How To Transition To a Permaculture Lifestyle

My message to Permaculturists: Known or unbeknownst to you — you are an exceptionally valuable and powerful human being. You are armed with the knowledge and information to bring you and the people around you into a place of abundance and harmony. You are powerful, and if you choose to be, are a pillar in your community for guidance and leadership. Know that through your knowledge of natural systems and patterns you hold the keys to the future of humanity — being able to provide the best options and decision-making processes for an abundant future. Understand your value and worth. We are going to need you — start now!

If you hold a Permaculture Design Certificate, and feel like many PDC graduates, that you are missing or lacking something, or do not have the knowledge or experience you need to give you confidence in making holistic design decisions for your life, or as a career, then please let me know how I can be of service to you to help you gain the skills you require to be the best you can be.

It has been a mystery in permaculture on how to transition (still pay the bills so to speak) from our current situation/lifestyle into an abundant and free permaculture lifestyle. In this post I have laid out a step by step guide on how to transition towards a free and abundant lifestyle. It is not the way as there is hardly ever only one way to do something. However, know that for the first time, that I am aware of, a step by step guideline has been introduced that will make your dream a reality.

Here is the outline to the steps:

1. Continue doing exactly what you are doing. You will need money to make the transition, so unless completely possible, it is not good to simply drop what you are doing try to carve out a food forest in the bush.

2. You must get educated!
Would it be wise to go scuba diving without knowing how to breathe through a regulator? If you want to learn how to live with naturally designed systems then you must learn how they work. It is imperative to embrace and take a Permaculture Design Course (PDC). This will teach you not only the natural systems but also new ways of thinking that will empower you to live how you want.

3. Become a Weekend Warrior.
Once you are a permaculture designer (which you will be after your PDC graduation) you are then able to start consulting and designing for people. Do 5-10 of these right away for free. Go to your friends, co-workers, family, and even put ads on websites like Craigslist, Facebook, and to let people know of your new credentials and that you are willing to consult and design their land/backyard/front yard/house/homestead/farm/lifestyle for free and help to get it implemented. (Depending on size of the project you may or may not be able to actually implement the work, but I would recommend that you do try to get the 5-10 consultations implemented — so maybe stick to jobs that are less than 1 acre for these early consultations. This is good anyhow as many consultations are needed in the urban/suburban areas.)

4. Permablitz.
A major expense in permaculture is the implementation. Since I am suggesting that you do your first 5-10 designs in the urban/suburban area, I am also suggesting that you get the design implemented using the “permablitz” method. The basis of a permablitz is that people who want to gain hands-on experience developing permaculture projects can do so in exchange for helping with the implementation. You can post on websites, or Facebook, or that you (as a credentialed permaculture designer) are hosting a permablitz to offer both teaching of the permaculture strategies and techniques that will be implemented and also the very valuable hands on experience (which is hard to obtain under a knowledgeable/experienced teacher).

Since the project is under 1 acre it means the only costs involved for the property owner is the cost of food and drink for the crew and materials (trees, plants, cover crop, water storage, etc…) if needed.

Organizing this event will offer leadership experience, organizing experience, and help in a number of networking efforts and also create community with people who want to learn and help.

5. Establishing your Permaculture Practice.
Now that you have 5-10 projects under your belt and have gained some experience, knowledge, and have a portfolio — you can now start your Permaculture Design Consultancy business. A permaculture designer with this experience, knowledge, and credentials can demand a $300 daily rate for consulting and or implementing (as of December 2013 in the Dallas, TX, USA market – the rates may be different in your particular area). However I would recommend staying with the permablitz model for implementation when possible as it is a win win win situation. I would also advise to get some marketing, negotiating, and business skills — nothing major, just enough to stay organized and balanced. The most important will be marketing skills.

6. Multiple income streams.
Depending on your situation and available free time — you may only be able to do these projects on the weekend. This is fine. Start part time on the weekends and make an extra $300 per weekend.

What to do with the extra $300 per session
(in no particular order):

  • If in debt then the money will be used to pay it off.
  • If you need to purchase property then this extra money will be used to help purchase property and materials.
  • Start implementation of permaculture techniques and strategies on your property. You will now be practicing what you preach and teach. This will also raise your value to prospective customers — especially if they want to see a finished or developing property. People trust what they can see.

7. Build self-reliance. If you keep doing this then you will become out of debt and obtain property and will be able to start producing at least some of the things you currently need a job (income) for. This is the one scenario where burning the candle at both ends is working to your benefit. Your weekend work is meaningful and will start to turn into full time work, because you are becoming less and less dependent on your weekday source of income — until ultimately you do not ‘need’ that weekday income at all, and you go to it only because you ‘want’ to, and not because you ‘need’ to.

8. Just do it. Now that you have a plan for transition it is important you stick to the path. Be flexible when needed but commit to obtaining freedom for your life through sustainability and permaculture. Now go rock this life — it is the only one you’ve got!

Nicholas Burtner

Nicholas is a permaculture practitioner, advocate, consultant, teacher and speaker. After a greater calling in 2011, permaculture found Nicholas and since has filled him with an endless passion that has led him to many travels, learning, spreading, and practicing permaculture and natural living ever since. Apart from consulting and designing properties across a large arena of different climates and bio-regions, Nicholas has attended internships at the Permaculture Research Institute of Australia under the leadership of Geoff and Nadia Lawton. He also obtained a permaculture design certification from Geoff Lawton and Bill Mollison. Nicholas has also attended the Earthship Academy for natural and recycled building construction in Toas, NM under the guidance of Michael Reynolds. After very worthwhile learning, and on the ground experiences, Nicholas opened Working With Nature Permaculture Learning, Research, and Healing Center in late 2012 which is now School of Permaculture. The school has both an urban and a rural demonstration / educational site which offer hands on experience as well as class room learning. School of Permaculture’s website offers permaculture related tips, videos, and articles on a mostly daily basis.


  1. How refreshing to read a positive article after the glut of negatives we have seen in the last few days. Even if you don’t want a career in permaculture design, I think it is important to change yourself first, then your property and neighbors. People will begin to notice, and that is how we change the world.

  2. Empowering! Thanks… We need more such blogposts everywhere for pre- and post-PDC permaculturists. It feels good no have strong company on the way.

  3. This is a great start point and it gives a good idea of the direction people need to head to get the permaculture lifestyle happening.

  4. I can’t count the number of skeptics who say “Sure it’s nice to grow some stuff in your backyard, but how do you ever plan to make a living doing this?” In their minds this is nothing more than a glorified hobby that I talk incessantly about. I really like that these steps make so much sense. This is basically the plan that I am following right now to transition. The only thing I would add to this is that you need to write down your goals. Whether it is a design for your yard, or a business plan for your consultancy, putting your plans into a hard real-world copy instead of keeping them in your head can solidify your goals and keep you motivated to actually complete them. Either put it in writing, or tell everyone what you want to do. When a lot of people know, they will ask you all the time how you are doing and you will be more likely to follow through! Great article.

  5. Great article. The same approach could be used for someone wanting to become a permaculture farmer, weekends in your back yard, leased yard down the road etc while building skills, knowledge systems. There is plenty of space for a lot more Permaculture designers/ consultants out there but Permaculture farmers are even rarer and just as necessary for a sustainable future. Better still would be to apply permaculture to your current job, occupation as the permaculture farmer and designer will still need a lot of other goods and services in this sustainable future. Some specialization and trade is very healthy.

  6. Thank you, Thank you, Thank you…
    Nothing short of brilliant, appreciate your thoughts on this subject Nicholas.

  7. Yep. This is how to do this. Don’t underestimate the value of these free consultations. I would also add if or when you have the time get some teaching credentials as they can gain you entre to mainstream educational bodies. My trainers’s training has enabled me to present at Tafe.

  8. Iam very interested by your post. My impression is that the most important on the permaculture path is to think step by step. A step by step thinking or attitude. I often feel alone with all the knowlegdes to learn, the books, the experiences to do etc. It is usually a bad moment. And then the step by step thinking make a come back in my mind, and the I feel good. Oh yes, now I will always try to remember “Step by step thinking, step by step attitude “

    1. I have and often feel similarly – so much to learn and experience, with limited proximal community for support. We are not alone! Even if we don’t have someone physically in our lives to learn with, we can start a Skype pen pal or chat on permaculture forums. We must remember that we are not alone.

  9. This type of wisdom needs to be expanded upon and taught in every PDC! Maybe ask the students to develop a “transition plan” that is very specific to their situation.

  10. I have land (100 ares). i subscribe to permaculture values and princiles (recent PDC graduate). Unfortunately, I have lmited physical abilities (septugenarian), Beautiful No San Diego Co sub-tropical environment. Adjacent to many Native American reservations (they really NEED permaculture introduced into their lands). I am thinking demonstration projacts aimed at introducing permaculture to reservation communities. Does any of this interest you? If so, contact me. Maybe we (you) can make something happen.

    1. eftey,

      I would be more than happy to help. And the reservation next door would be a prize if they were interested.
      Email me so we can discuss
      “change the (at) to the @ symbol when emailing”

      and congrats on the septugenarianism

  11. Guys thank you so much for showing support and commenting on this article. I totally appreciate your feedback – it makes me feel awesome yet humbled knowing we are all in this to help. You are powerful and valuable – Do not be discouraged, move forward focused and boldly!

    A video about on this topic and other permaculture related videos can be found on my YouTube channel at the link below.

    You guys are so Awesome!

  12. I have an idea for a business with permacultre in mind. When I get my land ready, allow vacationers to stay for a chance to experience how to live the permaculture life style. Fishing, animals, and workshops available.

  13. Great idea Chris. It would help expose people to permaculture in practice. Google “agrotourism” for related ideas.

  14. Solid advice and awesome underlying sentiment Nicholas – well done! I skipped #1 (which in retrospect I agree with, though on balance I’m not sure I regret this or not) but the rest ring very true of what worked for me in navigating the transition. One step I’d consider adding (you touch on it in #) is “Find and attach yourself to appropriate mentors.” In my experience if you pester them long enough they eventually give in and let you in. Just track them down then run up and grab onto their leg and don’t let go till they teach you some stuff.

  15. THANKS Love your outlook on transitioning. One of my long time negatives has been that a lot of people go into our Permaculture World with a poverty mentality. That then becomes an example for the wider community. We need to set achievable examples showing passion credibility and professionalism. Even having landscaping and leadership skills, I know that I will stay in my well paid daytime work until I can achieve the transition I envisage. Thanks again for this great post.

  16. I checked you video. You really get a key issue here that might be critical for a successful transition in our planet, nicholas! See, i feel you are kind of talking about a first (realistic) phase that must happen on a broad scale with help from persons like yourself. And i like to add that ( in case we havend vanished before… Sorry!), reaching the end of that ” doubbel burned candle” will only be a platform for the next much more couragious step… The step of absolute TRUST ans SHARING. The step away from money4value into value2sharing! What i want to say is expressed best in the new documentary from Joseph Redwood-Martinez. Onedayeverything or directly through this link You can download a copy of the documentary here: (For best quality, I would recommend downloading the file and not watching the video streaming online.)

  17. quite inspiring,this article came at the right time for me, i purchased 8 acres piece of land and wanted to start designing it, am highly inspired and i willtry the free designing for others to gain more exprience n also have a team to work with, be blessed

  18. I’m 2 weeks away from finishing my PDC. I want to share some quotes from Bill Mollison cited in my PDC:
    “Don’t worry about being able to identify each of these plants (in your designs for clients). The world is full of botanists and horticulturists. All you have to do is design. You don’t have to be a botanist; you don’t have to be a bulldozer driver; you don’t have to be a fence builder; you don’t have to be an architect. What the designer has to do is look at the relationships.”

  19. I am happy to not teach or be a consultant but I love learning and practicing permaculture. A see myself as a student and a worker or implementer of designs. I am good at guilds and these days I have a lot of gardening skills and knowledge. For me, I enjoy sharing knowledge in a one on one way but the moment I become an employee then the whole dynamic changes and it is not a dynamic I like. Just prefer to get my hands dirty either on my own or as part of a team. Teaching and consulting for a fee is for those with a different personality than me.

  20. Fantastic! Always wondered how permaculture students transitioned from suburban to transforming entire landscapes. Will be following this plan when I get my permaculture design certificate this month!

  21. Submerged in americas toxic soup
    Life here gasping for fresh air now, but
    Long ago hunched on all fours we had to prove ourselves build strength learn and with time soon be rewarded the respect to stand tall and erect now days we have lost natures respect by going against her ways… The way food is so far from nature the way it is so far from what it was intended the food made in the lab by man an not in the woods….. We have lost her respect for we have lost our ability to live long joyful lives we no longer stand tall because or backs are weak for our bellies are large and were sick from what we eat and how we degenerate our system with toxic synthetic pills being misled like were some sort of a lab rat economically strapped to the slave driven society working our lives away for meaningless tasks not for what were meant to or our hearts urge us to but what were told to or led to doesn’t have to be the ending but our start to new beginning
    We diss her grace as we build our own graves down a road of treachery you mustn’t hesitate to ask for her forgiveness seek the questions to ask that your heart so desires to know thee answers to…. For its a dying world out there be a part of the team who is thee earths life support (PERMACULTURE)…. “me” for I have always wanted to help the world become a better place to aid the people who are not at peace with it…. but I have not been found…. such a vast world… in dire need for people to find their place… with people.

    I want to get involved an help in any way I can. Learning everything from efficient living permaculture/horticulture hugelkultur, working with mother nature not against her, reforesting to shade our earth an not abuse it by peeling deep into its protective layers by deforesting causing de clouding and not reclouding…producing rainfall reclaiming proper climate….I want to strengthen my ability’s in harvesting rainwater, off grid sustainable farming/gardening grey water systems to cob building.. working and building with the land for efficient cooling and heating and managing a food forest to feed people natural whole chemical free foods to grafting quicking and easing a variety of fruit production fermenting for preserving improving and properly preparing food for better health to bee keeping as our pharmacies and pollinators it all intrigues me but I don’t know where I should take my first steps where and how I should spend my money and time what would be best?

    I was wondering if you or anyone you knew had any courses in mind I could take or if you have a direction you could point me in.. Ide like hands on work an to be surrounded by like-minded caring people to do better knowing there’s people out there that have me on their radar and know what I’m after. Now that I am a fresh graduate from high school here in Cape Coral FL I want to further my education and put all my mind and effort into sustainable living and a permaculture lifestyle.
    Thank you sincerely
    Tyler Zender

    for someone who is jus out of school…. no need to further debt.. but to start building my life security..

  22. Have been trying to garden in Arizona for ten years. Finding it to be hit or misss. Going to go back and work the steps. Would love to connect with others in Arizona interested in permaculture.

  23. To a cynic, this plan resembles a ponzi scheme. It depends on other people with spare money implementing a permaculture lifestyle as the central enabler. How do these “other people”, presumably ones who know enough about permaculture to want to incorporate facets but have not yet done a PDC or started their own consultancy, get their money to buy the 1 acre property you are going to design for them? How does this scale up to everyone? Where in the western world can you buy arable land for $300 a week with a ready supply of willing and cashed up permaculture embracers nearby?
    What are the transition steps for a 45 year old couple with 6 children that have a huge mortgage on a small acreage, which requires working full time in the city to pay for?
    I’m not a cynic. Believe me, I would love some practical advice on how to transition, but there’s a reason nobody seems to have written it. It’s very hard to transition out of mainstream culture, when that culture controls the arable land, the water and the means of procurement. That’s why collapses happen, because individuals struggle to transition out in meaningful numbers. When the rules of the mainstream culture become untenable, then change happens on a large scale from necessity. A debt jubilee is what we need, and fair rules governing access to water, land and shelter.

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