Working in Permaculture

Usually people participating in a PDC have a land project which they would like to develop using the common sense design principles offered by permaculture. As a side effect, some might feel the urge to make sweeping changes to their life direction during or after doing a PDC. Often a PDC either creates the need for change, or it comes along at a time when people are open to change or indeed craving it.

If one felt the urge to change their career direction after doing a Permaculture Design Certificate course, I guess the most obvious direction would be to become a permaculture design consultant. In my case, I was already a gardener and landscaper so it was a logical and relatively seamless transition for me to move into doing permaculture-oriented garden designs. In fact I had already started this transition naturally, before doing a PDC, motivated by changes which I wanted to make in my working life, in order to have it fit with my own environmental ethics and way of life.

That said I do not refer to myself strictly as a professional permaculture designer. I consult on and design gardens incorporating many permaculture design principles, but also call upon my horticultural and arboricultural education, and even more so my years of experience doing gardening and working in landscape construction. In the same way that I supplant edibles and fruit trees into a design where once I might have placed ornamentals, In the landscape I will re-use concrete, broken up elsewhere and re-lay it as a functional hard surface. Or when taking on tree removal or pruning work I see it as an opportunity to gather firewood for the winters to come. In fact when I went to buy our secondhand fireplace I ended up trading my labour for it and removed a tree for the guy selling it, which I am now burning to heat our home. So you can see I have simply overlaid the principles of permaculture over my existing skills and day to day tasks.

I would invite you to consider that making changes in your everyday lives which bring you more in line with both previously held and recently acquired knowledge and ethics, may be more easily achieved within the realms of your existing career/occupation/or vocation. The point being that we have all invested time into life directions for one reason or another and the most leverage we have in effecting change may be to use the mound of knowledge and experience which we have already accumulated.

A way in which we might further increase our leverage might be to move closer to ‘the fringe’ within any given organisation. Not only does the ‘bleeding edge’ provide an increased access to a more diverse pool of resources and people but it means we are often the first to recognise new opportunities for change and growth and are at the forefront of new ideas and innovation.

With all that said, some may wish to make sweeping changes in their career, and leave behind a path which has become outmoded and no-longer serves them. In which case, while gardening and landscaping, or volunteering and community gardening, provide very a good segue into permaculture design, there are also other avenues which could be followed.

A friend of mine, Paul, who used to be a radiographer, has recently undergone lengthy and thorough research and planning for an idea, spawned of an experience working on an organic farm, but deeply rooted in the need for a place for ambitious young farmers to get a start out in their own ventures, without the need or ability to purchase or lease expensive farmland and capital. Paul has recognised that permaculture design is not necessarily his forte or passion, but his experiences working on a vegetable farm coupled with his desire to make that experience available to others has lead to this idea of a farmer incubator.

Basically he would run a farm or market garden, which provides part time work to young would-be-farmers, who in turn lease small parcels of surrounding land. On these small sites participants can start up their chosen farming ventures. As it turns out, farmer incubators have been running successfully in the more progressive U.S. agricultural scene for decades.

Some may also be pulled towards rural living and all that it entices. Rural properties do tend to lend themselves better to the the self sufficiency dream, but this a difficult path and one which does not necessarily fit neatly with working for a living. Here at our suburban home in Melbourne, Australia, we have tried our hand at some self sufficiency, namely keeping chickens, ducks, bees, and veggie gardening, while working and having children. It has proven to be both fulfilling and frustrating at times but it is always a lot of work. When your house, garden, and pets become a burden, it begs the question of whether they are worth your time and finances. Or does it make you question whether you should be working so much and not spending more time in the garden?

They say the best way to learn something is to teach it. Running workshops and courses from properties developed under permaculture principles is a common way which many permaculturists earn a part of their living. In fact many permaculturists have many different income streams, harking back to the principle ‘Use and value diversity’. When the opportunity came up for our place to be a venue for hosting some PDC days, it offered a chance to "obtain a yield" from the garage and outdoor spaces that our block provided, while interacting with the permaculture community in a way which was not otherwise possible. Furthermore, through hosting we could build the garden up again and produce food for the course, which we did for a while, but then we became pregnant again and my work became busy so we had to let go of a lot of what we had developed.

To finish up, I will tell you something that happened recently. My three year old daughter Rosie said to me, “Daddy I don’t want to grow up and become an adult, I want to stay young”.

I said that I thought that was a good idea and I asked her “why?” And she said that she “wanted to just play with her friends and that she did not want to grow old and die”!

This got me thinking, and amongst other things, we talked about how important it is to make the most of the time we have with each other. It made me think about how much of our lives we spend working in order to pay for a place within which we can simply spend time together!

So my advice is, if you are going to try working in Permaculture, then don’t work too hard….


  1. Great post Simon. I too have been in the landscape industry designing and installing landscapes for 30 odd years. Just finished up my PDC and am now transitioning my business to offer Permaculture design services. During my PDC (Geoff Lawton online) I had two inquiries from property owners (15 acre +) looking to improve their water security situation. The standard approachs won’t work in these situations so I was able to introduce them to some permaculture techniques. I totally agree with your remark on transitioning from the landscape trade to permaculture and how it is not such a great leap when your already used to working with the land. Great article thanks.

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