A practical, hands-on approach to learning permaculture
This hands-on permaculture design course (PDC) engages the mind, body, and heart. Students get to see permaculture in action in a wide variety of settings, from urban gardens to forest farms. Throughout the program we get our hands dirty and engage all of your senses; it’s about learning by doing. Every one of the instructors incorporates permaculture into their landscapes, businesses, and day-to-day lives. You’ll learn from their successes and failures, as they share candidly about diverse experiences applying permaculture principles to real-life situations.
Earn your Permaculture Design Certificate and build community
Throughout the 12 intensive days you’ll build connections amongst your fellow students while working on real-world design projects for local community members. Interspersed within the course are hands-on activities like gardening, natural building, basket weaving, and pressing fresh apple cider.
Learn to integrate a whole-systems approach to your life and landscapes
What is Permaculture?
Permaculture is a way to work with nature instead of against it, so that people and ecosystems can support one another. As permaculturists, nature is our guide when we design living landscapes, human settlements, organizations and our lives.
Permaculture is an interdisciplinary approach to ecological design. That means it involves lots of different disciplines; from mapping and measuring, to watching the movement of water, to gardening, botany, building, and even human communication. It’s a way of looking at, understanding and engaging with living systems that takes into account both the big picture and the minute details.
The goal is to help us make smart choices about how to design and interact with the environment around and within us. In practice, permaculture involves identifying the interrelationships of natural systems and engaging specific tools and techniques to guide what we do with respect for those systems.
What you’ll learn in this Permaculture Design Course
This class will empower you to become an effective ecological designer. You’ll learn tools and skills to integrate permaculture ethics, principles, and whole-systems thinking into any landscape and situation. We follow the Permaculture Institute of North America’s (PINA) 72-hour curriculum, which is based on permaculture founder Bill Mollison’s model. To this we’ve added more time covering aspects that we find especially compelling (and useful), including design considerations for the Southeastern US bioregion and interactive, hands-on learning.
Foundational Permaculture Ethics
There are 3 foundational ethics that, together with the principles, form the underlying structure of permaculture design. These are central to the value systems of many traditional human cultures around the world and throughout time. They are:
- Earth Care: Considering the impact of our actions on the natural world. Choosing actions that work with, rather than against nature, in order to participate in the ecology of all life in a mutually beneficial way.
- People Care: Asserting that the health and wellbeing of our fellow humans is important, and has a huge impact on the sustainability of any culture. Designing systems that take into account human resources, and that support all people’s ability to meet their physical, social, emotional, and spiritual needs.
- Fair Share: Embracing the interconnectedness of planet earth and her creatures. Acknowledging that true sustainability cannot be for a small group of people or in a limited place, but must take into account the experiences of all beings, human and non-human.
We dive deeply into the three ethics at every step of this permaculture journey. Like all permaculture design courses, we explore the principles of ecology, along with numerous tools and techniques to work with soil, water, plants, buildings, energy, and animals. We also don’t shy away from the complex issues of equity, social location, privilege, and exploitation. There are several class sessions that address these issues directly, and they are present and considered throughout the course.
The practice of permaculture design is based on a set of 12 principles. These are qualities that can be observed in the wild world, and which guide us as we try to mimic the beauty and elegance of nature, while engaging with it. They are:
- Observe and interact
- Catch and store energy
- Obtain a yield
- Apply self-regulation and accept feedback
- Use & value renewable resources and services
- Produce no waste
- Design from patterns to details
- Integrate rather than segregate
- Use small and slow solutions
- Use and value diversity
- Use edges and value the marginal
- Creatively use and respond to change
Every PDC covers these principles. What makes ours special is that in this course, you’ll get to observe every principle being implemented in different contexts and situations. Beginning in the forests near our campus, you’ll familiarize yourself with how some of these principles work in nature. Then, throughout the course, and at a wide range of sites, you’ll see how permaculturists work with these principles to design and build functional, sustainable systems. The 12 principles of permaculture aren’t just something you learn about, they’ll get into your mind and body as a new tool to engage with the world.
Core Curriculum Topics
With the principles and ethics guiding us and weaving everything together, we’ll dive into the ideas, skills, and tools that allow you to become a permaculturist. These are the nitty-gritty subjects that form your toolbox as you move into the design process. What’s awesome is that we teach most of them in the woods or in a permaculture paradise; no stuffy classrooms here! Core curriculum topics include:
- Principles of ecology and the local ecosystem
- Introduction to forest guilds
- Reading the land and observing patterns
- Plant identification and succession
- Climates, biogeography, microclimates
- Gardening and soil science
- Holistic forestry and orcharding
- Conservation and renewable energy
- Waste, recycling and bioremediation
- Social ecology and invisible structures
- Economics and budgeting
- Home, eco village, and neighborhood design
- The built environment
- Water systems, conservation and catchment
- Earthworks and broad-scale landscape design
- Incorporating animals
- Appropriate technology
- Designing for catastrophe
- Invisible structures
- Access to land
Permaculture Design Process
In small groups, students will complete permaculture designs over the course of the PDC. This is how all of the myriad tools and topics become synthesized into an actionable plan for engaging with a place. We collaborate with friends and neighbors so that student teams create designs for real people and landscapes…your suggestions may become reality! We’ll teach you all the nitty-gritty steps of design, along with the bigger-picture aspects of creating a permaculture plan. Subjects and skills we’ll cover:
- Understanding zones and sectors
- Powerful tools for site analysis
- Client interviews and relations
- Goal setting
- Needs and yields analysis, flow charts, budgeting
- Invisible structures and social permaculture
Bonus Material unique to Wild Abundance
Our course goes above and beyond the 72 hours of required material and delves deeply into the following and more.
- Edible perennials for the Southeast and beyond
- Basket weaving and other crafts and earthskills
- Urban farm tour
- Racial equity and social justice
- Wild foods and plant ID in the magical Appalachian mountains
- Farming the forest
- Human nutrition
- Apple pressing
- Special tools for increasing your understanding of a piece of land
Delve deeply into plants for permaculture
Part of why this class is so special is because it takes place amongst a permaculture oasis here in the Southeast. You will get to touch, smell, and sometimes taste dozens of plants that lend themselves beautifully to permaculture landscapes.
Revolutionize how you view and relate to the Earth and your everyday life
Course Structure: This is an Intensive
Permaculture is a vast area of study. A whole lot of information and skills are packed into the permaculture design course curriculum. Each day of learning is very full, and most days include morning, afternoon, and evening sessions. We incorporate breaks into the flow of the class, but keep in mind that it is an intensive. You’ll be living, breathing, and probably dreaming permaculture during the course. As one student put it, “I really really loved this course so much and never could have guessed that we would cover so much in so little time!”
Educators who speak from experience and embrace mentorship
We’re lucky to live in a hotbed of homesteaders and modern-day back-to-the-landers. This means we’ve got access to a stellar array of teachers to cover the many diverse aspects of permaculture design and implementation.
Your primary instructors are an approachable pair of badass women: Laura Ruby and Natalie Bogwalker
Laura and Natalie will be your steadfast guides throughout the course. They’ve both dedicated their lives to studying, implementing, and teaching permaculture for well over a decade, and they’re responsible for the thorough and engaging curriculum of this PDC…but they aren’t experts at everything! As we work through the material, you’ll get to learn from folks who have decades of experience living what they teach, and who speak from real-world experience.
We choose our instructors based on both their prowess and their personalities, too. They’re humble, approachable, clear communicators, and generally have good senses of humor. Many students have been delighted by the sense of mentorship they receive in the class:
”A more personal benefit for me was the first experience of real mentorship that I’ve ever had from Laura, Natalie and Luke. I realize this is something that was majorly missing from my life, and it was extremely healing to encounter it.” Anonymous PDC Student, 2018
Who is this Permaculture Design Course for?
This intensive course is appropriate for everyone interested in applying Earth-inspired philosophies to their lives, and also for those pursuing a career in permaculture design. All students will cultivate a deep engagement with the natural and human systems of which they are an integral part.
Our students have come from many walks of life. For example, we’ve taught gardeners, builders, teachers, landscape designers and architects, nurses, coaches, college students, engineers, parents, writers, herbalists, lawyers and more. Permaculture principles can be applied to diverse places and situations. This course is accessible and relevant to everyone who wants to live their life more in-tune with natural patterns and cycles. And it’s especially relevant for those who want to be agents of positive change in this fragile, beautiful world.
Permaculture Design Certification
Once you’ve completed the course and submitted and presented your final design, you will earn your Permaculture Design Certificate. This recognizes all the work that you’ve put in, and all the skills that you’ve learned and demonstrated throughout the course. It’s a jumping-off point to your unique integration of permaculture into your life, whether or not you plan to design for a living or just want to work on your own land. If you do plan to make a career out of permaculture, we advise that you first invest a significant amount of time applying your skills with real-world landscapes before you advertise your design skills. The permaculture design certificate marks the beginning of the road for a professional permaculture designer.
Course Location near Asheville, North Carolina
The permaculture design course takes place at Wild Abundance (located 25 minutes north of Asheville in Barnardsville, NC). It includes field trips to a bevy of sites in the area, both rural and urban.
Other Permaculture Course Offerings from Wild Abundance
If you want to dive even deeper into permaculture and Earth-based living, check out our Earthskills and Permaculture Immersion. It’s spread out over 8 months (1 long-weekend/month), instead of an intensive 12 days, and is also a Permaculture Design Certificate course. Additionally, we offer an Advanced Permaculture Practicum for students who already have their PDC, or equivalent self-study.
Frequently Asked Questions
“I thoroughly enjoyed this course. The teaching was extensive, and from very knowledgeable instructors: some of the leading figures in the permaculture movement. I highly recommend it.”
Dean Jones, Asheville, NC
Permaculture Design Course Student
“It’s an intensive course, but well planned and well worth the effort. I appreciated all of the exposure to different practitioners and even locations. You leave with a sense of confidence, and a huge reading list to follow up on!”
Permaculture Design Course Student
“My name is Nathan and this course is something that can change the course of your life. Not only will you learn all about permaculture, but you will be immersed in a new way of living that shows in a concrete way how we can live according to these principles. It’s not geared towards any one type of person or any experience level. All you need is the desire to learn about permaculture and the fortitude to make it through an intense program that is fun and will give you so many new tools to face life and start a farm, garden, or homestead.”
Nathan Dalton, New Orleans
LA Tax Preparer
Permaculture Design Student
“Wild Abundance is truly a place to grow. What struck me from my PDC was the people that permaculture gathers together. People who desire to tend to a better relationship with the land, their peers, and themselves. Permaculture is more than learning the practical know how and skills to grow food. (Which is worth its own weight in gold, and even covered through the course.) Immersing oneself in a PDC give one a perspective of philosophy, and lens that encourages reflective, thoughtful, growth and development in relation to ones environment and true needs. Re-orienting oneself in to be in better relation; to be at/a-peace of the world.
Natalie Bog-walks the walk when it comes to living out her values, and is patient and accommodating to sharing her knowledge gained from handwork and true experience. She wants all her students to leave feeling capable and empowered and to learn from her personal path and take home new skills and perspectives to tend to their own parts of the global garden.
The larger community that is called in for this course is truly astounding. The surrounding valley and the people who have felt the call to return to the land to build a community in the area is remarkable. Their unique knowledge, skills, and personal trails, just as invaluable as any class or book. Something truly special is being created here. If you feel the call I would highly encourage anyone to join in and help create a world of true and wild abundance.”
Tanner Csonka, Highlands, NC
Permaculture Design Student
“The whole experience was just life changing.”
Hear more about Josh’s experience on our blog
Josh and Rachael – Bringing it Back Home
“Taking the Permaculture Design Course opened my mind drastically. The knowledge I gained will benefit my family, community, and myself tremendously. I am forever grateful to Natalie and Laura. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.”
“I especially liked how Natalie and Laura tied in so many different aspects of permaculture into the course. I see now how it’s so hard to really cover everything in a PDC, there’s just so much! But they did a great job. I also loved how it was really hands on.”
Hear more about Ben’s experience on our blog
Ben Marchman – Regenerative Community Building
Natalie BogwalkerNatalie is the visionary behind Wild Abundance, as well as a primary instructor for many classes. She’s passionate about teaching and sharing skills to help all kinds of people live in an empowered and Earth-centered way. Natalie and her family live at the Wild Abundance homestead campus in the Southern Appalachians. She balances her time ...
Laura RubyLaura earned her Permaculture Design Certificate in 2002 from Crystal Waters EcoVillage in Australia. Since then, she has been implementing permaculture systems on her own urban property in downtown Boulder, CO, and for her clients in the area. She recently moved to Western North Carolina and is designing and implementing a 56-acre Permaculture education center ...
Becky BeyerBecky started her crazy love affair with all things homesteading while growing up on a farm in central New Jersey. After getting her B.S. in Plant and Soil Science from the University of Vermont, she moved to Asheville, NC, to explore all the amazing work being done in this beautiful bioregion. She teaches spoon carvin ...
Ben FalkBen Falk lives permaculture every day at his Vermont homestead, a testing-ground for ideas and projects that he shares with the wider world through teaching, consulting, and writing. He founded Whole Systems Design, LLC as a land-based response to biological and cultural extinction and the increasing separation between people and elemental things. He’s the author ...
Cailen CampbellAfter dropping out of college in 1994, Cailen completed a permaculture design course and year-long natural building and permaculture apprenticeship at the Ecovillage Training Center at The Farm in Summertown, TN, followed by a year-long apprenticeship with Eustace Conway at the Turtle Island Preserve, where he learned a diversity of skills related to early American ...
Eric ToensmeierEric Toensmeier is the award-winning author of Paradise Lot and Perennial Vegetables, and the co-author of Edible Forest Gardens as well as a contributor for Drawdown. He is an appointed lecturer at Yale University, and an international trainer, presenting in English and Spanish in the US, Canada, Mexico, Guatemala, and the Caribbean. Eric has studied ...
Our Campus is Unconventional
To read about our facilities, including accessibility for alter-abled people, read about our Campus here.
Wherever you’re coming from, you’re welcome to pitch a tent in one of our flat camping spots in the woods or field, or to tie a hammock in the forest on our seven-acre property. If you live locally, you may prefer to commute to Wild Abundance from Asheville (25 minute drive). If you choose to camp, please bring your own bedding and rainproof tent or tarp. In the early spring and late fall it can be cold at night, so please bring warm bedding if you’ll be here before May or after September. We have a lovely outdoor kitchen equipped with a stove and running water, an outdoor shower, and an outhouse available to campers. In extremely cold weather, the sink and shower may be out of operation due to water freezing.
If you prefer something with more creature comforts, we suggest you browse Airbnb for numerous options close to the campus. You can also check out local motels and B&Bs within a 10-15 minute drive to Wild Abundance. We’ll send a list of links to several options (with varying amenities and prices) in a welcome letter upon registration.
We strive to make our classes accessible to those who wish to learn. Please pay on the sliding scale what you can afford, given your income.
September 16 – 27, 2020
- Early-Early Bird Price: April 6 – April 9, 2020: $979 without meal plan or $1,279 with meal plan
- Early Bird Price: April 10 – July 23, 2020: $1,079 without meal plan or $1,379 with meal plan
- Regular Price: July 24 – September 15, 2020: $1,149 without meal plan or $1,449 with meal plan