Permaculture Design Course Syndrome

I wrote a version of this post quite a while ago, and have been sitting on it ever since. Various criticisms of permaculture and permaculturists had been accumulating in my thoughts, but I don’t take parricide lightly (permaculture is, after all, how I got into all of this). Then the ever-excellent Land Magazine ran some critical articles about permaculture, followed by some predictable onslaughts from the eco-panglossian brigade, and I started to feel protective. But anyway, here for what it’s worth is my post on the good, the bad and the ugly of permaculture.

At Vallis Veg we’re fortunate to have a seemingly inexhaustible supply of WWOOFers and HelpXers wishing to volunteer to work on our holding. Often they’re young people with no special interest in farming or environmental issues who are simply looking for a cheap way to travel, and I’ve tended to look preferentially for people who can demonstrate a genuine interest in the work – one such criterion being the possession of a Permaculture Design Certificate (PDC). However, I’ve increasingly been noticing what we’ve started to call ‘PDC syndrome’ in some of these volunteers, to the extent that I’m beginning to think twice about taking them on.

PDC syndrome can involve one or more of the following symptoms:

  •  a belief that no till or mulching or forest gardening or polycultures or mob-stocking or chicken tractors or perennial crops or compost teas or various other techniques must invariably be practiced in preference to any alternatives
  •  a belief that whatever Bill Mollison or David Holmgren or a handful of other authors have written is above criticism
  •  likewise, a belief that the way things are done by certain famous permaculturists or on certain famous permaculture holdings must always be faithfully reproduced elsewhere
  • a belief that permaculture has cracked the problem of creating a low input – high output farming system
  • a belief, consequently, that anyone who struggles to make a living out of farming must be failing because they are not properly following the correct principles
  • a slightly superior smile at the sight of weeds, hoes, spades, tractors etc
  • a belief that a small garden crammed with edible perennial things is proof positive that permaculture can feed the world
  • a belief that controlled trials and numerical analysis are reductionist and unnecessary
  • a belief that people who question aspects of permaculture principles are simply nay-sayers who sap the movement’s joie de vivre
  • most importantly, a ready admission that permaculture is not a set of approved techniques or received dogma that must always be applied everywhere but a way of thinking, a broad set of handy design principles, before cheerfully reverting to any of the preceding affectations

I’m exaggerating a little of course. And the good news is that the condition is rarely permanent – it usually fades within a few years of taking a permaculture course, faster if the sufferer takes on a farm themselves (the quickest cure recommended by physicians). Perhaps I’m just being over-sensitive to criticism: God knows there are plenty of things I’ve done on my holding that deserve it.  And in case it seems like I’m putting myself above those who suffer from this troubling condition, let me tell you that I had a very bad case of PDC syndrome myself for a couple of years. It’s not that I feel I have nothing to learn from recent PDC graduates, but I do weary of the judgmental spirit that too often seems to accompany the process.

From my perspective as a small-scale agroecologically-oriented commercial grower, I’d offer the following criticism of the package that many PDC graduates seem to emerge with:

  • a tendency to over-emphasise the role of smart design tricks and to under-emphasise the important but unglamorous basics of sound growing/farming skills
  • a tendency to be over-impressed by the media schtick of various global permaculture gurus who very rarely make a living from producing basic food commodities, and a tendency not to notice what many unsung local farmers and growers are achieving as ‘implicit permaculturists’ who simply apply good design in their practice
  • a tendency to a religious mode of thinking, in which the rudiments of scientific rigour are rejected as ‘positivism’ or ‘reductionism’ and replaced by an overwhelming faith in the views of permaculture gurus as per my previous point
  • a metropolitan disdain for farmers past and present, and a conviction that the way they have done things is wrong
  • an insufficiently fine-grained understanding of agro-ecosystems

I do struggle with these aspects of the permaculture education process – particularly the fixed ideas around what constitutes a ‘permaculture approach’ and the tendency to substitute a religious for a critical mode of thinking, with its concern to enact what X says rather than to think about what X has said, engage with it critically, and then apply what’s useful from it to one’s own situation. But I’m not going to turn my back on the movement, because I think its basic principles are sound when thoughtfully applied, because generally I like its cheerful can-do amateurism, because I usually find the way it imagines different possible ways of living invigorating, and because there are signs that it’s sharpening up its act. The movement could probably have done a better job historically in subjecting its claims to some kind of experimental scrutiny, but the fact is that it’s been a grassroots movement without the resources to do much proper research, especially when the methods it typically adopts are complex and multifaceted (on which note, more news of the Vallis Veg Experiment soon). Actually, I’ve recently been in touch with Rafter Sass Ferguson who’s doing an academic study of permaculture over in the US – his liberation ecology site looks like a really promising project in sorting through the permaculture chaff from the grain. I haven’t had a chance to assimilate what he’s doing properly yet, but his site seems to me to be one of the ‘act sharpening’ signs I mentioned above.

So – well, I do despair of the kind of permaculture-principles-as-holy-law approach showcased by Angelo Eliades and some of his supporters in my debate with him about perennial crops (my key alarm bell phrase: “you’ll never understand permaculture”; its equivalent: “you’ll never let God into your life and you will die an unforgiven heathen”). But I think there’s enough self-critical dynamism in the movement to compensate. I’m not especially proud of my exchange with Eliades, whose condescension got right under my skin – but his condescension does actually raise interesting issues. As I recall, I mentioned that I was a ‘struggling farmer’ and Eliades proceeded to belabour me with comments to the effect that I was obviously struggling financially because I wasn’t properly applying permaculture principles, citing various successful ‘permaculture farmers’ such as Joel Salatin. Now, from what I’ve read and seen of Joel I think he’s fantastic, and the same goes for other permaculture farmers like Sepp Holzer. But I’d like to make three points about the nature of such success:

  • It stems partly from being an innovator and opening up a new market, such as Joel’s grass-fed chickens. Kudos for the originality, but normal market forces apply here. As more suppliers join in to fill the niche, the economic returns start to falter, which is pretty much where we’re now at in the local veg box scheme movement. These innovators haven’t found some golden goose to make food production intrinsically profitable.
  • It also stems partly from being good at self-promotion and marketing a new product. Again, kudos for the success – it’s what you need to do as a self-employed small farmer. And I suppose you could say at a stretch that talking a good game is a permaculture skill. But being good at marketing doesn’t really get to the heart of farm economics or agro-ecology.
  • If I could make so bold, part of the success also stems from a certain credulity among the permaculture public, who too rarely ask tough questions of different farming systems. Joel Salatin’s chicken operation is no doubt very productive, but it does rely on bought-in commercial feed, which enthusiasts tend to gloss over. Sepp Holzer has created an amazing-looking farm with some clever ideas that make people want to visit it, and that alone is worth celebrating, but I think the results are open to question on input/output grounds.

Anyway, one good outcome of my debate with Eliades was that it prompted me to look more carefully at the literature on perennial cropping, with the result that I’ve now formalised my thinking on this in a journal article – all it needs is a home to go to, and I’ll report back on that soon. Perhaps this illustrates what David Holmgren means when he says ‘obtain a yield’. Hmm, guess I’m still a permaculturist at heart.

Towards the end of the PDC I took 13 years ago, my esteemed tutor admonished his assembled students with the words “You don’t know anything”. At the time it struck me as a rather harsh note in an otherwise empowering course, but now I see his wisdom. I know a hell of a lot more now than I did back then, but I realise that I still don’t know anything. I only wish a few more PDC graduates realised they don’t know anything either…

97 thoughts on “Permaculture Design Course Syndrome

  1. >a belief that a small garden crammed with edible perennial things is proof positive >that permaculture can feed the world

    Please don’t be mean or i’ll start crying. If we mean perennials like potatoes and runner beans then yes we can! Having a pop at p/c seems like a bit of a hot topic and quite frankly they deserve it. I was half way through exposing the dodgy pyramid scheme that is the PDC myself on my own blog.

    The latest weekly stream of Geoff Lawton videos are really good, though. So it is not all bad.

    • I don’t want to make you cry, Tom! And of course as you said recently, urban/domestic growing can only be a good thing – I just think there’s sometimes an element of naievity about how much of the total food need it can realistically produce.

      Potatoes & runner beans as perennials – well, that in turn is one of my favourite topics. My take on this is that high productivity perennial crops are generally not grown as perennials, even in climates more geared to their cultivation than ours, essentially because there is a basic ecological trade-off between longevity and reproductive allocation that human plant breeding hasn’t surmounted. And of course, if the edible part of the plant is the organ of perennation – as with potatoes – then its perenniality becomes a bit moot.

      PDC as a dodgy pyramid scheme? Harsh, but not I fear always entirely unfair. Still, I think we agree that there’s much of value in the movement. I’d be interested to look at your blog article – where can I find it?

      • I was going to post my article but I may not now in case I become a permaculture teacher and have my words quoted back to me in later years.

        It’s easy letting potatoes be perennials, we all do it every time we fail to dig them all up and they grow again the next year. Which means it could be worth treating them like any herbaceous perennial – take what you need and leave a few to grow on next year. Remember they multiply. Of course, the farmers are going to start blaming us for blight outbreaks but they do that anyway.

        I’ve mulched up some french beans with straw hoping they’ll make it through the winter but frankly I doubt it. I havent yet managed to do this with runner beans yet but im told it is possible and if it is I will do it and report back.

        I’ve proved you can perennialise various brassicas through dead heading or taking cuttings, chillies can be taken indoors to overwinter, I haven’t beaten egg plant or sweet peppers yet, leeks clump if you leave them alone. The only flies in my perennial gardening ointment are peas and squashes. Finding a handy way to clone squashes would be great because they hybridise so easily and i want to keep my varieties.

        My techniques won’t make pretty veg for sale in a farmers market but they do provide quite a lot of calories and vitamins.

        My perspective is one of gardening as opposed to farming – for me it is a leisure activity – but yield is a very serious issue nonetheless.

        • Tom, I’m easily persuaded that many food plants usually grown as annuals can be grown as perennials to a greater or (usually) lesser degree. I’m less easily persuaded that there’s a lot to be gained from it because of the yield-longevity tradeoff I mentioned. I’d be interested to see a graph of yields from a perennial potato plot over time… Most of these plants are short-lived competitive perennials, and they’re grown as annuals because the benefits of yield, rotation and disease prevention outweigh the costs of annual cultivation (I’m with you on not worrying too much about what farmers think about amateur potato growers, but disease issues become a problem for the amateur growers own productivity too). You could argue that yield isn’t everything and that there are benefits to a low input – low output perennial horticulture. I’ve no problem with that. But I’m much more sceptical about the notion of a low input – high output perennial horticulture, unless you exclude labour from the input equation.

        • I like potatoes as perennials. We started doing that by accident, but it works. I also grow garlic as a perennial interspersed among the fruit trees. It turns into entire clusters which we thin leaving some behind.

    • I realize that I’m commenting on a comment that is two years old, but I people might see this in the future. It may seem reasonable to think that an EXTREMELY productive small garden for every person in the world could sustain a human population. However, I think at this point, one of the main problems with Permaculture feeding the world is that the majority of people in the world now live in cities. You can figure this out by dividing the world’s Human population by the number of square meters of land on Earth. Of course, because there are areas of the world that are uninhabited by people, this is a very modest estimate. When you apply population growth to this, and you consider the fact that it is really difficult to have a garden when you live in an apartment, most Permaculture techniques go out the window. I’m not saying Permaculture in general won’t be able to feed the world. I’m saying that in order to do so, there will have to be significant modifications to the infrastructure of cities, how Permaculture systems are built, and how crops are planted and harvested. Because humanity continues to create more and more of its own problems, we are actually beginning to need the technologies that we originally did not need before to survive as individuals. Anyone feel like designing a farm-skyscraper? Of course, if we can figure out how to lower the global population peacefully and humanely in some way, and then just use sustainable Permaculture techniques that have been further refined and perfected, then that might work as well.

  2. First I really enjoy your blog and learn a lot from it.
    I think one of the problems is that permaculture is really about design, observation, and feedback and then modifying what you do based on the results. This isn’t easy whereas applying techniques is. I too started by thinking it meant never digging and applying mulch and as a result the weeds and slugs multiplied! I’m also learning that ‘work with nature’ means working with my nature too and designing systems that suit me, not someone in a book! I’m learning a lot from you and Deano, of the Sustainable Smallholding as you both seem to take scientific approach and question, and learn, from what you do. I’m not trying to make a living, just grow enough fruit and veg for the two of us. whereas the fruit is easy I really struggle with the veg!
    I think I started with the notion that permaculture was an easy no work way of growing abundant food! Not so, where I live anyway.

    • Thanks for commenting Louise – I’m glad you find my blog of interest. Yes, I think most of us travel this road from starry-eyed permaculture newbies to a slightly more discriminating position. I don’t really have a problem with perennials, polycultures, no till, and various other ideas as such, but context is all (and, as you say, working with one’s own nature matters too). My own journey has pretty much taken me back to traditional mixed tillage farming of annual crops, which I think is eminently justifiable here in Somerset (maybe less so in Australia, where permaculture began). One of the disappointing things about the debate with Angelo Eliades was his scorn for annual tillage farmers historically, which I think betrays the urban/domestic naievity sometimes imported into permaculture. It’s worth pondering, I think, why mixed tillage farming has been such a ubiquitous approach in global agriculture/horticulture. I hope to post something on that soon.

    • I think you hit the nail on the head. Technique is easy to learn. Observation takes time, it takes patience, it takes a certain intuitive bliss in seeing nature. I actually don’t think most people involved in permaculture are raised this way. For some of us, myself not included, it is easier because of our background. Those of us who grew up as city folk, perhaps miss out on tuning into nature. It’s a vital skill and something that is over looked.
      Technique is great. Skills are great. Ideas and innovation are great. Working with nature will give you more success than all three of those combined.

  3. Interesting piece, I agree to a certain extent – the rose-tinted glasses seem to come out a lot and people can be unrealistic about some aspects of permaculture. However, I think a lot of people (perhaps including yourself) really, genuinely do not understand permaculture. it is not about perennials or herb spirals or swales. True sustainability is the only viable option for humanity long-term, and permaculture offers a blueprint for that through its ethics and principles.

    The idea isn’t that a food forest can feed the whole world. Page 1 of the Designers’ Manual, the Prime Directive: “The only ethical decision to make is to take responsibility for your own life, and that of your children.” (that’s from memory so may not be word perfect, but basically, we simply need more people to follow that directive, and to make the decision to care for the earth, and care for people, just like people always used to.

    Permaculture isn’t about how you grow food, it is about how you see the world, and how you live your life. Feeding yourself is a big part of that, but it’s just a piece of the jigsaw.

    >a belief that a small garden crammed with edible perennial things is proof positive >that permaculture can feed the world

    ….is absolutely spot on. Damn right it can, because once you think of the world in those terms, you are simply capable of more as a person. You see the possibility and potential in the world. Get your PDC grads in, they will learn from you and you will learn from them.

    • Thanks for commenting Iain. My comments were directed really at a certain fixity of vision that seems to emerge from the PDC process, rather than at permaculture as such. Yes, more or less everyone agrees that permaculture isn’t about perennials or herb spirals or swales…but then so many people go on to operationalise it in exactly that way. Really, tt’s the number of times I’ve heard people comment that someplace or other is a ‘real permaculture holding’ on account of the presence of said perennials, swales etc that prompted my critique.

      Like you, I’m very much in favour of starting with oneself and seeing what you can do personally, but the key word in my ‘belief that a small garden crammed with edible perennial things’ phrase is “perennial”, because for reasons that I’ve set out previously on this blog and in my review of Ford Denison’s book in Permaculture Magazine, I think the permaculture approach typically rather misunderstands perennial plants and the benefits we can expect to derive from them.

      I’d question your metaphor of a ‘blueprint’, which to my mind is too fixed and definitive – perhaps a part of the problem? And I wouldn’t take such a rosy view as you of the past in terms of earth care and people care principles. Nevertheless, I agree with much of what you’re saying – there’s certainly plenty I can and have learned from PDC graduates and there’s plenty in the PDC process to celebrate. I hope that I conveyed some of that in my post, though I realise it may have come across rather more negatively than perhaps I intended.

  4. Great discussion. I’m another PDC-qualified permaculture sceptic, and the list of symptoms and characterisation of the too-typical PDC graduate package really ring true for me.

    One of the things I would like to see as part of the “permaculture can/cannot feed the world” debate is some overt focus on productivity per unit area and its implications at a national/global scale. Land suitable for agriculture is a finite and non-renewable resource and is diminishing as a result of a range of factors. Those believe that agriculture can feed the world need to present some facts and figures based on availability of agricultural land and food needs for current and future populations. I’m not talking about low post-Armageddon population levels, though I see a trend for some permaculture evangelists to focus on permaculture as something we need to nurture until its “time of need” in that scenario – do they recognise that it doesn’t really have a role before then?

    It’s all very well to talk, as some do, about increasing productivity by having more permaculturists working more small plots, but while third-world traditional farming has been shown to be responsive to increasing labor inputs up to a certain point, that has very limited relevance to food forests.

    • Thanks for commenting, Gordon. I’m inclined to agree with you about food forests/forest gardens, on which I posted some preliminary thoughts a while ago at Generally, I’d see them as low input-low output systems which can be complementary to more intensive cultivation.

      I have to say that I’m quite sympathetic to the idea of increased labour intensity in agriculture, including in the countries of the wealthy north, for a whole variety of reasons. I think this is key to future sustainability. But I agree that there are few magic bullet solutions, and it’s good to pay attention to input/output analysis. I suppose my main beef isn’t with permaculture as such, so much as with the tendency of the PDC process to turn out rather too many starry-eyed graduates. Ah well, so long as we all get stuck in to practical projects and learn as we go…

      • This is nice.
        So what do you think ideal graduate should be?
        And at what point do you think it most suitable to direct PDC students to this blog post? Mid, end, shortly afterward etc?

        Keep up the good work 🙂

  5. Thanks Chris,
    A breath of fresh air with my Tea before heading back out to the farm today.
    i believe each farming methodology has brilliant aspects that should be celebrated, We spend a lot of time in the South Pacific talking about change, but not from one system to another but of change to accept and utilise all the good bits of each farming system, Alternative, Permaculture, Organic, Biodynamic, Conventional and more, all have something to offer. So in short I absolutely agree with your comments and they could also be applied to other farming methodologies just as easy , try substituting the word permaculture for the farming methodology of choice, kinda works,,,,,

  6. Quite a few chuckles and knowing nods here. When we first moved to our farm we noticed a lofty comment from a US permaculture teacher (referencing our farm) saying we couldnt ‘be permaculture’ because we had (or had inherited, more accurately) an olive grove with rows of trees, and there are ‘no straight lines in nature’, so we couldn’t be permaculture. 7 years later i still smile at that one whenever i look at the horizon over the ocean, which is rather straight, or at least straighter than any tree rows I’ve seen.

    More to the point, once we introduced a small market garden to our farm we entered a whole new world of debate on this topic – straight lines, weed removal, tools, economies of scale. It was so awesome for our on-farm PDC students to interact with this space as part of their PDCs, and get a feel for the fact that all design is about context. A market garden is not a polyculture backyard garden bed. They are both great. But they are not the same thing, because the goals and the context of the growing project is different.

    Lastly, I’d like to defend the PDC model – i think it’s all about how it’s taught, personally – we know from direct experience that it’s possible to focus on design process and assessing context before launching into solutions, one-liners or “one-size-fits-all-techniques in this kind of climate/farm/community”. If you teach from principles and encourage good design process, the student outcomes are pretty stunning. All power to Dave Jacke for hugely influencing our teaching methods around on this aspect.

    Lastly, Joel’s farm is pretty awesome, and our world would be better off if more folks considered approaching their commercial scale animal systems in similar ways (again, allowing for context). No it’s not perfect, but what system is? And they were making a very healthy living before all his profile exploded, on the basis that the food was clean and local. Many farms could do much worse.

  7. Hi Chris,

    This is good reading for a PDC teacher. The thing is – a PDC is 72 hours and can’t possibly teach anyone what they need to know for a permaculture life. That is achieved by experience and more courses. I’m launching a school to teacher practical permaculture skills so needed but can’t be fitted into a PDC.

    I pride myself that students leave my PDCs with an UNDERSTANDING that permaculture is at its essence about design ethics and design principles. Everything else is method – which vary depending on climate, landscape and location and differ widely. My students know that the answer to a question always starts with “It depends”.

    I also tell students about some of the big names’ stuff ups, all of us are on a very steep learning curve and it helps them know that nobody gets in right all the time. I think this approach is followed by many of the new generation of teachers, who have worked their way through the politics of permaculture and come out the other end with a mixture of styles and emphasis.

    Its a pity you had a run-in with Angelo, he’s a great guy and a friend. And his garden is an excellent example of getting zones 1 and 2 extremely productive.

    Best wishes,

  8. Great post! Sorry this is a bit long. You have hit on a subject that is really important and needs to be discussed – thank you!

    As a smallholder, PC teacher, and farmer the more I learn the less I know. Can permaculture feed the world? I think it can, but not in it’s current state. It seems permaculture is stuck in a narrow mindset.

    I live on a PC smallholding that is yes, full of apples (I will never plant another apple tree), pears (a little better),plums (no point, too much black knot) rhubarb (love the stuff) asparagus (hate it), Jerusalem artichokes, currants (OMG kill me now before I have to harvest them), raspberries (lost to many rabbits that I would like to use as lunch), forest gardens, chickens (at times even one is too much), sheep (most amazing livestock around), flowers, and a smattering of annuals. Our aims was to feed ourselves and make SOME money. Well, we learned the hard way.
    Labour cost and yields are rarely taken into account in PC. If you have ever harvested “everbearing strawberries” for jam you will understand. It could be that I am just reading the wrong things as well. I no longer do a number of things because it took SO much time, energy and expense for such a measly yield. There were not enough hours in the days to to everything that the permaculture “self sustaining” ecosystem needed and even have a tiny bit of a life outside of my smallholding. I began to really resent having to constantly work for so little return. We of course had no grains, milk, or other staples we use almost daily. We did have far too much fruit that couldn’t possibly be eaten or canned in time. I sure as heck didn’t want to can in August when my house was already in 40+C, nor did I want to buy another freezer to freeze them, not to mention that I was doing all manner of other things as well.

    I have to say I don’t regret making so many mistakes, and going into debt. How else would I have really learned about farming, gardening, orcharding, livestock management, business skills, and myself. Our solution was to alter expectations and find our what did work as a sustainable system. We began to ask different questions. What grow well here, instead of what do I want to grow or do? Maybe I don’t want to grow but do something else and apply PC to it?

    We began input/output analysis for everything, and I mean everything we did on our smallholding. If it didn’t make us happy, provide an income, or was ignorable it was stopped. We instead observed where the economic markets were going, what niches were open and looked at where our passions meet them.

    Much of what I have seen of permaculture is that the current economy is not taken into account – that things should be free. Well, I am sure that no transit system , town council, government or bank will take our products in lieu of payment. We need to consider the economics of permaculture and that means integrating the rest of the economic system into our thinking. The really amazing thing that once we had broken out of the “permaculture culture of all permaculture is forest gardening and perennial edibles” and looked around us the opportunities seemed endless.

    We don’t grow all of our own food, but still grow a little, but we do support those who love to grow it for us (I am SO grateful for those veg farmers)! We focus on what we are good at, love and then do it in a permaculture fashion. We like to support those who we believe in and hope for the same down the line.

    I haven’t actually said what we do now. Well we somewhat designed an entire permaculture system from people, to home, to, passion, to market, to global markets. I say somewhat as much of it was plain common sense. We raise sheep for wool and lead as well as grow dye plants in our forest gardens. We process and felt the wool into various object to sell. A lot of research went into it from everywhere from academia to industry standards, not just PC sources. In our course we deliberately brought in many other sources for students. Some of the government ag publications, best practices were far better than the PC info, particularly from a practical standpoint. ANY dogma is a bad place to begin.

    So can permaculture feed the world? I think only when the permaculture world embraces permaculture as life choice and not just a way to grow food it can do far more than just feed the world. It can make the world better.

  9. I think it is worth noting that both Sepp and Joel inherited their property — Sepp in part b/c he bought more land, Joel in full. I don’t begrudge them, smart planning on their families’ part. It is however easy to make a go of being a farmer without the burden of purchasing land or land payments. It is comical to me that Joel gives advice on how to establish a farm for non-landholders, since he has zero experience here, yet his advice on this point is good.. Additionally, in my view, since these two guys grew up on the land they currently work, they have a leg up from being exposed to the land’s intricacies at a young age — Sepp especially since his family has been farming for some time. I am interested to see how 5 generation regenerative/restorative/ecological/permaculture ag farmers work with the land, but I will probably be worm food by then.

  10. Hi Chris, I dont think the problem is isolated the PDC, or the permaculture movment. What your describing to me are just the behaviors of people who are super pumped about something they dont really understand yet, but really want to jump in and get busy doing. I have noticed myself, and others behaving like this after learning alot about a new found interest. I am not as prone to it as I was when I was young, but I still do tend to rant at times. It seems that we as people are always looking for that one thing ( just tell me one thing I can do…) to fix our problems, so when we find something that seems to fit that description we go a little nuts. Or maybey I just cant handle you criticising “The Movement”

  11. Really Good Post, and one that I agree with wholeheartedly. In addition I would include the rapid transition from recent PDc graduate to teacher/disciple.
    I too struggle with the attitude, but I do think that things are starting to change, or improve. There is more interest in research/testing/proving etc, and while it’s not universal, it is increasing.
    I think that the best thing to do is keep on doing what you do. It does sometimes seem to take a while for people to ‘observe and interact’ with the facts, and then accept the feedback, and apply self-regulation.
    I cringe when I think back to how ‘self-righteous’ I was about no-dig growing, and how much I’ve learnt and changed since then. Perhaps it’s a stage of personal development that some of us go through, and others never do. I know which side of the thought process I want to be on.
    Hope that you had some success with the wheat. I’ll be in touch.

    • No dig growing is funny. I try to use it, but I keep ending up digging, and once I have dug, I keep digging…. then I watch “A Fukuoka inspired Permaculture garden” on youtube again, and I go back to no dig, in situ mulch composting…. and it works just as well as teh double dug beds I grew up with….and keep falling back to for various reasons.

  12. Thanks for an honest article that raises awareness. I have been learning much, applying much to our place and sharing much for several years. Gaia’s Garden, the book, comes to mind where it shows how to plan a Food Forest Perimeter with a small, cultivated veggie and herb garden near the house type of Permaculture Design. The small garden fills in what the Perennials-laden Food Forest may have a hard time doing. The nutrient-dense “weeds” in the Food Forest are satisfying in their own way and the cultivated veggies and herbs have their own part to play with pleasurable fun in flavor added to the mix.

  13. One of the Principles of Permaculture as I learned it is “Permaculture is information and imagination intensive.” I imagine ( 🙂 ) all these PDC graduates who think they know everything, and that everyone else is doing it wrong need to remember, no matter how great their imagination, they DO NOT have all the information.

  14. Often I tell students they will leave the PDC peaking with excitement and a sense of possibility and then they will hit a wall or a deep valley as they begin to practice. Your post will help me better explain this, especially those who are considering farming. Granted, many PDC grads are not going into commercial agriculture. As a small farmer and permaculture teacher, your descriptions resonate with me. Some of your descriptions of permaculture design may be off base or sound like generalizations, but I think you and previous commenters have covered that.

    One commenter’s notion that the PDC is a pyramid scheme is laughable. Pyramid schemes are supposed to produce financial wealth for those who run it. After 11 PDCs my hours of labor invested in organizing and teaching are still likely yielding just minimum wage. It is also based on the assumption that once you take a course you can teach a course. Nobody should be teaching unless they have several years of real and ongoing practice in permaculture design and practice. This gets to what might be the crux of the problem you describe.

    If teachers do not have significant personal experience they cannot understand the genuine challenges of practicing, implementing, and making a living that is augmented by permaculture design and principles. The greenhorn teacher is then stuck relying on vicarious experience, claims, rumors and myths that perpetuate the idea that permaculture is just a collection of specific strategies and tactics. Without an immersion in the practice with all the nuances and limitations of this still new approach, inexperienced teachers will produce students whose understanding of permaculture will be a caricature of the discipline. As teachers we need to encourage our students to go out and organize real permaculture projects and discourage them from teaching anything more than a sixty-minute introduction to permaculture for at least a few years.

    It sure helps to teach students at a genuine permaculture-designed site as well. When when students see that some of your practices are not matching the ideal of permaculture a genuine conversation about applied versus theoretical design can happen.

    The quality of the practicum is also a significant variable in the quality of the student’s learning. I cannot imaging how some of these mega, online courses can result in genuine understanding without practice on an actual piece of land with the significant feedback and assistance from the teachers.

    Thank you for this frank and constructive dialogue.


    Michael Burns
    Finger Lakes Permaculture Institute
    Cayuta Sun Farm
    Catharine, NY

    • Well said Micheal. I too often wonder how the online courses fair. We have only done onw pdc here and it lasted 8 months. When i did my pdc i felt i had to learn more. Luckily i came from a background steeped in nature and observation being trained in art and scientific illustration. Our students got to see our place through almost a year from april until november. They saw the first blooms, things die off, baby animals, pasture changes, harvest, we also had a vet, architect, and co-op coordinator (who had taught pc in the uk before emigrating to canada) so students could see the scope of pc and others experiences.

      The pdc is only the intro course…

      To help support new student i encourage them to come back and help teach. We fave thrm a startimg point to teach from and to expand/alter as they learn.

      We also do some observatipn skills yo assist on improving observation. As an artist i have found most peppleiss 95% of what is around them.

  15. Thanks very much everyone for your thoughtful and open-hearted comments above. I’m afraid time pressures are such at the moment that I can’t properly engage with the many interesting points that have been made individually, but I’ve learned a lot from reading everyone’s comments and agree with most of what you’ve all said! My next post will pick up on this theme again. In the mean time, thanks for posting – it makes me feel that, as I suggested in the original post, I’m still a permaculturist at heart and I’m really happy to be part of a movement with such thoughtful and questing people!

  16. the permaculture movement is in the process of being recaptured and returned to being a small family business, centered around a personality cult, which is fueled by a diploma mill and plug and play volunteers

    there is very little real, genuine, research being done, just lots of charisma and marketing selling books, DVDs and online diplomas

    most recently, in the US, there was a very high profile permaculture conference hosted at a luxury resort with a casino and a golf course, the guru’s gave this credence and collected a fee

    what we have now is leadership by personality cult figures and the gap between reality and online hype just gets wider

    permaculture has become an internet virus, as has one of its key leaders (in fact, the fountainhead)

    if anyone was really serious about permaculture as design science, or even a half decent community of practitioners we would be relying a lot less of some very high profile names and instead a serious body of peer reviewed work

    instead, we are left with projects like this

    which have a life of their own online, unchallenged by reality

    permaculture is becoming like alternative medicine

    dominated by quack entrepreneurs

      • Hi Grahm,
        The photo link is of the original “Greening the Desert” site in Jordan. I took those pictures while attending the Jordan IPC. Needless I was shocked to see the reality behind the video flash – amazing what one can accomplish with a very productive well and lots of drip line. I is also amazing how fast everything turns back to desert when unplugged from its primary water source.

        I didn’t know these photos were floating around the web!

        Scott Pittman
        Permaculture Institute

        • Thanks Scott – very interesting. Backs up a couple of word of mouth reports and feedback I’ve heard from a couple of friends from the UK who’ve been out there…

        • Hi Scott,

          Could you give an idea of how much land was put under that irrigation system in your pics, and also, about how much water do you think is being applied per week/month? (looking for a gallons per week per acre reference point.)

          I ask because I’m new to desert growing, and am trying to work out some sort of improvements to a 4 acre system that seems to me to be using extreme amounts of water. I wonder how much “greening” can be done with better design vs. more water.

          • I wish I could answer your questions but when I visited this site it was no longer being irrigated. If I remember correctly it was a little over 10 acres with a 35gpm well. What I saw was a system in rapid decline without the irrigation.

            The main standout for me was that all the hoopla in the film “Greening the Desert” was on the wonder of swales rather than the not so wonder of drip irrigation. I saw a lot of surrounding farms that were absolutely green under irrigation. Even a banana plantation!!

            The lesson was, to me, that you can put lipstick on a pig but it is still a pig.

          • look projects do fail, a lot. I work in IT, and big, expensive projects fail all the time. Most of the time actually. But then you try again. And the second or third time you (or someone who replaces you) gets it right

            that famous project photographed by Scott went viral via a youtube cartoon / new age sermon. It was a very professional and inspiring piece of educational / inspirational / marketing for re-afforestation via perennial polyculture with appropriate earthworks (or close enough to reality that almost everyone said GREAT!)

            however, this is historical fact, of which I will try to cross check with other sources, that as that video was going viral and the cross selling opportunities went into outer space, it resurrected a certain career (after the wreckage of THE most famous permaculture project) – as the reality of the project on the ground was going south, way south – the youtube stars where rising

            there was no correction, until the second video like 10 years (?) later.

            until the correction there was very little said about it, it was uncool to question it

            the answer was always, the locals fucked it

            traditional absentee landlord line, we need to save the locals.

            so, those photos are unique in that its the ground truth.

            there are no photos of the previous disaster, that site is for sale

            maybe the online diploma mill can buy it

            now, with the 1000$ online courses and 10,000$ videos the real estate aspect may really expand

            but its not based on clear communications

            so, why the hell should we trust these people?

            is this a religion?

          • what really annoys me, is that IF there wasn’t this personality cult that clouds vision and muddles judgement these failed projects would of been fixed

            some reputations might of been pummeled, but this would of been a learning experience. This is what a professional society of peers does, keeps the level of the performance of the game high

            keeps the cheaters and the freeloaders off the field, through penalties etc.

            in a centralized, patriarchial, theocratic, knowledge capitalist, private trust combination – suprise, suprise – these kinds of healthy feedback loops dont happen

            the relationship is not adult to adult, it is child to adult, we need to just shut up and do what we are told (by the father)

            imho, the “invisible structures” is the weakest aspect of the original opus, in fact, its monstrously failed.

            its pretty clear the institutional framework can be abused and uses people on a global scale

            Earth Care
            People Care
            Fair Share

            what happened to the Fair Share ethic?

            my feeling the online coup, that is sucking the life out of all the small and independent providers of PDCs and materials, is disaster capitalism

            create a disaster, and then come and fix it with your new plan

            its in the manual “Choas is the opportunity to create order” or something

            so, in the wreckage and desperation of the global online network will come a newly captured and beholden network

            that completely relies on the centralised network

            which, at its core, is corrupt

            awesome, another failed institution, too big to fail

            so much for permaculture somehow being different or better

      • My understanding is that the initial Greening the desert project was abandoned before it was mature due to lack of funding. I’m not that surprised that it’s going back to desert.
        Geoff Lawton is actually working on a new project there and I’m sure this time he will make sure that it will get tended to in the long run.

        • maybe

          but, instead of lots of noise online, I’d like to see

          1. hard ground truth success
          2. independent professional peer reviewed research

          no more guru bs

          no more viral online marketing

  17. Hello Chris,
    I hear your critics and I agree to some of your point.
    I think you missed some aspects that make permaculture profitable.
    – Land size.
    IMHO there is a minimum size for a permaculture farm to make a *easy* living from it. In my opinion 10 hectare. If you work on less you have to work really intensive to get enough money out of it.
    Money is not a obstacle for get a suitable sized piece of land, a lack of creativity and fantasy is. I’m working on *leased* (49 years) land. Land leased from a local native tribe. You don’t need to own land. Native tribes worldwide own a lot of very good land that will be never for sale. But if you can prove that you are able to (real) develop there land, you will find open ears for such deals. The same with farmers who own thousands of hectares of land. Most can’t even tell if there have 25 hectare less.
    – Marketing research.
    Walk in some organic grocery stores in the next big city and analyse them thoroughly.
    What products are sold for a *very* *good* *price* that you can and want also grow?
    Better, look for products there don’t sell and ask them “would you sell xxxxx if I could supply you with it, and what would you pay for?”
    Take your time to find the products with the highest profit and the lowest labor & money on your side to produce (and process) them. It took me a year of research to find the perfect crop for my region. Don’t forget to add the option of direct marketing of shelf-ready products over the internet. Don’t produce highly perishable products if you can avoid it. There have a high risk of failure.
    – Prioritize *any* action on your land that lead to profit.
    Example. Don’t grow tomatoes if investing your time in a way more profitable action provide you with 3 times the money to buy some good quality organic tomatoes from your neighbors.
    – Try hard to think out of the box.
    Sometimes another layer of usage isn’t growing something else. Sometimes it is something total different. Camping in the timber wood area? Zip tracks? Be creative. Look around in the world (Internet) what other people came up with.
    If you have created enough income, don’t stop here. Invest in research and trails for future products. You already recognized that be the first and only one doing something in your region is the key to profit. Keep it that way. What’s today the perfect crop will not be the perfect crop forever. Other will follow you. Lead with new and innovative products.
    Doing less and thinking more is message I try to convey.

    • Andy, no doubt that’s good advice for somebody who wants to make their living from small scale farming and I’m all in favour of economic realism, but prioritizing any action on the land that leads to profit, and focusing on high profit/low labour crops (which, as you implicitly recognise, almost always will be some kind of temporary fad – alpacas, goji berries etc) don’t in my opinion help to bring about the socially and ecologically transformative, permanent agriculture that personally I want to work towards. Your comment about native tribes owning a lot of land that won’t be for sale also begs a lot of historical questions for me…not least here in the UK, where the only ‘native tribe’ I can think of that owns a lot of land is the aristocracy! But thanks for commenting – always interesting to hear other perspectives.

  18. Permaculture is a design methodology (as im sure you are well aware) so if people think that its not permaculture because you dont have a herb spiral, banana circle and a swale then they obviously havent understood what they had to understand. They have mistaken examples of priciples for criteria that must be followed. A design methodology by itself is just a tool kit , nothing else. So Im not sure that blaming a design methodolgy by people who are implementing it incorrectly is the right conclusion.

    I do agree with you on most of the points but think that these are problems with the thought of individuals and not the method itself. Any dogmatic approach will lead to a faulty result somewhere along the line espetialy if people use examples of a design methodoly as THE methodology itself.

    • Yep, agreed. My points were directed mostly against the fixity of vision that some people seem to emerge from their PDCs with, rather than with permaculture itself necessarily. I agree with somebody who said above that this problem isn’t unique to permaculture, but is part and parcel of the educational process – though at the risk of further provocation I’m somewhat inclined to say that permaculture education seems to encourage a belief in miracle solutions more than many forms of pedagogy. On second thoughts, forget I said that…there’s biotechnology! –

      • I know what you mean, I went through that whole proces on my own by designing my property and then realising that one thing is to design in a fictional world with no constraints and then go into the real world and try to implement it. For example I wanted to plant a windbreak of Cassuarinas (I live in the med) and just the windbreak was gonna cost more than the money I wanted to invest in the whole project. I think that, that is one of the main problems with people who have a PC certificate but no experience. Its very easy to design on paper and then to criticise others from a place of ignorance.

  19. so yours is a permaculture farm eh? where’s the grey water? the worm farm, the compost heap, the herb spiral??? hey, zone 1 seems a fair walk ! no swales?!
    sorry this is a small diverse food producing mixed farm based on the readings of permaculture initiators and their references and any other source which enables and enobles our purposes…but we are not disneyland!!!
    perhaps, if you have the time, we could traverse some of the grounds, and you may begin to notice some things you missed as you walked in

  20. Many of the criticisms here, both in the post and in the comments, are valid. Permaculturists tend to come from an innately self-critical demographic—recall Che’s comment that on the left, we make our firing squads in a circle—and it seems that at some point in every permaculturist’s life, they feel compelled to critique the field. I’ve done it, and I’ve read, I think, 50 posts like this one. We criticize permaculture’s principles, and we criticize those who don’t follow the principles. We criticize permaculture for not being able to provide an income, and we criticize those who are making money at it. We criticize the newbies for not really getting it, and we attack the elders for trying to tell us how it is. We criticize the PDC for its defects, and we criticize any effort to change it. We criticize its charismatic leaders, mostly for being charismatic leaders. We criticize ourselves for not compiling good data on its effectiveness, and we attack the scientific method for being reductionist and data-focused. We criticize permaculturists for holding “convergences” in muddy fields that repel policymakers and others who might help us broaden its reach, but when someone finally organizes a professional conference in a mainstream venue that attracts legislators, funders, and thought leaders, we rip them a new one.

    To the all-inclusive attacks permaculture gets from within its own ranks we can add the criticism from academics, organic farmers, agronomists, and a host of others from outside the field. To their credit, many of these critiques are substantive, as opposed to, say, attacking Scott Pittman’s Flickr post of his art photographs. So, you know, I accept the importance of regular assessment, but maybe it’s time to move away from the incessant internal criticism and finger-pointing, and just be constructive for a while.

    Next time someone considers another self-critique of permaculture, instead, how about writing a piece that supports permaculture and talks about the good things it’s doing?

    • Toby I wrote a lengthier reply which just got munched by my computer. Bottom line: criticism IS constructive, it’s how ideas are tested and honed. Living movements and disciplines are full of argument and self-analysis – much better than (enforced?) consensus. In my opinion there’s already plenty of permaculture writing that celebrates what it’s doing, but not quite enough that engages critically with some its core ideas and tries to refine and test them. There’s much to celebrate in permaculture, and I did try to convey some of that in my post: there’d be even more to celebrate I think if the PDC process did a slightly better job of turning out graduates who were more full of questions than answers.

      • I couldn’t agree more, Chris. And thanks for the shout-out above. The paper that I published last fall in Agronomy for Sustainable Development ( and my piece in the upcoming Permaculture Activist are, in part, an effort to respond to just the Syndrome you’re describing so well here.

        Toby, I’m surprised to read what you’ve written here. I think commentary like Chris’ is very supportive. You often strike a tone of balanced constructive critique in your own writing. It’s one of your great strengths.

        I do feel you on the overall impatience with what seem like reactive and dogmatic divisions that run through the permaculture community (such as it is). In that, as in many other things, permaculture is just recreating the dynamics of the society we find ourselves in. I do think we need to foster more constructive ways of working across differences – but I don’t think that means suppressing dissent. Thoughtful pieces like this are part of the solution, not the problem.

        What would supportive thoughtful writing even look like if it didn’t contain some element of critique – some consideration of what could be improved? If you want uncritical supportive writing about permaculture, the web is already bursting with encomia riddled with magical thinking and unsupported claims…*

        *Links available on request 😉

        • Like I said, Chris makes valid points, and I gave him short shrift by not saying that it’s well written, and other praise. Consider it added, deservedly. It’s just that I’ve read so many similar critiques over the last 20 years–a spate of them this year alone. Since they have remained essentially the same in all that time, I’d say that critique of this sort is not working, even though critique is how many fields advance. Ours appears not to. Funny, that, and worth exploring–like why, after 30 years, is Rafter about the only person collecting data out of 350,000 of us? So I’m thinking that before someone writes yet another critique, they should A) consider that it has never worked, and B), google “permaculture” and “criticism”, scan the few thousand hits that come up, and just post links to save themselves some time. Altho it’s satisfying to write critiques; it’s why we do it.
          And although the “encomia links available” snark was the sort of think Rafter can’t help doing, it’s obvious it’s not what I’m looking. Positive critical thinking about what’s working would be refreshing. I await your project, Rafter!

          • Thanks Rafter, and Toby for the (albeit slightly faint) praise. Bear in mind that I didn’t set out to write a grand critique with the aim of changing permaculture, but just to get a few thoughts off my chest on my personal blog (where else can I sound off, other than to the long-suffering Mrs Spudman?). However, if it’s true that there’ve been lots of critiques like this & they’ve made no difference, then does the fault lie with the critics or with the PDC teachers & students? Is there something in the permaculture process that trips up the ‘accept feedback’ step, or some problem with the focus on gurus and exemplars (hardly restricted to permaculture) that prevents us from maturing our own perspectives? Anyway, if I’ve made a positive contribution to anything it’s not in the above piece where that wasn’t my intention, but hopefully in my published work which is listed on the ‘Research & publications’ page of this site. On reflection though, even some of that may not qualify as what Toby calls ‘positive critical thinking about what’s working’. Things like my perennial paper are negative critical thinking about what doesn’t or won’t work – maybe not the most glamorous thing in science, but actually debunking claims that prove to be mistaken is a key scientific activity (whereas the purpose of ‘positive criticism’ of things that work seems rather more questionable to me). I certainly wouldn’t hold my farm up as any kind of exemplar of brilliant design, but I’ve messed around with a lot of permaculture ideas, finding them sometimes useful, sometimes not so useful, and usually much more ambiguous and contingent than they appear in the discourse around permaculture, and I’ve come around to thinking that give or take a few new tricks anybody who wants to convince me that there’s a better ‘permanent agriculture’ than the traditional forms of organic-by-default mixed farming that developed in most places around the world is going to have to make a darned good case.

          • Internal critique has not eliminated the reasons for critique, it’s true. As you eloquently illustrate, it would be impossible to resolve many of people’s concerns without intensifying the concerns of the rest.

            But what does it mean when you write that critique “has never worked?” Where are you hiding the other permaculture movement, the one that has never been critiqued, to compare our criticism-rich movement with? Without systematic assessment, we have no idea of where we’re at now, much less where we might be if we were doing things differently. Personally I shudder to think of where we would be in that other scenario…

            So we’re both big boosters for systematic assessment and thoughtful constructive critique. I suspect that (as usual) we are differing over framing much more than over practical issues. So I won’t belabor the point any more. 🙂

            On the unequivocally-positive side of things, that systematic assessment is underway – and it ain’t just me by any means (thank god).
            • UK Permaculture 4-year research strategy:
            • Failure and Success of Transition Initatives:
            • Learning in the Permaculture Community of Practice in England:

            Also in the works: Abigail Conrad’s analysis of the effects of adoption of permaculture among smallholder farmers in Malawi. I’ve read the draft report, and it is incredibly inspiring.

  21. Happy to see this blog, Chris! A good conversation on standards and principals in permaculture! I have been beating this drum for some years now and it seems that it is finally getting some traction. I hope we will be able to discuss this in depth at the North American PC Convergence, at least I have put in that request.

  22. Thank you for sharing your insights. I’ve been thinking about the same thing. Part of the reason I think these attitudes appear may come from the culture we live in at large. People have so much enthusiasm for what they discovered (permaculture) but when there yard doesn’t look like the authors after a year that energy turns into insecurity and desperateness (esp. when your 20ish). I went through this. I remembered though that permaculture is about being inspired by nature, and some of natures biggest traits are humility and patience. We live in such a human centric world that we tend to look to other people and ask HOW instead of being confident enough to ask WHY and getting creative, going with our gut and failing every now and then. We have to remember to learn not just from books and online but to go outside and play.

  23. Thanks again for all the comments above – I’ve engaged with some, but regrettably can’t with all. I’m still reading & still learning…

  24. Ha ha snap! I too wrote an extensive, lengthy and considered post that I took about 2 hours to compose for this thread, my finger slipped and I lost the whole thing and thought feck it!!! Maybe it was for the best…
    Shortened essense as I remember it was, following on from this post some of us UK permaculture teachers are engaged in a process of self-critique/reflection, in particular asking ourselves and each other whether the PDC is in fact still ‘fit for purpose’. I’ve checked out some of the ‘online’ PDCs and ‘DVD lectures from prominent permaculture teachers’ which seem to mostly consist of some bloke in front of a whiteboard telling students loads of ‘facts’ and stuff without much mutual interaction with the course participants. It’s all very one way and I’m afraid I quickly get bored and go and look at some Chic or Sex Pistols Youtube footage to dance to after more than 4 minutes of this sort of thing…
    Are live PDC gigs this dreary? I hope ours aren’t, I’d prefer them to be mutually engaging, interactive, particpative, exploratory, playful, open, challenging, non-hierachical learning places where people come away with more developed skills of critical thinking, pattern recognition, problem solving and community engagement rather than being able to spout a bunch of rote-learned ‘solutions’ and ‘quick fixes’ to inappropriate situations that won’t they even be able to remember 6 weeks after the course has finisihed and we’ve all gone home.
    To this end I and others have been thinking about developing courses that take elements of the Design Course and apply it to situations and contexts that are relevant to where people actually are. Sue me, but I personally don’t feel particularly in thrall to a Designers Manual some alpha male Silverback in Australia wrote that others seem inclined to treat as a ‘Bible’, but much of which isn’t particularly relevant to my situation of that of others around me. Do folks on inner city housing estates in north London really need to know that much about strategies for making dryland broadscale multi-acre properties profitable, or indeed do we need to give so much emphasis to surveying skills like triangulation, making A frames and ‘bunyips’ (which everybody outside of permaculture circles simply calls a ‘water level’ – do a google search if you don’t believe me…) when most of the young folks have apps on their iPhones that will carry out these arcane tasks in seconds????
    For myself, I’m currently developing a locally specific but hopefully transferable (and maybe even modular) course that will take the relevant elements of the standard PDC and combine these with ideas such as Appreciative Inquiry, Open Space Technology and anthing else that seems useful. Lets see where it goes.
    For the liberation of learning!!!

  25. Interesting discussion : food for thought! Pehaps permaculture will reach its greatest potential when it sort of becomes non-existent and many of its principles have been integrated into agriculture. I come from a farming family and have had 2 farms myself. I was one of the first registered biodynamic producers in Western Australia – and had as a neighbour one of the great and long standing permaculturalists. Where we started out as ‘on 2 different sides’ and altho we are no longer neighbours, we have sort of drifted together : he uses BD in his gardens and I am experimenting with urban ag without using BD, and using some permaculture principles. There are 2 even more important things : Firstly, his 3 children (they were in the 70s and 80s anyway) were raised on a permaculture property with alternative energy. They never new another way of living. I have met 2 of them recently after many years : one was doing water testing at a Uni campus as part of a post grad env science degree, the other still lives on the permaculture property and is visiting me in the city to become involved in my urban ag stuff. Secondly, our surrounding ‘conventional farming’ neighbours observed what we were doing with genuine interest and a touch (often deserved) of amusement. The things they saw and liked, they used on their own properties. And their kids mixed with our kids, so that effect will grow, In some ways we are all seeds! And what grows from those seeds also produce seeds – its part of evolution, as we all are. There is without doubt an often almost religious fervour about permaculture, which I also find a bit amusing for a few reasons. (nothing wrong with things that amuse).
    Permaculture in many ways is not new – it mimics the hunter gatherer, possibly at the stage where he/she began to transition to agriculture.
    It also mimics aspects of Indigenous practice prior to colonisation (I live in Western Australia and have strong connections with Aboriginal peoples here).
    Similarly, many (not all) farms already operate using a basic permaculture principle of zoning, not because they did a permy course, but because its common sense. Home, garden, orchard, grazing and cropping.
    To the posters who think that introducing a plant disease (potato blight) that can interfere with someone else’s livelihood and capacity to feed others is ok, perhaps that attitude needs rethinking. I think the idea of community and respect for each other is an inherent part of permaculture. Its certainly is an important part of life.
    We live in local and a global communities that seem to have found new ways of contravening common sense, and the incorporation of at least some of the underlying principles of things such as permacultue can only be a benefit.
    In establishing my urban ag project SUN ( I have often ‘been accused of being a permaculturalist’.
    I deny this by saying I use some permaculture principles in creating a viable system based on sustainable common sense, altho they are certainly are certainly not the only ones I use.
    Now I can say what I think is most important, and something that is part of both permaculture and community gardens.
    Where I said 2 paras ago ‘viable’, I chose not to use the word profitable as I believe in sustainability (again an old rather than a new idea).
    Ways of doing things that provide social, environmental … and economic benefits.
    We happen to live in a world where the value of nearly everything is measured by the $.
    Here is a seed : when our societal methods of accounting for and measuring things go beyond $, we may transition to a better world.
    Food is the 3rd most important need for life after air and water (the 3 human rights).
    Those 3 rights are also the best (and cheapest) medicines.
    Growing it naturally is healing for individuals, society and the earth that hosts us.

    • the keystone to understanding this arc is found by exploring DESIGN and PATTERN

      the permaculture (PDC) view which the young permies project, is that there is a perfect, optimised “peak climax” state for every ecosystem that just needs to be found by “design”

      the “design” is based on finding/creating a pattern which will optimise the ecosystem

      problem is, that’s old thinking, based on ecology from the 60s and an idea of patterns as in A Pattern Language from Christopher Alexander, of Berkeley, CA

      both the science of ecology, and the work on patterns by Christopher Alexander have moved on, and in many important ways oppose the 60s view

      more correctly.. ecology is not stable, its dynamic, and the history of
      ecosystems are not of re-balancing climax ..

      I should add, Holmgren especially was a student of Odum, i.e. ecosystems are physical circuits

      Alexander now talks about second generation pattern languages, which he calls generative sequences

      generative sequences cannot be “designed”, they must be performed

      which means, the idea of designing a permaculture system, is more like gardening/farming than engineering

      for more on this see Adam Curtis, BBC journalist, All Watched Over By Machines of Love and Grace, The Use and Abuse of Vegetational Concepts

      permaculture synthesis as now standard in the Mollison/Lawton guru-pyramid-marketing-franchise is 40 years out of date

      get to gardening, along with “designing”

      ps: anyone who has designed software “patterns” knows the entire trillion dollar IT industry has a more “generative sequence” understanding of design, see Agile Programming etc

  26. Oh Chris
    I could have written your article myself!
    We too have a constant stream of volunteers who are interested in implementing their permaculture ideas…..they come to us specifically because it’s their thing…..makes me nervous, but they usually leave with possibly a slightly different view!
    Val 🙂

  27. Read your post Chris and most of the comments. I am reminded of some of the debates in the fields of my two income streams – keeping bees and making handcream from the wax and aromatherapy.

    In beekeeping, there are those who “nurture the bees with food in the spring, inspect regularly and act to prevent disease and swarming problems.” Or as some, “natural beekeepers” put it, “Exploit the bees, rip apart the brood nest every week, and fill the hives with pesticides.”

    The natural bee keepers, “Allow the colony to function in a way as close to nature as possible, giving the bees the chance to evolve in a way that they can deal with mites etc on their own.” Or, “behave irresponsibly, allowing bees to swarm and become a nuisance, and allow the build up of diseases that then affect other responsible bee keepers.”

    Of course, there are many gradations between these two extremes. Some of the hive types and regimes do allow a low input in terms of time and effort for the yield obtained but they make dealing with things like a queen that only produces stroppy bees more difficult. To get a higher yield also requires more hives but without having to inspect every week there is much less effort.

    What I see is people at both extremes who are dogmatic about the other being wrong and unwilling to look at what might be good practice in different situations.


  28. Nice piece. I haven’t had time to read all the comments but how about putting together an introductory pack for them – (leaflet or short talk) that explains your journey from where they are now (naive and idealistic?) to where you are now. It might help them to appreciate your perspective more and also help them to start learning from you.

  29. I agree with your analysis. Of course we will always find new tricks and ways to improve farming, but the quite different production systems which humans evolved over the globe over a long period, before the advent of full scale commercialization and fossil fuel dependence, are in many cases very good and locally well adapted to the conditions. Many of those systems had some typical permaculture features, few were true permacultures. Where I come from in Sweden, I see our traditional meadows as THE prime example of successful and sustainable use of the landscape, in a permaculture way (not very popular among vegans). But equally, annual crops and cultivation have played an important role.

  30. You might be interested to know that a group of us have just finished writing a permaculture research handbook aimed at encouraging folks to collect robust data. Those of us who have contributed have backgrounds in research.
    It should be available from the Permaculture Association very soon.

    • this is a really important development

      its this kind of serious, no-frills, quality, structured, systematic, sober and non-personalized work that fails to get done by the family-trust-guru complex

  31. I see the key problems more like this:

    Woolly boundary – quality control, but also sectarianism
    Woolly middle – articulating what is distinctive and unique
    Pseudoscience & not valuing evidence

    I see people being either too reluctant to say something isn’t, at least as seen or understood, permaculture. But then the opposite is probably worse, people saying a particular technique or approach cannot be part of a permaculture system. For me this is about a grounding in the core debates that crop up within permaculture, which cannot be covered sufficiently in a PDC. And a working sense of what permaculture is for you, which is not about judging other people’s work as up to the permaculture standard of not, bug about being confident enough in understanding to challenge others and engage in a dialogue where both participants can reconsider their ideas.

    Getting lost in techniques, without emphasising design. Yes good design is basically common sense, but though we know it’s right to step back and consider all the options, it is a valuable discipline not to jump in with fixed ideas and particular hobby-horse ideas that are going to be used come-what-may. The discipline to do that must be cultivated, as a practice.

    I have encountered a great deal among permaculture people, the tendency to see miracle cures and miracle systems. To put all blame on compounds and technologies, and all praise on changes of values and ethics. But there must be an active and self-critical accumulation of checking what works in practice, what is liveable, what happens with limits of labour capital space, and the vagaries of weather and support. Practicalities and compromises are important, as well as ideals.

  32. Chris, A big thank-you for the link to your debate with Angelo Eliades. It gives a specific case for several of the criticisms you make here, which is a big help, and it’s tempting to join that discussion. One issue I have with these criticisms of permaculture–and yours is only slightly guilty of this–is that they are too general to be useful. Saying “the PDC results in (x)” is a little like saying “reading books makes you believe everything that’s in print.” The statements are sometimes true for some people, rarely true for any one person all the time, and never true in all cases, so there’s little that one can do with the critique–and this is why I claim these critiques haven’t made much difference in 20 years of the them. A critique needs to say who, what and where, not “some people out there somewhere are doing this,” or it’s just a complaint, not a criticism. But we’re too oddly polite in this case to say “X did this at place Y and it resulted in this specific mess.” Permaculture has grown, but I don’t think these critiques are the reason why.
    Okay, I’ve derailed myself. Why I’m writing is that your debate with Angelo shows his dogmatism about permaculture’s principles, and that’s a good, specific example of your critique that can be unpacked and learned from. There is no principle that says “Permaculture uses perennials instead of annuals,” and if there were, it would be bad design and bad science. Using permaculture’s design methods, we often arrive at perennials as a solution because they have qualities that we’re looking for, such as less need for water and replanting, and they often create superior habitat (though I don’t think they use less fertilizer–fruit trees need plenty to yield heavily, and all plants, perennials and annuals, have most of their feeder roots in the top foot of soil–look at any book on roots.) But there are plenty of times when annuals are an equally good design solution; my zone 1 food bed is exclusively annuals now except for one giant tree kale, though ten years ago it was half perennials. Given my circumstances, annuals there work better for me. In other circumstances, I may revert to perennials. But we arrive at these solutions; a good designer never imposes perennials on a design for the sake of forcing perennials into the scheme. A local CSA is doing high-intensity annual cropping so well that it’s allowed them to greatly reduce their cropland size, putting the rest back into pure habitat. That may very well be more “sustainable” than the same area of food forest yielding scabby apples and anemic greens, something I’ve seen too much of in real food forests–as opposed to the fantasy ones that are going to feed the planet when we really learn how to do it in a hundred years.
    The same goes for the supposed principle “use small scale intensive systems.” There are plenty of times when a large-scale, extensive system is the right design solution (and what is a food forest if not a large-scale extensive system?)
    So I appreciate your perspective–that of someone who has actually grown food for market who understands the difference between how abundant temperate food forests just really must be because they seem so cool!!!! and how rarely they really are are, and who gets that there are principles that ask us to model nature–as in, “each element serves multiple functions” but there are also so-called principles that impose a particular viewpoint, like “use perennials” and “use intensive methods” that have little to do with natural systems and need to be stripped back to the biases and assumptions behind them.

  33. Toby, thanks for that interesting comment. My post was prompted in part by the exchange with Angelo, which is public (somewhat to my embarrassment, given the way I allowed myself to get riled) and which I’m therefore happy to quote. It was also prompted by a few interactions with visitors to our site with their freshly-minted PDCs, and I think it would be wrong to name names and get into the specifics. The post was mostly meant as a lighthearted look at some of my own interactions in the permaculture movement rather than as a general analysis, albeit trying to make some wider points, but perhaps I erred in over-generalising. Anyway, I think the debate above has been enlightening and interesting, so I think it was worth it. I’ve just posted a new comment about permaculture on my blog: Thanks for the interesting points about annuals & perennials.

  34. One year after i took Geoff Lawton’s PDC, i now have two large fish ponds, 15 garden beds, a large maincrop garden and added about a hundred more fruit trees in our existing food forest…i quit my job after my PDC and started digging soon after, it really was hard work for about eight months without income…i now enjoy my life in my farm…running my trading business at the same time…visit for details….cheers!

  35. There’s no doubt that anyone going through a PDC can react badly. I think doubting could be as bad or as a good a reaction than believing, or any other reaction : people can be intrinsically stupid. If we recognize that we know nothing, it may well be that believing is a good reaction in some case and doubting is wrong in some case, or it may be that nothing of this matter.
    In any case, a PDC will do a go enough job on the average people, the real and sole purpose of this course could well be to just empty one’s wallet, yet that could still be a good thing after all, who knows ?

  36. I’m in the UK. When I first heard about Permaculture I was very inspired and felt at last there may be some sanity in the way we grow food and care for the planet. I looked into taking a PDC. Tutors here charge between £300 and £600 for the 72 hour course. They have up to 20 people on each course. So they can take between £6000 and £12,000 to teach a 72 hour course. They don’t need a degree with all its associated costs. I know that a PDC tutor has costs but I ask you £6000 to £12,000 for 72 hours. Daylight robbery. Then I read a few blogs from tutors on the permaculture association site. What I read in some instances amounted to a religious teaching mixed in with some business style jargon. No, this was all wrong and not what I expected at all. These self appointed gurus with their inflated sense of self importance along with their grossly inflated incomes have destroyed all the credibility that the movement should have gained. Shame on them.

  37. This isn’t accurate at all. First, no PDC is only 72 hours of work for the instructor; most PDCS run 84-120 hours of class, and there is weeks of prep time for every course, not to mention the exhaustion afterwards that takes a few days of rest for all involved to recover from. That’s why virtually no PDC instructors teach more than 3 or 4 a year; there isn’t time to do more. Nearly all courses are done by more than one teacher, so the income for the teachers is divided among several people. Most courses are residential, thus room and board costs must be deducted. Meals, which must be organic, varied, and extremely well prepared or class rebellion ensues, usually run $10-15 USD per day for food alone, and courses hire 1-2 chefs to cook, costing $1000-2000 or more, since it’s full-time work to cook for 20+ people. The course has a huge impact on the site where it is held, even if the students merely camp: toilet rental, shower setup, kitchen, permits, water bill, waste disposal, insurance, and on and on. And the landowner has a right to some compensation for the land use, so they get paid for the site rental. The venue, chefs, and organizers of residential courses usually receive 2/3 or more of the course income for their work, leaving the teachers with the small remainder. Plus there are hundreds of hours spent in organizing the course. The sponsors for my last local PDC billed nearly 200 hours to organize and market it, in addition to over 200 hours of my time and other instructors. Subtract all the expenses from the gross income, divide the remainder by 400 hours, and you get a pretty small hourly wage for all concerned. Add in the fact that a fair percentage of PDCs fail to get enough students, so all the hours spent in preparing those are a dead loss.

    It sounds like Peter has never run a business, and certainly has never organized a PDC. The idea that the 72 (or 84-120) hours of instruction constitute even a small fraction of the time spent in running a PDC, even for the teachers, is naive. Notice that many venues and beginning teachers never do more than a single PDC. That’s because so many PDCs are money-losers for all concerned. I taught at least 10 PDCs before my hourly wage was more than $3 or so.

    It’s wise to get a few facts rather than condemning an entire class of people based on groundless assumptions.

    • Thank you for that Toby, well said! I’d love to know where this myth of the ‘rolling in it’ permaculture teacher comes from! I’ve certainly never met them, most have pretty modest incomes, often below the UK set minimum wage at least in terms of what they earn for their teaching activities! As you stated, there are a raft of expenses and outlays involved in a PDC, ranging from venue hire, insurance costs, materials, catering, paying tutors (usually at least 2 or 3 ‘main tutors’ plus guest tutors and speakers, etc), paying support staff who are working in the back ground making things run smoothly, and so on and so on.

      Reversing the perspective, a £300 – £600 quid 72 hour (at least) PDC seems like pretty good value to me however you want to size it up, assuming it’s over 10 days that is between 30 to 60 quid a day, not sure how many other courses you can take that are that reasonable, especially as most PDCs are self-funding rather than subsidised by grants, etc. Most courses in the UK also have bursaries in place in order to enable those who are less well off to be able to attend the course without paying the full amount, in some cases free of charge or for expenses only.

      Sure the quality of some courses is variable, and certainly has been in the past, but most UK teachers these days that I know take their practice seriously and are committed to delivering high quality, learner centred courses, as well as continually developing their own practice. The UK Permaculture Association will only accredit courses that fulfil the criteria laid out in their Core Curiculum and are developing quality assurance systems for PDCs, including ensuring that those teaching are themselves trained and comptent to do so (and then get flak for being ‘bueracratic control freaks’ – damned if you do, damned if you dont!). Anyway, must away to bed, I’m running a Permaculture Introductory Course this weekend, two full days of my time (excluding preparation time, planning and time spent on publicising and promotion) during which I will dedicate myself to giving the participants the best learning experience that I possibly can , for which I’m probably not likely to recieve much more than my travel costs in terms of payment.

      • the teach the teacher model of permaculture has been its great strength

        for a small timer running a PDC is a big/huge undertaking and its a lot of material and the traditional course is a live-in, immersive thing

        it can be transformative

        online diploma mills seem to be costing the same $ and the profits must be considerable

        the obvious fact is that for many people, esapecially now with the Great Recession and the squeezing of the middle class even a standard PDC is too much money

        so, general rampant inequity and dodgey online business models

        Scientology, Amway & university of phoenix are not good business models for the permaculture movement

        I’d like to see the state subsidize permaculture like plumbing or cooking or any other skilled trade

        Robyn Francis pushed Accredited Permaculture Training into the public education system in NSW a few years ago and it needs serious lobbying to make it a national interest investment for the future

  38. I’d have to agree with Toby & Graham above – having been slightly involved in planning PDCs in the past I concur that it’s no cash cow. Toby’s point about small business experience is important, and much the same applies to small-scale farming – the barriers to running a successful small business are prodigious, and the hidden subsidies available to the big guys rarely apply. In the world of ‘alternative’, land-based work this is compounded by the fact that a lot of would be punters are sniffy about money and often nurture rather superficial and romantic notions about the land as a ‘common treasury for all’ (a phrase I agree with as a generalised political statement of intent, but one that gets complicated as soon as you start looking at the flows of capital, labour and reward associated with garnering any of the land’s ‘treasures’)…sounds like a topic for another blog post!

  39. It is difficult to object to Geoff Lawton’s enthusiasm, or to Bill Mollison’s wonderful anarchist wit.
    Together they educated our group of 84 hopefuls.
    There was no mention of the Permaculture Research Institute receiving the $128,000; I think there might have been a disclaimer mentioning an obscure company as promoter.
    Online PDCs are a step back from our University of Melbourne venue, though such a venue is not a patch on visiting studying and learning on a real farm
    To see and hear the old master engulfed in long related and semi-related stories was a life highlight.
    And the friends you make at a PDC are often the ones who are still with you.
    Toby Hemenway mentioned that often a particular PDC is often never duplicated, due to the strain and expense of mounting the first one.
    I conclude from my various experiences regarding permaculture, that those who can continually command a paying audience are the ones who are doing the most for the expansion of the knowledge, and therefore the money becomes a secondary consideration to the act.

    • I dont think anyone is disputing that Bill and Geoff are gifted and inspiring teachers, even if the content of the curriculum is idiosyncratic and error prone.

      but that’s not the point of the post and the gist of most of the content

      the problem is, permaculture is supposed to be more than a gardening system, its an ethical framework

      and the ethical system is violated constantly by the very people that created it, the fair share and people care aspect is the weakest component

      if all you want is inspiration and information, than be content

      if you want an ethical framework for cooperation and action, than, well, you can try to work the peak body and its networks (and watch as your energy and cash is captured) or you can try something else

      • Fair share is NOT the third ethic, certainly not the way it is taught and parroted. Perhaps if many didn’t try to rewrite the ethics for their own political agenda, we’d all do a better job following them?

        “Setting limits to population and consumption” also expressed as RETURN OF SURPLUS (return not redistribution) is the third ethic. No wonder you are frustrated with Permaculture you didn’t get past the first part with out being taught a drastically altered version of it.

        As to those that teach permaculture not following the ethics of people care and RETURN OF SURPLUS, who are these people you speak of?

        • Is this really true. I am currently doing the PDC and have been told Fair Shares. Looby McNamara also uses this (as far as I remember) in her book ‘People and Permaculture’.

  40. excellent article and I could not agree more with you! every farm, micro farm and yard is its own eco system and micro climate and no too can be tendered the same! I mayself also find the commercialism by some of these gurus a bit disgusting! On one hand they poo poo the system and on the other they milk it. I have nothing against making a living but I have seen classes ranging from 15k where you live at the “school” to the lowest so far ( who said it was free ) and then it turns out he was charging a bit under $400.00 dollars! I am a follower of Masanobu Fukuoka for one thing he was honest and explained so much but mostly because he stated that gardening is a journey of self discovery as much as in discovering nature. This is whats lacking as well as common sense! I look forward to reading more from you!

  41. An amusing if not uncommon conclusion drawn from your very justified frustrations. A cult of personality – check. Insufficient training offering unsubstantiated diploma – check. Exploitative con artists profiteering off naive idealists – check.

    “I know who’s to blame – it’s those danged young people! How dare they believe the unproven baloney we’ve poorly taught them? The nerve to actually use the title of ‘designer’ that we swindled them for! If I didn’t need them for free labour I’d have nothing to do with them!”

    • Well, that bears absolutely no relation to what I actually think, but if you want to interpret my comments that way, so be it and thanks for sharing.

      For what it’s worth, I really appreciate the energy, enthusiasm and skills of the many young people who wish to volunteer on my holding – both permaculture trained and otherwise – and I’ve learned a lot from them. But I generally prefer spending time around people who engage positively with what I am doing (the majority) than with those who like to sourly criticise me for what I’m not doing (the minority, albeit that PDC holders are more highly represented in this latter group). I find the fact that I used to be in the latter group myself food for a lot of valuable self-reflection and learning. And I find the lack of self-reflection or self-critique among certain (not all) permaculturists irrespective of age to be disappointing. Not that this trait is restricted to permaculturists.

      Anyway, I’m glad that my rather casual and off the cuff post has prompted such a lot of interesting responses.

  42. Pingback: What is Permaculture? + a Permaculture Design Certificate Course (PDC) in Sweden | samuel foose

  43. Excellent article: needs to be said. Climate Smart Agriculture (CSA) and agricultural Climate Adaptation needs solid research behind it. This lack of research to prove/disprove permaculture’s claims, I’d hazard, is why Permaculture is not yet on the FAO’s list of CSA techniques yet. More research published please everyone.
    Many thanks,

  44. Well stated piece. As a retired veteran teacher with 40 years of teaching experience, the last 31 in public schools, I see an analogy between what you have observed in people graduating from Permaculture courses and the kinds of attitudes veteran teachers began seeing from new certificated teacher candidates who began to join or ranks in the early 90’s. It is interesting what social and political attitudes and a sometimes myopic sense of mission can do to those enthusiastically entering a new field of endeavor. I observe that it seems everyone loves heroes and seemingly infallible role models, although for those instructors and practitioners put up on the pedestal, it can be quite challenging and frankly annoying. Time will fix most errors in certainty, and will allow experience and difficult challenges to temper enthusiasm and narrow focused confidence. It is kind of like when you are a young teen, you start to think your parents do not know anything and are out of touch, but later after you’ve weathered the tumultuous 20’s and 30’s at some time in the process you realize your parents were wiser and had more knowledge and experience than you thought.

    At 62, upon retiring from teaching, I finally had the time and opportunity to enroll in my state’s Master Gardener Program. I have noted there are so many different instructors with different knowledge, experiences, philosophies and personal missions, in any other setting it would be chaos. But this alphabet soup of information and personalities creates a delightful, challenging struggle to find one’s direction, padded with that which advances one’s journey. It is a continuous lifelong learning event. And frankly allows us to continue to grow and not lose our fire.

    I for one am glad to see young people interested in farming and gardening, and interested in finding success while not committing murder of the ecosystem with their efforts. It is somehow comforting to know that chasing after the polished profits once gained from the fields of allopathic medicine, law, and becoming captains of industry have worn thin for some up and coming generations. I wish them good luck and successful learning of that which they need to figure out to be successful all along the continuum of their lives. Nature has a way of balancing things out. We will all be better for it.

  45. This article is absolutely a waste of internet space. Let me tell you a true story… I watched Geoff Lawtons “Establishing A Food Forest” and in the space one hour I became a complete new person. Before I watched the video I was an unemployed Afghanistan war veteran completely destroyed as a human being. With 24 hours of watching the video I began my first garden (a balcony garden). I began eating from my garden within two weeks. I went on to grow over 90 different crops on a 4×25 foot balcony….Fast forward four years….Every day since I have watched that video I have eaten from my own porch garden…I have worked for three years at a garden center (novel concept new permies…try it) AND I have started my own farm where the purpose of the farm is to feed the FARMER and his family, where I take the returned half dead plants from the garden center and bring them back to life in my FOOD FOREST (my retirement account). I can’t ever freakin fathom what would have happened if I had taken an actual PDC. I guess I looked at the 1000 dollar price tag and subtracted the 100 dollar price tag and came up with 900 good reasons to get the Designers Manual (and actually fucking read it). The bottom line is ever since I got involved in Permaculture I have had basic income, food, friends, love, health and a TON of shit to do. I don’t know where so many people are allegedly going wrong and why we are arguing about stupid “can we feed the world” crap. Of course we can. You start with yourself. And don’t blame the Purple Breathers. My cannabis driven aura charged crystal kabbalistic metaphysics sees through laziness and the notion that education (the so called PDC) equals common sense, personal initiative, work ethic and experience.

    • Hi Benjamin – yes, there are many ways of arriving at the truth that it’s not so difficult to grow our own food. Permaculture is certainly one of them and it’s how I got into all this, but it’s not the only one. Obviously, people were doing it long before anyone had come up with the notion of permaculture. The point of my post is not to oppose permaculture as such, though I do think inflated claims are often made on its behalf, but the fixed thinking that often emerges from the PDC process. So, you’ve worked out a system that works for you in your particular setting, probably learned a bunch of lessons along the way that you don’t find in any manual, and tweaked your systems as you’ve gone. Now imagine someone who’s just done a PDC with little practical experience turning up as a volunteer on your farm and telling you that you’re doing it all wrong because you’re not following the advice of Guru X. That’s the kind of thing I’m gunning at in this article – and judging from the response I think it was worth saying. But it doesn’t negate what you’re saying either – there are many paths worth following.

  46. Pingback: Permaculture? | sustainableglasgow

  47. I really like this stuff. Thank you all. A bit of a confidence boost for me to actually see people communicate without abuse. I was recently knocked off a Fbook permie site because I admitted I used by painting, glypho once upon a time on my above wetland home site. Lots of abuse and flubbing as well as asked if I was a qualified permaculturalist. If not, off you go then girlie… out. It’s really nice to see the debate without threat of exclusion or shaming. Good on you Folks…

  48. I am currently going a PDC (one weekend per month) and during the first weekend I became disillusioned, so at the very least I am glad to have found this post with its interesting comments.

    I don’t know where I stand in order to add to the debate, except to say that my own background is academic and permaculture appears to have some way to go before it looses what appear to me to be its woolly edges.

    I also think that the PDC needs to be incorporated with the diploma – no point in theory, theory, theory and little chance to test it out. I say this a a language teacher for some twenty-five years who was already practising something which might be termed permaculture before the course (I didn’t know it was permaculture until I was introduced later to the concept).

  49. Pingback: The Culture of Permaculture: Vermont Practitioners reject the dogma, embrace the principles – HEADWATERS MAGAZINE

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