design course? How did you select the program?
Braden Trauth says
Great article Amy, A lot of great points, which it can be really confusing out there to find good teachers and you share some good info to find good ones. As a comment, I would add to the Ethics from Mollison’s perspective of “Return the Surplus” or “dispersal of surplus time, money and materials towards these ends (care of the earth and care of people)” – ‘Introduction to Permaculture’. Holmgren states his third one as “Set limits to consumption and reproduction, and redistribute surplus” from his 2003 Permaculture publication, which I would suspect he refers to both people and the earth given his further writing.
Another thing worth mentioning is a student just told me today that in “The Permaculture Orchard” (which was the first time I had heard of that resource) that he interplants with honey locust for nitrogen fixation in his orchard, which if that is true it might be best to avoid as there is limited research supporting it as a nitrogen fixer (only Yale turned up some research that it ‘could’ be an N Fixer as there was some evidence it produced it in the root. It doesn’t have the standard nodules as other N-fixers do. Almost every other resource including the USDA state that it is not an N-Fixer), which black locust, goumi, sea buckthorn or Alder might be a safer choice for guaranteed N fixation.
Great point about N fixation. Would be good to know if anyone follows his example and has success with honey locust. Otherwise the video has been an excellent resource.
farmer Liz says
Great post! Thank you for mentioning that you can get a lot from books and your own observations. I personally haven’t done a PDC, but over the past 4 or 5 years I have read every permaculture book in my local library and I own a few myself, including Gaia’s Garden and Holmgren’s Permaculture Principles (which I have read three times). I just have not had time to do a PDC, but I do learn from reading books and trying things for myself, so I feel that I now have a pretty good understanding of permaculture. However I often feel excluded from the conversation because I don’t have the “official qualification”. I think permaculture should be inclusive of people who just want to learn gradually at their own pace and can’t get to a PDC for whatever reason. AND we should talk about it more so that its not so mysterious 🙂 I try to mention it at least once a month on my blog Eight Acres.
Great point–we’ve all learned permaculture in different ways and from different sources. The important thing is that we talk about it more, and share our experiences so we can learn from one another. Feedback from others is super-important, and luckily the internet gives us a lot of opportunity to share and help one another if we can’t find that support locally.
I’ve designed lots of permaculture designs that I thought were pretty cool, but it was the feedback from others (think: two heads are better than one) that made those designs more resilient. Even the “pros” request and benefit from feedback. Great topic–thanks 🙂
Have you posted your pdc design anywhere? I’d love to see it! I’d also like to know more about your plantings. I have the same situation with lots of trees, and they aren’t coming down because we rent and they provide much needed shade for hot Texas summers.
Haha. I have no idea where my PDC design is. Those were the days that we did all the designing on paper. Too bad we didn’t do digital copies then! 🙂 My articles on Front Yard Rain Catchment and An Edible Landscape tour will give you an idea of the plantings that worked for me.
hi amy, great write up its an eye opener for me,
i fell in love with permaculture for the pass few months, i am looking for aquaculture teachers that can teach for tropical climate as i am living Malaysia. do you have any recommendations?