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Following up on PRI USA’s First PDC on Molokai

by Jill Ross, Co-host/Lunch Lady

Yes, it’s official! April 11th, on the beautiful island of Molokai, the Permaculture Research Institute USA completed its first Permaculture Design Certificate (PDC) course. With the enthusiasm of a student himself, instructor Andrew Jones passed out certificates to 13 budding permaculturists.

PDC students, instructor and convenors

Andrew Jones – PDC Instructor

The two-plus weeks leading up to that day were an adventure worth sharing, and the connections made far exceeded our expectations. We ceremoniously composted a rooster, worked out a design for Molokai’s only homeless shelter, hooked up with friends of Bill Mollison and lined up an extreme earthworks practicum, to name a few.

This PDC was scheduled to take place on a 40-acre Hawaiian Homelands farm. Less than a month before the start date, we couldn’t connect with the owner. As more students registered, our anxiety grew. Unwilling to consider canceling our first gig, we secured a house rental in Kaunakakai and found a campground for the students.

After we arrived on lovely little Molokai, we hit a few more bumps in the road. Keys were locked in the rental car, our trusty instructor and his wife (my new culinary heroine) were unexpectedly held up in Honolulu, unseasonably strong tradewinds haunted the students’ campground, and we had to work with a less-than optimal sized septic-tank that was quickly approaching full capacity.

Dano Gorsich gives PDC students a tour
of the 3-acre Permaculture farm (known
as Permafarm) that supports his CSA
delivery service on Molokai

In an attempt to find alternate lodging for our wind-blown students, we were given the number to the Kolapa House of Charity. After talking story with Steve Jenkins (owner/operator), he graciously offered to pick them up with his twelve-passenger van and give them a tour of his quarters. When Steve arrived for pick-up, we had a few minutes to chat while the students gathered their things.

We had been trying, without success, to locate the Permaculture farm that Bill Mollison worked with in the 1980s. The words ‘Permaculture Farm’ were barely out before Steve offered, “Yeah, Robin and Dano’s place, I can drive you up there”. Thankful for all the Aloha he’d shown us, we made plans for a field trip to Robin and Dano Gorsich’s Permafarm where we would see how smart Permaculture design and implementation (and a hell of a lot of persistence) can sustain a family of six for 20 plus years, and put all four kids through college. It appeared that our initial bad luck turned out to be synchronicity at its finest. It had led us back to where Mollison first began his work on Molokai over 20 years ago, and shot us forward to pick up where he left off.

After a speculative hour at the Kolapa House, the students decided to return to the campground. Intent on making their beach-side digs work, they quickly began grouping their tents and building wind-breaks. It turns out the Kolapa House does more than offer guided tours of the island, it’s one of a handful of existing homeless shelters in Hawaii (and Molokai’s only one). It also ended up being the site students did their design project for. With all our ducks in a row (mahalo for the delicious eggs Robin and Dano), we were ready to proceed.

In addition to covering the intense curriculum, we all managed to get our hands nice and dirty. We converted all our kitchen scraps (plus a suicidal rooster named Randy – see clip at bottom) into a beautiful steaming pile of compost and heaped it onto the swale we built on the rental property. We also saved anywhere from 150-300 gallons of water by peeing in buckets and reserving the urine for the trees (and took some pressure off the septic system).

Besides our tour of the Permafarm, we also checked a student’s geographically challenging land (think mountain side, 4wd or a 20 minute walk) where, through intense earthworks, he’s attempting to save the reef down-stream from his property. He has already excavated three ponds, designed to filter the sediment from the run-off that dumps into the picturesque ocean below.

As you can see, learning from PRI USA’s first PDC reached far beyond the classroom. We learned how Molokai imports up to 90% of its food on a barge that arrives twice a week. We experienced first-hand how Molokai’s grocery store shelves have less and less to offer as the week progresses. But, we also discovered an island that is deeply loved and respected by its residents. And that the people of Molokai want to transform the way they live to become more sustainable and self-sufficient like their ancestors. And we would like to extend our services.

Starting this September, PRI USA will be offering additional courses on Molokai, including another PDC, two design practicums and an intensive earthworks course. Check back soon for course listings. With much aloha, a hui hou!

As Bill Mollison would say, “though the problems of the world are increasingly complex, the solutions remain embarrassingly simple”.



  1. Lunch lady you summed it up very well. An amazing learning and growing experience, laced with zany laughter.PRI is my home page. It was an honor to see my face along with my class mates, on a site I gather so much knowledge from! Thanks Jill!

  2. I was there! ’twas an amazing time and I left with much confidence, thank you so much! I hope dano creates that geometric floating classroom by the river for you to teach in…

    aloha and mahalo from the mainland!

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