CommunityFinancial Management

Transform your Livelihood with a Community Supported Permaculture Business

These days, many of us are looking to escape the rat race and make a living off of regenerating the land
and building a better world. The problem is this is often easier said than done. Real, holistic Permaculture
design can be the key to making the dream a reality.

In part one of this two-part series, I talked about how thinking in terms of long-term “investments” was
the most important factor for making the lifestyle pay for itself. But, we still need to pay bills! So, we’ll
need cash flow, too.

If you’re struggling to pay the bills or figure out how to make ends meet, then you may be overlooking
(as I did) the most powerful tool in our arsenal: community support.

Michael Garden
Image by author

After investing in my first project and quitting my job to go full-time, I fell into this same trap. And I had
a lot of advantages. I had grown up farming, managed farmers markets, worked on farms of just about
every scale, worked on a commodities trade floor, worked for a farm loan operation, taken lots of
trainings on farming economics, worked for multiple landscapers including two native plant landscaping
companies—I knew the business! So, I also knew it was a tough business.

So I pushed on all the products and services I could, throwing everything at the wall to see what would
stick: a nursery business, a seed business, a vegetable CSA, teaching, social media, SPIN farming, design
work, consultations, installation service, regenerative landscaping.

And…. Everything failed! Worse, a lot of this felt like what I was trying to escape. I was spending a lot of
time hustling, doing aggressive marketing and sales, and combating nature instead of “working with it.”
I’d watch videos on “profitable farming,” and it was just guys tilling the bejesus out of the soil and
covering everything in plastic. There had to be a better way!

Every transformation begins with an end. I couldn’t just keep throwing stuff at the wall. So, I sat down
and did a full Permaculture design process on my life and business model.

When we do a formal design process, we “design from patterns to details,” which means we look for
“patterns” that solve our problem. Then we try to put these patterns together in ways that really support
each other and amplify the benefits.

As I researched, there were a few patterns that kept really resonating with me. One was the CSA
(community supported agriculture) vegetable farms I’d worked on. Some of these created really great
communities, which is exactly what I wanted.

Community Supported Agriculture was a business model developed and promoted by the African
American Agronomist who coined the term Regenerative Agriculture, Dr. Booker T. Whatley. In a CSA,
the community invests up front to support the farmer. Customers pay up front on a subscription model,
and get a fair “share” of the vegetables the farm produces. This gives the farmer a guaranteed income and
profit level, and the stability of being able to plan for the whole season. I had seen it save several failing
vegetable operations.

But a second inspiring pattern for me was the classic “home gardens” or “forest gardens” in traditional
societies around the world. The thing about these highly ecological food systems is that the farmers don’t
go to battle with nature to force their land to grow an unnatural and unsustainable selection of produce for
the market. They let the land grow what it will, and then find a market for what grows easily and
naturally. Of course, they gently encourage it towards profitability, but it’s more a matter of nurturing the
land, than doing battle with it.

In doing a design process, we start with the patterns, and then think about how we can “stack” them
together in new ways. These ideas of community support, the home garden, and my own products and
services just kept coming up. If I stacked together all of the things I wanted to do, and the things my
landscape was producing, could I connect with a community that wanted to support that? And there it
was: Community Supported Permaculture.

I took down my listings for all my various low-profit, low-paid products and services, and instead put up
a page for 1 product which combined everything I thought people needed to transform their landscapes:
plants and seeds right at the time you need them, samples of perennial plant produce and specialty fruits
and nuts, recipes, consultation, a monthly group Permaculture design session, a community of peers to
work with, and a course to walk people step-by-step through the process together.

I launched my first Community Supported Permaculture program, calculated what I needed for my
income for the year, slapped a big price tag on the product, and in less than a month, it had sold out! In
fact, I had a wait list for the next 3 years. I never had to advertise my program and it always sold out in
less than a month.

Overnight, I had gone from broke and living sale to sale to having a guaranteed a living for the next year.
And instead of working like an idiot to make my land produce stuff it didn’t want to produce, I’d just be
making my living with what the land was producing naturally.

At the time, I had virtually no social media (I stubbornly avoided computers for decades,) no fame or
name-recognition, and no family or friends in my new town.  It turns out, this stack was EXACTLY
the product customers were looking for, too.

All of my other endeavours had failed as businesses, but also as activism. If I sold plants or seeds, people
wanted to buy them, but they didn’t know how to plant them or how to use the produce. If I did a design,
people didn’t know where to get the plants. If I did a course, people would be informed, but have no idea
what to actually do. Now, I had put together everything people wanted into one product, and the results
were mind-blowing.

In the past, I had done courses, and possibly people would make a guild. Maybe. But now, nearly
everyone who took the course had a complete site design, a good plant collection, and a few established
guilds to start their transformation. And with a successful program, in a few years I went from being
another schmuck trying to sell one-off consultations to being a well-experienced designer having
consulted on the design and creation of over 300 permaculture projects.

And best of all, the program also transformed my life. In just the first year, it had created that same sort of
successful community I had experienced at the best CSAs. People were visiting on a daily basis to pick up
plants, seeds, or worms, or a package of produce in season. They’d hang out and drink herbal tea with me
in the garden. On class days, we’d tour the garden and try new recipes together. And each year’s students
would become community members for life, coming back to buy produce, plants and seeds for years to
come. And I didn’t even need to use plastic or touch a shovel, let alone a rototiller, to make a good
livelihood of my forest garden project.

And at this point, many of my Permaculture friends have started replicating the model successfully,
creating their own similar programs. Others take the fast track and by my whole business plan and
curriculum and adapt in to their site. Our upcoming book through Transformative Adventures, Growing
FREE is filled with plans and tools for making livelihoods like this work, including plans for how to start
and market community-based businesses. And if a weirdo like me living in a new town with no family or
friends within a couple hours could make this work, I think anyone can.

So if you’re looking to make your permaculture livelihood a reality, look to investing in your community.
Support your community in achieving their Permaculture dreams, and they’ll support you back.

Michael Hoag

Michael Hoag has had an adventurous 20+ year career in the army of community-scale change-makers who are transforming the world. He manages Lillie House Permaculture, an urban homestead and community Transformation business, and directs, a coop for supporting others building careers in community-level change. He has forged a rewarding professional path on his own terms as a teacher, Permaculture designer, homesteader, gardener, farmer, plantsman, herbalist, forager, artist, organiser, farmers’ market manager, workforce trainer, and collegiate curriculum designer. He’s an avid natural gardener, plant and ecology geek, food-lover, musician, and bum-philosopher in love with all the exciting opportunities this beautiful world offers.


  1. Hi Michael, I live in Italy and overseas most of the time, can you supply an ebook format of your book?

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