Permaculture Business, Part 2: On Opportunities

by Rob Avis

Read Part I here!

Opportunity is about seeing things differently

What is amazing about permaculture is the number of solutions that are contained within the design system. I often say that the Permaculture Design Certificate (PDC) provides people with a solution matrix they can use to run their problems through. A lot of the time, these derived solutions are not considered in mainstream design professions. As an engineer, doing my PDC brought together a lot of disconnected concepts from school and the petroleum industry in a way that I had never considered before. Permaculture became hugely beneficial in shaping the way I saw design, and it is through this transformative lens that I now see the following niches and opportunities for new permaculture students.

Niche #1: Broad acre land planning

Land planning is extremely important. Unfortunately in many cases, this only becomes evident to people after they have purchased land and started placing things where they thought it would make sense. I’ve seen a lot of people either designing their urban lots or moving from the city and starting homesteads, small hobby farms or acreages while missing a lot of details during the process of setting up their spaces. These missed details add up, leading to poor organization, lost time and money, even diminished animal welfare.

The market needs permaculture designers who can see the world differently and are trained to observe whole systems in action. A good example of this can be seen in Ben Falk’s work on the east coast; his work is gorgeous, functional, and making heads turn. Recently interviewed by CBC’s SPARK on his journey and blossoming business, he notes that “the market needs people who know how to plan land and know it from experience.”

Geoff Lawton

Niche #2: Urban design

Urban design is where the number are and easy size of installation plus the fast lessons to extend out to larger design acreage. — Geoff Lawton

There is a lot of capacity for providing sound urban design. Generally urbanites can spend more per square footage than rural folks, so you can create a lot more innovative designs within an urban space. Even if your long-term goal is to work with larger acreages, keep this in mind as you design limited spaces. When you are constrained, you get really good at getting the most out of a small space – this sort of discipline is important for rural design, too. It’s all too easy to splay all your elements all over the place when you have a lot of land to play with.

Ethan Roland

Niche #3: Franchising

Franchises are one way of helping beginners get set up with help from experienced designers so that they can avoid critical errors from the get go. For example, Ethan Roland has built a business, Apple Seed Permaculture LLC, that he is now franchising out. With Apple Seed you get Roland’s systems, design approach, marketing and business models. This is the first of its type to my knowledge and adds a ton of value for people just getting started who don’t want to grind it out on their own.

Other business niches and opportunities I see

Compost Tea/Extract: People are passionate about their lawns, and there is a willingness to get their lawns off petrochemicals. Mike Dorion, one of my students, has started a business in Calgary called Living Soil Solutions, and I know his business is about to take off!

Doug Weatherbee (The Soil Doctor) teaching Verge students about making Compost Tea

Keyline design: There are a lot of poorly managed and damaged pastures out there. Keyline designs is one way to bring them back to life.

Here is the keyline plow which is central to keyline design

Rainwater harvesting design and installation: If you live in a dry area, knowing how to set up these systems is a potentially huge growth industry.

Municipal organic waste management: Organic waste represents the majority of the waste stream in many cities. There is value in diverting it if you can develop a productive end product (e.g. worm farming, commercial composting, commercial Bokashi)

A sittler compost turner

Living Building Challenge: This is probably one of the most stringent building methodologies. Permaculture knowhow can help here for sure.

Land Development: Buying raw land and upgrading it with ponds, food and fuel systems or potentially building a custom eco-home and selling it – this takes more capital and has more risk but the reward is correspondingly higher.

A farm pond on Geoff Lawton’s property (Photo © Craig Mackintosh)

Horse property design: Horses are really hard on the land when they are mismanaged. Getting a few key things right up front can save vet bills, hay costs and produce psychologically sounder horses in the long run.

Photo © Craig Mackintosh

For other tips on starting a business, check out my podcast Ditching the Status Quo: Using Your Life Energy to Make a Better World:

Interview with Rob Avis

You don’t have to teach to be successful

You don’t do permaculture, you use it in what you do. — Larry Santoyo, Earthflow Design Works

One of the great things about teaching permaculture is becoming part of an ever-expanding network of amazing people who want to start cool projects. However, you don’t always have to be a teacher or a designer. As Adam Brock says, “dispense with the idea that running a permaculture business has to mean designing permaculture landscapes or teaching PDCs.” In Colorado, where Adam lives, there are tons of opportunities for “K-12 permaculture teachers, greywater technicians, appropriate technology contractors and bioregional chefs.” If you’re like me, sometimes permaculture simply reinvigorates an old passion, like engineering, by offering a new lens to look at an existing career.

Continue to Part 3: On Barriers and Challenges


  1. Thank you for writing this series. There must be thousands if not tens of thousands (or more) of PDC graduates who want to use what they’ve learned but have not seen any models out there other than PDCs/big land projects. This is a great start!

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