What is a Permaculture Design Certificate and is it worth a big investment? Top 10 PDC FAQ’s

Everything you need to know about choosing a Permaculture Design Certificate program, or not.

By Heather Jo Flores

I’ve been teaching Permaculture Design Courses, in person and online for many years now, as well as hosting active online forums full of opinionated permies, and here are the most commonly asked questions about Permaculture Design Certificates and Permaculture Design Courses.

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1. What is a Permaculture Design Certificate?

A Permaculture Design Certificate (PDC) is a credential obtained by completing a comprehensive educational program in permaculture design principles and practices. Permaculture, short for “permanent agriculture” or “permanent culture,” is an ecological and holistic approach to designing sustainable systems that mimic natural ecosystems while meeting human needs. The PDC course covers a wide range of topics, including sustainable agriculture, water management, renewable energy, natural building, community design, and more.

Psst–if you’re still a bit confused about what permaculture is, hop over here for a thorough introduction.

2. What are the benefits of a Permaculture Design Certificate?

  • Holistic Understanding: A PDC provides a deep understanding of sustainable design principles, enabling you to create regenerative systems that work in harmony with nature.
  • Skill Development: You acquire practical skills in organic gardening, soil management, water conservation, and more, making you more self-reliant and ecologically conscious.
  • Career Opportunities: A PDC can open doors to careers in sustainable agriculture, landscape design, consulting, teaching, and community development.
  • Community Building: The permaculture community connects you with like-minded individuals and potential collaborators who share your passion for sustainability.
  • Environmental Impact: By implementing permaculture principles, you contribute to conserving resources, reducing waste, and mitigating environmental degradation.
  • Resilience: Learning permaculture equips you with tools to create resilient systems that can adapt to changing conditions and challenges.

3. What can you expect in a Permaculture Design Course:

Your Permaculture Design Certificate (PDC) course can be transformative and empowering, or it can be a big disappointment. Before you decide whether or not it’s worth the investment, let’s get real about what to expect in a 72-hour Permaculture Design certificate program.

All PDCs follow (or should follow) a fairly standardized curriculum, mixing time spent outside with lectures, discussions, and lots of design work. Topics covered generally include:

  • Permaculture Ethics and Principles: The course will cover the core principles of permaculture, emphasizing ecological sustainability, ethics (Earth Care, People Care, Fair Share), and the interconnectedness of systems.
  • Permacuture Design Methodology: You’ll learn how to apply permaculture design principles and a permaculture design process to various contexts, exploring techniques for analyzing landscapes, creating functional designs, and integrating sustainable practices.
  • Site Analysis: You’ll gain skills to assess landscapes, considering elements like climate, water flow, soil quality, and existing vegetation, to inform effective design decisions.
  • Zones and Sectors: Learn about zone and sector analysis, which help optimize the placement of elements based on frequency of use, energy flows, and accessibility.
  • Animal Systems: You’ll touch on topics related to animal husbandry, and learn how to interact with natural systems that include wildlife, insects, and your own pets and livestock.
  • Water Management: Discover techniques for harvesting, conserving, and efficiently using water on your site, including rainwater harvesting, swales, ponds, and more.
  • Soil Health: Understand the importance of soil in permaculture, and learn methods to enhance soil fertility, structure, and health through techniques like composting and cover cropping.
  • Plant Guilds: Explore how to design plant communities that work symbiotically, providing mutual support, pest control, and enhanced yields.
  • Food Forests: Learn about designing and establishing productive and diverse food forests that mimic natural ecosystems and yield abundant harvests.
  • Renewable Energy and Technology: Gain insights into integrating renewable energy sources, such as solar and wind power, and appropriate technologies to minimize your ecological footprint.
  • Community and Social Permaculture: Some courses may touch on the social aspects of permaculture, addressing community engagement, effective communication, and building sustainable human systems.
  • Hands-on Learning: Depending on the course, you may have opportunities for hands-on activities with other students, such as visits to farms and gardens, or just challenges to go into your own garden and community and do organic permaculture living type stuff.
  • Design Project: Many permaculture design courses culminate in a design project where you apply your knowledge to create a permaculture design for a specific site or scenario.

You probably already know that becoming a permaculture designer is about a lot more than gardening, but that doesn’t mean a PDC doesn’t center around the plants. In our course, for example, we circle back to the garden constantly. Food is life. Garden is food. It makes sense. But we also make sure you are able to see how your own garden is only a small piece of the puzzle, and we help you gain the tools to navigate across the bigger parts as well.

It’s important to keep in mind that while a 72-hour PDC provides a solid foundation, permaculture is a vast field, and further exploration and practice are encouraged to fully grasp its depth and possibilities. Each course may have unique features, so it’s recommended to review the curriculum and instructor details before enrolling.

4. Are Online Permaculture Courses better than in-person Permaculture Courses?

Both online and in-person certification programs have their merits. Online courses offer flexibility and accessibility, allowing you to learn at your own pace. In-person courses provide direct interaction with instructors and hands-on experiences. The choice depends on your learning style, availability, and preference for practical application.

The permaculture design certification program you choose will have its own connections within the permaculture movement and your fellow students could become lifelong friends, so it makes sense to look for a permaculture course that feels like it’s a good match.

Perhaps the biggest thing to consider when choosing between online studies versus attending a course in your community would be how the student design project is organized. Most of the in-person PDCs tend to focus on the design of whatever site is hosting the course, whereas the online permaculture courses tend to have students focusing on the design of their own home and garden where they are living at the moment.

The other important consideration is how long you have to digest the material. In a residential permaculture design certificate course, you will usually have about two weeks of very intense, constant interaction, and it can be pretty hard to retain all of what you are learning. Online courses give you a lot more time to think, assess, and apply the ideas to your daily life. Some of the academic programs can also offer this type of prolonged exploration (though I think, at this writing, all of the current academic permaculture programs are also online, so perhaps my last point is moot.)

Also: you really don’t have to only choose one permaculture course. It’s quite common for people in the permaculture community to do both in-person permaculture courses and online permaculture courses because the learning journeys are so different.

5. How much does a Permaculture Design Course cost?

The cost of a PDC can vary widely based on factors like location, course duration, and the reputation of the instructor or institution. Prices tend to vary according to whether or not the course is residential (meaning they feed and house you for the duration), whether it’s online or not (the online courses tend to be more affordable), and whether or not they offer academic credentials. The amount of support you get can vary widely as well. In general, you can expect to invest between $600-$3000 for your Permaculture Design Certificate, not including travel expenses if you decide to go that route.

6. Is It Worth the Money?

The value of a PDC depends on your goals and commitment to applying permaculture principles. If you’re passionate about sustainable living, regenerative design, and environmental stewardship, a PDC can be a worthwhile investment in your knowledge and skills. Learning how to create sustainable systems,

7. How much of the course is about garden design? Will I learn everything I need to know to do my food forest?

A PDC is a comprehensive introduction to permaculture concepts, but it’s not a substitute for experience. While it equips you with valuable knowledge, mastery comes from applying these principles over time and learning from your successes and challenges.

All of that being said, here’s a concise breakdown of what a Permaculture Design Course is, and what it isn’t:

It is:

  • A gateway to information and personal connections on all things related to growing food, sharing the harvest, building community, and generally stepping lightly on the Earth.
  • An opportunity to get support for your personal design work and for your big ideas as well.
  • A learning journey milestone you’ll have under your belt.
  • A professional credential that can help you get a job or start a business.
  • Motivation to complete a design on paper. (because you paid for it)
  • A community of lifelong learners.

It isn’t:

  • A deep dive about every layer of designing your garden. 72 hours just isn’t enough time for all of it! A well-done PDC gives you the ability to conduct this deep dive on your own, and you’ll likely need to spend many more hours getting into the details on your own.
  • A teaching credential or in any way the end of your education. You will still need to put in your 10,000 hours.
  • A stick to beat people with. Permaculture is not the one true path and one PDC certificate doesn’t make you an authority. Many people take multiple PDCs but also the point is to become a lifelong learner, in service, not to claim a spot on the moral high ground.

8. How do you choose where to get your Permaculture Design Certificate?

If you’re already pretty sure you want to go for it, but you aren’t sure which PDC you want to take, or even if you want to study online or in-person, watch the video.

Full disclosure: obviously I want as many of you as possible to join my own online permaculture courses! Understand that I’m not doing a comparison or a competition here, only providing you with some criteria to help you figure out what’s best for you.

Here are the 8 things I think are most important to consider when choosing your permaculture design certification program:

  1. Cost: Evaluate the course cost and ensure it fits your budget and offers good value.
  2. Format: Decide between online, residential, weekends, or academic semester options that match your learning style and availability.
  3. Curriculum: Ensure the curriculum covers core permaculture principles, practical applications, and aligns with your learning goals.
  4. Schedule and Flexibility: Choose a course with a schedule that suits your availability, whether self-paced or structured.
  5. Course Community and Support: Look for a course with strong instructor guidance and an interactive community for networking and collaboration.
  6. Accessibility: Ensure the course provides accessibility options if you have learning challenges or need extra support.
  7. Reviews and Testimonials: Consider feedback from past students to gauge course quality and effectiveness.
  8. Instructor Experience: Research the instructor’s practical experience and credentials in permaculture design and teaching.

Remember, the importance of each criterion may vary depending on your individual preferences and goals. Take the time to research and compare different online permaculture design courses based on these criteria to make an informed decision that best suits your learning journey.

9. How can you learn permaculture for free?

Well, you’re in luck! I have a whole article all about it and offer a bunch of free online permaculture courses, right here.

And, if you’re ready to invest a little for a life-changing online Permaculture Design certificate course, here’s the one we offer:

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