Prepare, Sustain, Thrive and Survive Simply

What Does a Permaculture Design Course Sound Like?

I have spent the past two weeks volunteering at the Inland Northwest Permaculture Guild PDC (Permaculture Design Course). There are pictures on Pinterest and Facebook  that answer the question: “What Does a Permaculture Design Course Look Like?”

permaculture observation

Observation is the starting point in permaculture

Here are some examples of things I’ve learned:

Permaculture is about designing living solutions that are evolving, low maintenance, energy-efficient, self-replicating, productive systems that are scalable to any property large or small, urban or rural.

Good permaculture designs produce food, energy, shelter, and fiber, where human or other outside energy inputs diminish over time.  They also reduce waste. In permaculture thinking, waste and pollution are synonymous with chaos.


The first day’s morning circle starts with a song:

What is permaculture?
What is Permaculture?
I don’t know.
I don’t know.
People say we’re crazy
Others say we’re lazy.
Seeds to sow.
Plants to grow.

Basically, permaculture is a way to replicate little gardens of Eden everywhere.

“All elements work together and evolve over time to blend harmoniously into a complete and sustainable agricultural system.” Larry Korn

“There is a way of growing that does not require us to work against nature” Jordan

We’ve got to get past the point of being convinced that we have to struggle against nature.

The goal of permaculture is sustainable thrival. Functions of elements are integrated in a design with the goal of maximum results where labor inputs diminish after time. Labor requirements will go down in a year. Over a 50-year time span, they will be dramatically reduced and plateau. Labor input changes also, from system building to harvest activities.

Permaculture requires acute observation and highly mindful design. Design elements include human use, flora, fauna, water, air, sun, and structures arranged for premier efficiency.

The key word here is design. Permaculture is a consciously designed system. The designer carefully uses his/her knowledge, skill and sensitivity to make a plan, then implement it. Fukuoka created natural farming from a completely different perspective.

Permaculture designers aim for symbiotic, sustainable habitat for a wide diversity of species.

Michael Pularski convenes the first circle and makes announcements about the facilities and how things are run. There is talk about water and sanitation, fire safety, and how to walk in the woods and not get a hawthorne thorn stuck in the foot. There is a warning about ticks and rattle snakes. Michael asks if there is anyone trained in health care in the circle: Rachel is a nurse, and there are several first responders, an herbalist, and people with herbal remedies.

Michael is passionate and knowledgable about plants. He says in his perfect world he would like to know every plant, its ethnobotany and modern uses. He wants to know it by its sprout, leaf, flower, bark, and what it looks like when it’s standing dead. He wants to know what pollinates it, eats it, and what plant community it lives in: what its uses are, when is the best time to harvest, and how it is best processed and proliferated.

“This place has got so many great weeds,” Michael

Along with back-to-back learning sessions, students get three meals, free camping, hot showers, group sweats in the wood-fired sauna, use of the reference library, and camaraderie with like-minded people who see potential for huge cultural improvements by practicing permaculture. They are also expected to pitch in on various housekeeping chores. There are permaculture books and herbal tinctures for sale in the upper meeting room.

“We’re going to be a community for two weeks,” Michael Pularski says, and he seems to mean the people and every plant, bird, bug, and critter on the 8-acre retreat. He says there will be a talent show on the last day.

The goal of permaculture is community building during the course and around the world, he says.

Day 2

Permaculture is about interconnection, symbiosis, integrating systems, combining relationships. It requires long and protracted observation that results in enhanced people-nature relationship.

Permacuture is transformative. Not with force, but by using the trajectory of what nature is already doing, like Aikido.

After taking the PDC, Michael says, you will never see the world the same again. Everywhere you look in human-altered landscapes, the problems will be more evident. Same with the solutions.

He’s. I’m one of the camp gofers. I drove to Spokane and after being submerged in permaculture for a week, it was surreal. “Why are people choosing to live like this?” I wondered.

“When it comes to permaculture, the more you know the crazier you sound.” Paul Wheaton

Permaculture is being practiced around the world from the Arctic Circle to Antarctica. Permaculture solutions are localized and they change according to the landscape, client and designers, but the basic ethics and principles remain the same.

Each PDC also turns out to be unique. “Permaculture itself is a bit like the story of the elephant and group of blind men,” Michael says. Each one touches the elephant on a different part of its body, and so perceptions of what it looks like vary wildly for each man. Permaculture is adaptable rather then dogmatic, and evolving rather than static.

More than 300,000 people around the world have learned the fundamental ethics, principles, and techniques of permaculture and obtained Certificates of Permaculture Design. Permaculture principles are spreading and its benefits are mutiplying exponentially. That’s good, because permaculture is all about thriving.

Permaculture is life changing, mind blowing, easy, efficient, beautiful, proactive activism that blends ancient wisdom and appropriate technology. It is grounded in rationality.  When practiced well, permaculture enhances self-reliance and resourcefulness, solves problems, and provides right livelihood and profit with surplus.

Permaculture is an applied science. The applied parts means the knowledge is not valuable until it is being practiced.

Permaculture in the United States has mostly taken hold among the educated middle class, Michael says, but in the Third World, which he calls the Two-Thirds World, it is taking hold among the lower economic grassroots.

Bill Molison created the first permaculture curriculum in 1982. He then created a special curriculum that addresses dry land and semi arid lands, and that was added to the original curriculum four years later. The current permaculture design course provides the checklist of things all students of permacuture should know at this point.

In a permascape, maintenance chores, like weeding and pruning decline and harvesting goes up.

“It’s amazing how many things can share the same space if you have enough water.” Skeeter


“A leaf spends half its life alive, the other half dead.”

“Everything gardens” Bill Mollison, the father of permaculture.

The 30 plus students who complete the two-week intensive residential course obtain a Certificate of Permaculture Design. Others may drop in for several days, one day, or half days during the course. People who already obtained their PDCs are present and available to answer questions, tutor students, and help with homework.

Sessions start after breakfast and morning circle, and last all day with breaks for lunch and dinner. On most evenings, there are videos or guest speaker sessions after dinner.

If you want to know more about permaculture, just Google it and check out the YouTube videos. I especially enjoy the ones hosted by Geoff Lawton

Well, I’m in the common room where a couple of the guys who aren’t tenting are going to sleep, so I’m off to my camp.





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