The Permaculture Student

A resilient, abundant future starts with permaculture education.

Permaculture vs Permaculture Design - Herein Lies a Confusion... & a New Solution: the Permaculture Mastery Checklist

Matt Powers2 Comments
Photo by Matt Powers.

Photo by Matt Powers.

Micro vs Macro

Permaculture design ethics and principles range in definition, wording, and scope, depending on which co-creator of the word permaculture you adhere to, yet the reality is that the cultures Bill Mollison and David Holmgren studied and distilled their ideas from used Permaculture as a lens - as a way of seeing everything, not just gardening or tree crops. In other words, the distilled concepts that Bill and David were playing with came from cultures that would recognize their "examples" of permaculture in action as part of giant interconnected whole which encompassed their culture, daily lifestyles, ambitions, and limitations. They didn't see all these things as separate - permaculture was a holistic reality to them. If you didn't partner with nature to any extent, you soon found yourself living in a wasteland and starving - which is not to say the last 10,000 years of "civilization" are not a long chain of ecological degradation via agriculture and natural resource liquidation: the examples that inspired by Bill and David were long-standing cultures with regenerative skills. For me, I saw the principles being applied to everything, making it a HUGE concept, but maybe that came out of my permaculture design course itself...

Natural principles, the 3 ethics, and regenerative design principles can be applied to almost anything. I applied it to gardening in a recent course. It can be applied to business, architecture, alternative energy, and much more. Image by Matt Powers.

Natural principles, the 3 ethics, and regenerative design principles can be applied to almost anything. I applied it to gardening in a recent course. It can be applied to business, architecture, alternative energy, and much more. Image by Matt Powers.

Permaculture as an Adjective

Geoff Lawton was likely the first person I heard use permaculture as an adjective, not just a noun - I was in his online PDC in 2014. Permaculture is often used as a synonym for regenerative action. Often after a PDC, students "see" permaculture in all sorts of places despite those things being designed without permaculture in mind - like the way Sepp Holzer adopted the term because someone convinced him his work qualified as permaculture. Geoff is also a leading example in the perpetual innovation of the PDC model - recently he launched the PDC 2.0 despite having the most popular PDC online course in the world already! Permaculture has been transforming into something beyond just the original 5 principles of Bill Mollison's big black book to David's expansion to 12 principles - it is a regenerative lens, a way of seeing the world.

The Fibershed is a non-profit organization dedicated to helping communities and business establish and maintain a localized soil to soil garment and textile industry. It is truly a permaculture non-profit. Image from The Permaculture Student 2, by Matt Powers.

The Fibershed is a non-profit organization dedicated to helping communities and business establish and maintain a localized soil to soil garment and textile industry. It is truly a permaculture non-profit. Image from The Permaculture Student 2, by Matt Powers.

Beyond or Within the Permaculture Umbrella

Many teachers, renowned practitioners of all stripes, and students alike recognize permaculture as being a lens through which all regenerative practices from Bokashi to Holistic Management to Vertical Ocean Farming to Regenerative Investment can be seen in an organized system. Permaculture is simply seeing the world through nature's eyes - using nature's systems and cycles to solve problems and to beneficially and regeneratively take care of people and environmental systems. That means we see permaculture an attempt to map the holistic system of syntropy - fully knowing that we can only humbly estimate the infinite and complex interplay of in situ natural cycles and processes at work on any given site. This allows for permaculture to mature beyond the "design science" strictures and makes it a unifying movement that organizes all regenerative work into a framework of ethics, principles, and practice.  

Designing our sites is often the first step in a long journey of adaptation in our lives, landscapes, and communities. Illustration by Wayne Fleming from The Permaculture Student 1.

Designing our sites is often the first step in a long journey of adaptation in our lives, landscapes, and communities. Illustration by Wayne Fleming from The Permaculture Student 1.

A PDC is an Introduction to Design & Permaculture, the Concept

A PDC is 72 hrs of information. There are 180 school days in a typical school year with usually means you are with your students once a day for 45 minutes. That's 135 hours of learning on that one subject in a school year - a PDC is like a semester of information that usually is condensed into a 2-week experience tied to homesteading skills that can be hands-on but sometimes they are purely informational. It teaches skills and the concept of intentional design and analysis while it introduces ecological understanding and historically backed common sense. For many it is like a breath of fresh air while for some it sounds a lot like common sense, just iterated and intentional. The PDC is amazingly transformational for most who take them, but it is only step 1 in a process that evolves past the PDC. Many who have taken PDCs do not go on to share their information or even implement their designs. The list of reasons for why are many, but it is likely because the PDC stops at the design and the homestead. Many instructors have suggested or used permaculture as more than a set of design science steps, but few have expanded its meaning and application likely because many felt there was no medium to do it through or example to follow. 

The Permaculture Student 2 organizes a wide spectrum and diversity of regenerative practices into a cohesive, organized system that is easy to understand and connect to a path of higher learning. I created it to serve this need - for students to see past the PDC and apply permaculture to everything.

A Permaculture Mastery Checklist

Criteria-based assessments are ancient and effective - you learn by doing, and by doing, you gain mastery. It is simple. We can add a checklist of skills or activities that nearly every permaculture teacher could/should/would know how to do on a global level and then perhaps additional climate-specific checklists. The local biome's own checklist can only come from local experts. Higher level mastery will ALWAYS come from local masters who have had the time and experience in that biome: in every area there are endemic species and climate considerations. Feel free to start your own checklists, to download mine, to modify it, or to invent something else entirely new. The more we discuss and reflect on teaching, learning, permaculture, and the needs of our people and environment, the more we will improve at doing those things. 

Please Note: If you've read this far, YOU ARE AWESOME!! Thank You!

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Have a great week! Tune in Monday for a New Podcast Episode on An Abundant Future with Matt Powers on iTunes & Soundcloud, Wednesday for the Seed & Book GiveAway 4pm LIVE on Facebook, & Friday for another new blog right here. Thank you for reading!

-Matt Powers