How to Learn Permaculture for Free, a handy guide from somebody who learned permaculture for free...
by Heather Jo Flores, author of Food Not Lawns and director of the Permaculture Women’s Guild
My goal with the #freepermaculture project is to give people access to the resources I wish had been available when I first started learning permaculture, way back in the 1990’s. We didn’t have much in the way of internet then, and Facebook hadn’t even been invented yet. So we used the library and good old fashioned hands-on trial and error to figure stuff out.
If humanity has a snowball’s chance at survival in the coming climate cataclysm, it will be permaculture tools and techniques that get us out of this mess. But we need to get on it, NOW, and it pains me to see finances preventing people from experiencing the joy and fascination that comes with learning permaculture. So I’m doing something about it.
Here you’ll find suggestions for learning permaculture for free, and also for finding ways to fund your permaculture education. I only make suggestions based on what I, myself have done and continue to do.
I hope you enjoy the work, and thanks for being here,
7 ways to learn permaculture for free
Want a PDF version of this entire article? Go here.
1. Enroll in our yearlong online permaculture course.
Designed specifically for folks who don't have a lot of time or money, this course will give you one bite-sized class per week for a full year, taking you step-by-step through a permaculture design process, focused on your own home, garden, and community. Check it out at
www.freepermaculturecourse.com. Tell all your friends!
I know, this is so obvious. And you already know there are a bunch of amazing permaculture books that you can get at the library. But did you know you can download a ton of excellent reading material, including some full-text PDFs of the best books about permaculture? Ok maybe you know that too. But where do you start? It’s overwhelming.
To help cut out the noise, I’ve selected a handful of super-value texts to get you started.
3. Form a study group.
Food Not Lawns was born out of the “Sustainable Horticulture” study group we had going at our house in Eugene. We met up every week and discussed texts--like a book club, but with more dirt! We often had our meetings in somebody’s garden, where we could discuss ideas while pulling weeds. Stacking functions! Now that we have the internet, there are so many excellent study groups online. Again, it’s overwhelming, and some of the Facebook permaculture groups aren’t really that helpful. (In fact, as bizarre as it seems, several of the largest Facebook permaculture groups are run by internet trolls, unfortunately! So be careful!)
Here are the ones I recommend (and help moderate!)
4. Find a local mentor.
If there is someone in your community whose work you admire, approach them and volunteer to help. We can learn so much from help each other, and through respecting and seeking out the wisdom of our elders.
And, if you are are a wise elder, consider looking for an young’un to pass your skills on to.
Maybe you know alot about something besides permaculture, but you want to learn permaculture? How about setting up a skillshare with somebody?
Most of the permaculture teachers I know LOVE doing exchanges like this. If you can’t think of anyone in your own area, start hanging out at the farmer’s market. Or, check out our faculty and see if one of those folks inspires you to reach out.
5. Trial and error.
This one is obvious too, but it cannot be overstated. You can take a dozen expensive design courses and still have no idea what you’re talking about. You have to get out there and start designing! Beyond designing, it’s important that you get dirty and do some serious implementation. Only through years of hard-won experiential knowledge will you ever truly master the fine art and science of permaculture design.
The good news is, implementing permaculture design projects is pretty much the funnest thing ever! This #freepermaculture blog is packed full of hands-on ideas to help you find new ways to get your hands dirty with permaculture. Type any keyword into the search box and see what you find!
6. Raise funds in your community to do a Permaculture Design Certification Course together.
In 2001 the Food Not Lawns collective raised enough money to pay Toby Hemenway and Jude Hobbs to teach a permaculture course for our whole neighborhood. It wasn’t very hard to raise up the money, and the results were completely awesome.
Ok, I know this whole article is supposed to be about learning permaculture without having to attend an expensive design course. And I’m a very critical, skeptical person myself. But I have to say, a good permaculture design course, taught by knowledgeable people who have taken the time to learn not just how to do permaculture but also how to teach it...well it can completely change your life.
And there are ways to pay for it. I’ve known tons of students who did a gofundme with friends and family to come up with tuition money, offering the reward of teaching free workshops to funders afterwards.
Others, like myself, leveraged existing community projects to get funding from the local municipality. Back in 2001, after two years of being super visible and growing gorgeous gardens all over the neighborhood, Food Not Lawns got a grant from the City of Eugene to pay Jude Hobbs and Toby Hemenway to do a 72-hour certification course for myself and twenty neighbors. It was awesome!
Most cities have little bits of funding for stuff like this, and if you frame it right, you can raise money to hire top-quality teachers and still be able to offer training for free to yourself and your friends.
What I am saying is: think outside the box!
You’re a designer now, you can do this.
That being said, I recognize that not everybody has access to the time and resources to attend a PDC, regardless of the cost. Not everybody can get ten whole days (plus travel time) to go to an immersion course.
So, just in case you didn’t already know, I’ve collaborated with 40 women to create a low-cost, go at your own pace online permaculture design course that includes an extra certification in advanced social systems design.
We offer the entire first module for free, PLUS, we offer discounts for survivors of abuse and for women of color, so don’t hesitate to reach out if you need support and want to get serious about becoming a certified permaculture designer.
7. Write for the #freepermaculture blog.
This blog is a hub of skills, resources, and information, brought to you by a collaboration of some of the brightest minds in the movement, and it might just help save the world.
And, as you learn, what better way to solidify your knowledge than by writing about your experiments?!?
We’d love to feature you on our blog and get to know you better through your designs. So, if you fancy yourself a writer, come on! And if you already have your own blog, I’d love to do a guest post there as well.
Also, connect with me directly if you’d like to do a writing work-trade for a partial tuition waiver in our online permaculture design course.
And check out this program for Permaculture Women Writers. It’s not free, but it’s focused on helping you turn your garden writing into a cash crop!
P.S. Does the idea of writing for publication terrify you?
If it helps, I can share that when I wrote Food Not Lawns, How to Turn Your Yard into a Garden and Your Neighborhood into a Community, I had never published a single article! And honestly, sometimes I cringe when I read my writing in that old book (it was published back in ‘06), but it has changed a lot of people’s lives and empowered them to grow food and build community, so I am glad I pushed through the apprehension and just shared what I had with the world. And now that I’ve spent the last 13 years honing my professional skills as a writer, we’re doing a new revised edition! It’s due out in Spring 2021.
Alrighty? I hope that’s enough to keep you busy, and if not, then check out more resources for learning permaculture for free, right here.
by Priya Logan
Over the past five years I have been simultaneously studying to be a Birth Doula and working my way through a diploma in permaculture. I attended my first birth just one month ago, which was a truly magical and consolidating experience. To my advantage, integrating my concurrent pathways has proved itself to be seamless in many ways. The common ground between the two is rich and fertile. Abundant in ideals and practice, they can complement each other. Permaculture is an umbrella term that encompasses many design solutions and systems that seek to realign the balance between nature, others, and ourselves. Permaculture looks to integrate human solutions with what nature already provides. Doulas add a layer of humanity and reverence to the most natural, innately human, and momentous happenings of our lives.
“Doula” is a Greek word, which means female caregiver. It is an ancient role that, traditionally, encompassed preparing people for, and accompanying them and their families through, the two greatest rites of existence: birth and death. A doula is a layperson that does not need any particular credentials. Formal training is not an absolute requirement, but for those wishing to embark on this meaningful path, there are some excellent courses that will prepare, inform, and encourage. A broad knowledge of current practices and an awareness of wider cultural and historical practices can be a valuable awareness to have, but a doula always works from the bottom up — with people, on their terms — not in the world of theory. A doula does not offer medical care or expertise, but they can assist a person in navigating through the medical world by supporting their intrinsic right to do so.
Before the last couple hundred years it would have been common for us all to be well acquainted with the ritualistic, spiritual and physical aspects of our closest ones birthing and dying. These events would also have, for the most part, taken place in intimate, domestic settings. Since the move towards a professionalized medical culture, beginning roughly 250 years ago, care has been largely outsourced to hospitals and specialized centers’. Rather strangely, birth and death have become, in industrialized societies, considered as separate from normal experience. They are treated, widely, as abnormal events that require intervention — often in hospitals with only medically trained staff considered fit for attendance.
The renowned obstetrician Michel Odent has long championed the role of birth doulas in the delivery room. He proposes in: Birth and Breastfeeding,one of his many books, that simply having the calm, steady presence of a trusted woman in the vicinity while a woman labours will have myriad benefits–including increasing the woman’s natural flow of oxytocin,a powerful bonding hormone often referred to as the love or shy hormone. High levels of oxytocin are an essential component of natural birth and it increases in great quantities during labour. Physiologically, we have much in common with our mammalian relatives, who like to birth in hidden, dark places. When we feel protected, safe and undisturbed, our bodies and minds are better prepared to birth. Synthetic versions of birth hormones are sometimes administered when natural supplies are low, which in some cases may be necessary or even life saving — but they can also have undesirable side effects. An increased need for interventions of this type could be seen as an indication that the birthing environment is not as conducive to a woman’s wellbeing as it could be.Instead of placing medical intervention at the top of the list of solutions, her emotional state should be prioritised. This is just one example of the imbalance, liable to be overlooked in a highly medicalised system, that doulas can help redress. Doulas can attend all types of births and birthing environments such as at home and hospital births; planned caesarian or non-surgical vaginal births.
Birth doulas “mother the mother”. Many women would attest that having the support of a doula has been invaluable. If a person has a trusted friend or relative to fulfill this role, then it is so much the better. As not all of us do, doulas take a valuable place in the wellbeing of society.
A birth doula will typically meet a woman (and her family, if applicable) a few times before birth to talk through expectations, build relationships, and sort out practicalities. They will attend the birth, supporting the woman and family in the way they want and will often follow on with one or two visits afterwards. There are also postnatal doulas that help with the transition of the mother after the birth, as well as with practical matters such as cooking and cleaning. In addition there are prenatal doulas that support a woman in finding her own approach to the birth beforehand, but do not attend the event itself. There are many roles doula can fulfil depending on how they work and their preferred specialty.
There are also death doulas. On the opposite side of the spectrum, at the end of our lives, it is not very difficult to imagine that a steady, strong, and caring presence would be endlessly soothing in the universally inevitable journey across the threshold of the unknown. To be in an indifferent environment with no attention or regard given to your very unique and precious humanity at the very end of all you were seems the ultimate insult and loss — a sad crescendo in a throw away culture — and yet a reality for too many. There has been, as with birth doulas, a rekindling of the age-old tradition of death doulas in recent years and many are rediscovering the value of tangible human support at this very vulnerable time. A focus on building a relationship and being sensitive, receptive and present will also be at the forefront of what a death doula can offer.
Doulas respect that the human body is an exceedingly intelligent system, one that we will never come close to understanding in its entirety; one that is nestled in and interacting with many other complex systems — both naturally-occurring and institutional. A doula can help a person ascertain and understand their choices, advocate for them, and also help them reflect on past experiences. Just as Japanese farmer/philosopher Masanobu Fukuoka espoused the ideology of: “do-nothing farming”which encourages less toil and a cooperative attitude towards the land. Doulas know too that being is vital; a strong presence in the whirlwind of life is what we search for in times of need.
There is a well-known axiom in permaculture: Everything Gardens. This means all of our actions and opinions ripple outward to have an effect on the environment. It is important, therefore, that a doula becomes an emblem of self-care. They need a network of support along with the tools to self-reflect, download, and recharge.They need the space to fill their wells so that they may give again. They must ensure the lenses through which they view the world are as clear, compassionate, and open as they can possibly be.
Doulas, of all kinds, are enjoying a renaissance. It’s not difficult to understand why. We add a layer of nurturing and unconditional support to humanity’s most cherished and sensitive moments. We do not coach. We do not advise or project our own prejudices. We do not try to solve or change. We seek to empower a person to navigate through and understand their options, to feel empowered and heard. Our role is to observe and respond to the individual, their environment, their family, and their cherished hopes. Our job is to listen — deeply, with more than just our ears — with our whole beings — always without judgments and to just stay “with”.
by Marit Parker
Is rewilding a way of off-setting normal life?
Rewilding has become a bit of a buzzword recently. It seems to have caught people’s imaginations. However, it might surprise you to learn that, in many rural areas, rewilding can be quite controversial. In this article, I hope to explore why rewilding has become a “thing,” explain why it might be problematic, and who knows? Perhaps I can suggest an alternative way forward.
When people talk about rewilding, they are usually thinking about somewhere remote and far away. But these are not empty spaces. There are already communities here: of plants, animals, and people. However, rewilding projects rarely seem to consider who or what is already there, nor ask what impact the “rewilding” actions will have on existing (often fragile) ecosystems.
Rewilding and biodiversity in the UK
In Britain, upland areas of Wales and Scotland are popular for rewilding, but the sites for rewilding projects often seem to be chosen by people who are unaware of their existing biodiversity. Phrases such as “degraded ecologies” and “green deserts” are used, yet the uplands of Britain contain large areas of blanket bog. These wetland habitats have protected status, because they are home to unique ecosystems.
Blanket bogs consist of peat which can be several feet deep. It acts as a sponge for both rain and carbon. They take thousands of years to form, especially to the depths found on British uplands. This means it is thousands of years since these areas were forested. The names of different aspects of the landscape reflect this, such as Moel Hebog, a mountain in Snowdonia whose name means Bald Hill of the Hawk.
Rewilding projects generally involve planting trees. In this case, “rewilding” means destroying the bog to plant a forest. Nature doesn’t stand still, so reforesting those peat bogs means losing species that have evolved to fill this rare niche.
Before trees can be planted on peat bogs, the bogs have to be drained. This means rainwater is no longer held there. Instead, heavy rainfall rushes straight down into the rivers, often resulting in flooding downstream. This is why there has been severe flooding in the lower reaches of the Severn Valley, for example.
Destruction of peat bogs also releases carbon into the atmosphere. Peat bogs are considered to be the most efficient carbon sink on earth, storing up to 30% of the planet’s carbon despite covering only 3% of the surface.
Reforesting peat bogs also means disturbing the soil. Our knowledge of the soils beneath our feet is limited, but one thing researchers are discovering is that fungi play an important role in soil ecology. Any soil disturbance damages fungi, whose mycelium may stretch for miles. A recent study in Sweden suggests that fungi may be far more important than trees in terms of storing carbon.
It may also come as a surprise to many people to learn that maintaining peat bogs is best done by mixed grazing of native sheep and cattle. Ensuring that this is an economical option for farmers is the simplest way of protecting upland habitats and their capacity for storing water and carbon.
Rewilding and people
Places earmarked for rewilding often have a strong local culture as people depend on each other to survive and make a living in harsh conditions. Their skills, experience and expertise in managing the land may span back generations and this is reflected in the local language or dialect and in the culture, all of which are often deeply intertwined with the climate and terrain. These are resilient communities — yet at the same time they are fragile, because the loss of one or two people can have a big impact on the whole community.
In both Wales and Scotland many feel that rewilding is a continuation of colonialism. There is a long history in both nations of the mountainous landscapes being used as a playground for the rich and for resource extraction, be it slate, water, coal or more recently, renewable energy. Rewilding can be seen as yet another grand idea imposed on the land and on the people with little thought or consideration for local opinions or concerns. Promises of economic benefits through tourism may be greeted with dismay: the lack of affordable housing due to a combination of second homes, holiday cottages and low paid seasonal work means tourism has already resulted in significant rates of homelessness in rural areas, and in the loss of young people to cities.
Including local people and their views in discussions about rewilding means thinking not just about other people’s perspectives but also about how we see other people. Much has been written about the “othering” of people who are different from “us”. We tend to see people who are different from us as either scary or exotic, or simply not see them at all.
In rewilding debates, the opinions of local people are often dismissed or simply ignored. The assumption that local knowledge and expertise is irrelevant is familiar within a history of colonisation: the name “Wales” comes from a Saxon word meaning foreigner or barbarian, with connotations of inferiority and “otherness”.
What I find intriguing is how rewilding effectively labels nature as “other”. Some wild things, such as sharks, are scary, and some, such as plankton, are invisible, but rewilding seems to be exciting and exotic.
The problem with this way of seeing the world is that we forget that humans are part of nature. And if humans are part of nature, then where we live and what we make are also part of nature. High rise office blocks may be ugly and power stations are undoubtedly polluting, but they are not in a separate bubble: they are made from and are still part of the earth.
But why does this matter?
The danger is that labelling certain areas as wild allows unlimited development everywhere else: off-setting nature, instead of carbon. Believing that a place is being restored to its ‘pristine’ wild state means that, in the city, life can carry on as usual.
Is rewilding simply a way of off-setting normal life?
If so, it is not really beneficial; it’s a convenient package that masks the real problem.
Is this why rewilding is popular?
These scenarios suggest that rewilding may actually reinforce the idea that humans are separate from nature and not part of the wild.
Cities feel very different from the countryside but is this because nature is absent, or because we are distracted by other things?
What if, instead of trying to recreate an idealised pre-human landscape, we start seeing cities as habitats and ecosystems in the same way as we see mountains and forests?
Trees are an important part of the cityscape, and each tree supports a whole ecosystem. But glued to smartphones, we forget to notice even our human neighbours, so what chance does a caterpillar or ladybird have, much less a spider? Yet many creatures have evolved to live alongside us in cities and inside our homes.
We can spend days unaware of the sunshine, the rain and the changing seasons, yet the air we breathe, the water we drink, even the sand in the concrete and glass are all part of this earth. A teaspoon of soil can contain more living creatures than the total number of humans alive today. Our own bodies contain even more: we carry whole ecosystems with us on our skin and in our digestive systems wherever we go!
Are we obsessed with rewilding places far away from us because we are so separated from our own natural-ness and wild-ness that we do not see human spaces as places where nature exists?
If humans are as much part of the natural world as every other creature, then human cities are also as much a part of nature as anthills or seabird colonies. What if we look again at how we see cities, and how we see our place within cities?
The Welsh word for habitat is cynefin (pronounced cunn-e-vinn, with a short e as in nest), but it means much more than that: it’s a place you know intimately, a place that you feel safe in. It’s a place you care for and look after because it nurtures you: it’s your home, and the foundation and source of your life.
Rewilding and food
Arguments for rewilding also seem to ignore the whole question of food. Like it or not, cattle and sheep are grown for food. If the hills are cleared for rewilding, what will people eat instead? This is a serious question, because the lowlands are already in use for both arable and livestock farming. While some advocate growing only fruit and vegetables, it’s important to be aware that large scale arable and horticultural farms generally offer far less in terms of biodiversity than permanent pasture. It does puzzle me why upland areas are chosen for rewilding, rather than arable areas where huge fields have been created, and the hedges and shelter belts that used to edge smaller fields have been lost.
Another factor that needs to be considered is what can be grown, because in the UK’s temperate climate, growing sufficient protein from plants alone is not straightforward. Most vegetarians and vegans rely on imported soya and other pulses, some of which is grown in what was rainforest. Un-wilding one part of the world to re-wild another part makes little sense.
Vandana Shiva says that instead of seeing nature as something wild and separate, we need to see it as essential for life. She suggests that making sure the food we eat is grown in ways that don’t damage nature — or us — is a way of reconnecting with nature. This connection becomes more immediate if we grow some of our food ourselves. This might seem impossible for those living in densely populated areas, but in this free mini-class Becky Ellis suggests a number of ways of finding space to grow things in cities.
Instead of convincing ourselves that modern life can be offset by segregating nature and keeping it safe, and at a safe distance, and segregating food-growing so it’s tidied away and unseen, why not ask ourselves what the real difference is between cities and places we think need rewilding?
The main things people notice when they come to the countryside are the quiet, the clean air, and the different pace of life. Instead of trying to preserve parts of the countryside and return them to an arbitrary point in time and evolution, is it not better to tackle the noise and air pollution and the frenetic pace of life in cities?
For example, what would happen if we stopped always looking for new stuff? What would happen if we questioned the endless need for more economic growth, and for profit at any cost? What would happen if we refused to accept work environments with inflexible schedules that erode our well-being, and increase our separation from each other and from the outdoors?
There is a phrase in Welsh, dod at fy nghoed, which means “to reach to a balanced state of mind,” but it translates literally as “to come to my trees,” suggesting that to be well, we need to be connected to the natural world.
Perhaps if we become aware that the wild, the natural world, is all around us, even in towns and cities and on industrial estates, we will start to realise that these are habitats too; that humans and all we do, for good or ill, are part of an integrated, interconnected ecosystem. And perhaps, we will become more connected, or re-connected, to our own wild-ness, our own habitat, our cynefin.
Because perhaps it’s not nature that needs rewilding, but us.
Marit Parker is a hill farmer in South Wales.
This resource is brought to you by
Food Not Lawns,
Permaculture Women's Guild, and Heather Jo Flores.
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