An immersive, 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 at the 28-year-old community-scale permaculture demonstration site and ecovillage where the class takes place. Throughout the program we get our hands dirty and engage all of our 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.
This PDC is focused on community-scale applications of permaculture.
This 14-day Permaculture Design Course is grounded in the integrated life of Earthaven Ecovillage — an ideal experimental classroom in the mountains of Western North Carolina. In addition to the core PDC curricula, this special course will include a unique layer of how to approach bringing permaculture alive in your community. We’ll be engaging with ancient and new practices of cooperation, mutual aid and community-scale work, all through the lens of racial, gender and economic equity.
As a longstanding off-grid ecovillage on 330 acres of land, Earthaven is a potent learning playground for this focus on permaculture applied at the community level. You’ll get to see permaculture in action through land stewardship and agroecological practices, buildings, energy and water systems, and other shared infrastructure. What’s more, you’ll get a view into Earthaven’s self-governance, participatory economic culture, and conflict transformation practices.
Earn your Permaculture Design Certificate while nurturing connection
As we learn together, we’ll also have time for connection and reflection. Each day, students and instructors will partake in meals together, which gives us a chance to deepen our relationships outside of “class time.” This Permaculture Design Course is as much about embarking on a journey of togetherness as it is about learning “hard skills.” In fact, the majority of our students tell us that the bonds they form and experiences they share are some of the most precious fruits of their PDC experiences.
Learn to integrate a whole-systems approach to your life and landscapes
What our students say
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What is Permaculture?
Permaculture is a way to cooperate with the living world, instead of trying to dominate it.
Indigenous and other Earth-based peoples have practiced this approach for generations, without calling it that; they are the original permaculturists.
In fact, the field of permaculture is simply one modern set of tools, vocabulary, and techniques for remembering this original relationship between humans and the greater-than-human world. It can be thought of as a transition strategy for regrowing diverse biocultural ways of life around the planet, based on the unique peoples and ecosystems everywhere.
To learn the principles and practices of permaculture can be likened to jazz training. In which case, a musician learns scales, time signatures and theory not as an end, but as a bone-deep rewiring that can then allow more rich and integrated improvisation.
As permaculturists, the patterns and intelligences we see in the living world are our “scales.” We dive into studying them so that we can create similarly elegant relationships when we design living landscapes, human communities, organizations and our lives.
Permaculture includes a diversity of tools and techniques.
Permaculture is an interdisciplinary approach to ecological design.
That means it involves lots of different tools and techniques; 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 living 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 teach you to become an effective ecological designer in relationship with landscapes and communities. You’ll learn tools and skills to integrate permaculture ethics, principles, and whole-systems thinking into any 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, all with a focus on community-scale application of permaculture in our day-to-day lives.
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 Indigenous human cultures around the world and throughout time. They are:
- Earth Care: Considering the impact of our actions on the planet and other-than-human beings. Choosing actions that respect balance, synergy, and health, 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. These issues are centered within our curricula and considered throughout the course.
The modern practice of permaculture design is based on a set of 12 principles, which themselves derive from many common aspects of Earth-based, Indigenous cultures of the past and present. Your lead teacher, Zev Friedman, works with an additional 7 principles that have been added to the foundational 12 by his mentors and through lived experience. These are all qualities and behaviors that can be observed in the wild world. Throughout our work, they guide us as we try to participate in the beauty and elegance of the Earth, while also meeting our human needs.
These 19 principles 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
- Multiple Functions
- Sector and zone planning
- Relative location
- Integrate rather than segregate
- Stack and pack
- Consider succession
What makes our PDC special is that in this course, you’ll get to observe every principle being implemented in different contexts and situations. Earthaven Ecovillage, in the woodlands of the ancient Appalachian mountains with the streams, vital forests, and naturally built infrastructure will serve as our container, mentor, and classroom for this work to unfold within. You’ll get to see the principles at play in wild landscapes, and throughout the course, you’ll see how permaculturists work with these principles to design and build functional, sustainable systems. These principles of permaculture aren’t just something you learn about, they’ll get into your mind and body as a new framework 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 apply permaculture into your life. 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 outside at a site where you can see them in action—even our lecture-time will be in comfortable outdoor spaces and eco-conscious buildings if it’s not in the gardens, forests, farms, or creeks.
- Principles of ecology and the local ecosystem
- Introduction to agroforestry 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, ecovillage, and neighborhood design
- The built environment
- Water systems, conservation and catchment
- Earthworks and broad-scale landscape design
- Incorporating animals
- Appropriate technology
- Designing for catastrophe
- 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’ll have a selection of different design projects with different goals and scales, to allow you to engage with a group and a project that feels relevant and exciting in your life. Throughout the course 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
- Living design process
Bonus Material unique to this collaboration between Wild Abundance, Earthaven Ecovillage, School of Integrated Living, and Cooperate WNC
Our course goes above and beyond the 72 hours of required material. In fact, this year’s program will be run by a dream-team of organizations and individuals that have been living permaculture for decades.
As we’ve already mentioned, the PDC will take place at Earthaven Ecovillage. Many of the projects, systems, and techniques of permaculture have been applied over the past 28 years in this village setting. You’ll get to see and explore what’s worked, witness unique innovations, and also learn from lived experiences that not all trendy permaculture ideas pan out as smoothly and easily as many claim. The School of Integrated Living is Earthaven’s educational organization, and will be your liaison throughout your time at Earthaven.
Within the container of Earthaven your lead teacher, Zev Friedman, will bring his passion for mutual aid, cooperative economics, and the human collaboration that’s required to put permaculture into action. These topics bridge the gap between permaculture ideals and real world application for personal and community transformation. Through his work founding and directing Cooperate WNC, Zev continually explores how mutual aid and the application of ecological design can be effective on a bioregional scale here in Western North Carolina.
This Permaculture Design Course delves deeply into the following and more:
- Cooperatives and mutual aid organizing
- Collective economics
- Edible perennials for the Southeast and beyond
- Growing food on various scales
- Racial equity and social justice
- Wild foods and plant ID in the magical Appalachian mountains
- Farming the forest
- Food as medicine
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. Throughout Earthaven’s 330 acres, you will get to touch, smell, and sometimes taste dozens of plants that lend themselves beautifully to permaculture landscapes. These include wild edibles and medicinals, common cultivated crops, both annual and perennial, along with unusual cultivars and rare varieties.
Revolutionize how you view and relate to the Earth and your everyday life.
Course Structure: This is a Residential 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, including morning and afternoon 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 of 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!”
Staying at Earthaven is strongly encouraged
Although lodging at Earthaven is optional, we strongly recommend it. That’s because students who stay in the ecovillage have consistently experienced more ease, depth of connection, and profound learning than those who choose to commute. Although it’s possible for commuters to have a rich experience in the course, the additional travel time makes for longer days and less time together or practicing self-care. It also means less time on the land and enjoying the natural world that the course is grounded in.
Several accommodation options are available at Earthaven Ecovillage. Camping is included in the PDC tuition. Private and shared indoor accommodations on campus are available at an additional charge. Upon registration you’ll receive details about various lodging options. Please note: dogs and other pets are not permitted onsite.
Participating in shared meals is required
As a PDC village, students and instructors will partake in their meals together, which is often a time to deepen in relationships and learning outside of “class time.” If you’re needing quiet or rest, you’ll be welcome to maintain space during mealtimes, too.
Delicious, omnivorous meals are prepared by talented culinary artists from the Earthaven community. Vegetarian, vegan, and gluten-free options are available. As much food as possible is sourced from Earthaven and its surrounding farms and gardens. Our meals are created with seasonal, local, fresh, wildcrafted, humanely-raised, and organic ingredients. Cost of the PDC Meal Plan is $620 for the full program.
Please Note: After registering with Wild Abundance for the course, students will get a link to purchase meal plan through Earthaven’s School of Integrated living. Registration is not confirmed until meal plan is purchased.
Educators who speak from experience and embrace mentorship.
We’re lucky to live in a hotbed of ecological farmers, seasoned communitarians, and modern-day back-to-the-landers. Folks at Earthaven and the surrounding area have been putting permaculture into practice for decades. This means we’ve got access to a stellar array of teachers to cover the many diverse aspects of permaculture design and implementation.
Who is this Permaculture Design Course for?
This intensive course is appropriate for everyone interested in applying Earth-inspired philosophies to their lives and communities, and also for those pursuing a career in permaculture design. All students will cultivate a deep engagement with the ecological 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. Indeed, the special focus of this PDC is bringing a permaculture approach into our functional lives and communities. This course is accessible and relevant to everyone who wants to live their life more in-tune with living patterns and cycles. And it’s especially relevant for those who want to be agents of positive change and healing in this beautiful, vulnerable 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 you plan to design for a living, want to work on your own land, or hope to engage these concepts on a community scale. 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.
Frequently Asked Questions
Zev FriedmanZev grew up in a patch of kudzu in Sylva, NC, embraced by the wild Appalachian landscape and layers of ecological and human communities here. He specializes in hands-on, in-depth education in permaculture and earthskills and has been doing residential and community-based professional design and installation throughout Western North Carolina since 2007. Almost a decade ...
NikiAnne FeinbergNikiAnne (she/her) was born and raised on a horse and cattle ranch on the ancestral lands of the Salinan people in the Central Coast of California. She currently lives at Earthaven Ecovillage on unceded lands of the Catawba and Cherokee (Tsalagi) people. Her ancestors come from Eastern and Western Europe — France, Germany, and English ...
Chris FarmerWhen Chris (he/him) was 20 years old, he realized that he had never eaten a single thing that he knew where it came from. At 22, he helped start an organic vegetable farm outside of Olympia, WA. Journeying home to the Carolinas to be closer to family, he moved to Earthaven Ecovillage. Since his arrival ...
Brandon GreensteinBrandon (he/they) is the Online Growers School Consulting Director and Sustainability Coach, providing support services to farmers, homesteaders, gardeners, and those seeking sustainability solutions. His background is in Renewable Systems, Earthworks, Energy, Water, Homesteading, Permaculture, and specifically providing consulting, design, and technical services for the creation of low impact, energy conserving, and integrated systems. Brandon ...
Becky BoisvertAn inveterate adventurer, Becky (she/her) has grown to see life itself as the adventure. That life is made richer in community at Earthaven where Becky, her daughter Willow, and her co-parent Sanne moved in 2018. Becky loves taking lofty creative visions and bringing them to life—whether her own or others’. In her first career as an educator, ...
Germaine JenkinsGermaine Jenkins (she/they) is the co-founder of Fresh Future Farm Inc. which operates a nonprofit farm and grocery store that grows the quality of life their neighbors deserve in North Charleston, SC. Ms. Jenkins is a nationally-recognized, visionary leader in the urban agriculture space and passionate advocate for food justice. Born in Hartsville, SC and ...
George BrabantGeorge Brabant (he/him) and his wife have been creating a permaculture designed food forest in Asheville NC for a little over a decade now. At Phat Ninja Foodforest, they grow the majority of their food on a 1/2 acre located in the city of Asheville, NC. The entire property is planted in a series of ...
Justin HoltJustin Holt (he/him) has worked in agroecological design, education, and production for over 12 years, with a particular tap-rooted commitment to tree crops. He is co-founder and worker-owner of the Nutty Buddy Collective and Asheville Nuttery, and co-founder of Kudzu Culture. He also teaches foraging and works as a freelance permaculture designer and consultant.
Sam DSam (he/him) is a therapist, poet, and small-time farmer who lives, works, and is regularly brought to his knees in Earthaven Ecovillage in the mountains of Western North Carolina.
NoahNoah (he/him) is a farmer, writer, and educator that has gratefully called Western North Carolina home since 2014. At the core of all he does is an interest in relationship, both human-human and human-earth. This is why he farms: so that he can spend as much of his waking life as possible engaged in all ...
Era KeysEra Keys (they/them) is a queer, non-binary permaculture educator, consultant, and designer. They have experienced living and working in Permaculture since 2013. In the past 10 years has seen Era living and managing permaculture farms, permaculture design business, educating in North Florida, Puerto Rico, Oregon + North Carolina, and living in an EcoVillage based in ...
This class is held near Old Fort, NC, at Earthaven Ecovillage
Earthaven is a beautiful and unique 330-acre intentional community that was founded in 1995, about 45 minutes from Asheville, NC. This permaculture-based community offers a unique living classroom where students directly engage with regenerative food systems, eco-infrastructure, and the intimate experience of community living. Many of the principles of permaculture are on display in the forests, gardens, fields, and infrastructure at Earthaven. It’s an amazing place to learn about both the techniques and technologies of more sustainable living, along with the human dynamics and systems required when cultivating long-term community.
Staying and learning at Earthaven is an adventure! Earthaven is off-the-grid, which means it is not tied into public electricity or water systems. They derive electricity from hydro (water) power, solar (sun) power, or a gasoline-powered generator, and water from on-land springs and wells. Please be prepared to conserve energy and resources while you are staying at Earthaven.
Please note: our campuses are all unconventional, with rustic amenities and uneven ground. Read more about our campuses here.
Local Accommodations and Facilities
Several accommodation options are available at Earthaven Ecovillage and in the surrounding area. Options include camping, private and shared indoor accommodations on-campus, or a variety of off-site options. Camping is included in the cost of tuition. Most campground sites are designed for two-person tents; some can accommodate larger tents. A couple camper van/RV spots (no hookups) are also available (max. length 28ft).
The campground offers drinking water, a tarp-covered kitchen with propane burners for cooking and heating water, and dining tables. There is an outdoor shower, outhouse with a composting toilet, and hand washing station. No refrigeration is available; purchase of ice for your personal cooler is available in Old Fort, about 10 miles away.
When you register for the PDC, you’ll receive more detailed info on accommodations in your welcome letter.
Pricing for Permaculture Design Certificate Course
Regular Pricing: $1,650 – $3,300
Please pay what you can afford. The median price is suggested to help cover the full cost of hosting this class. Please select the low end of the sliding scale if you are low income. If your household income is over $115,000/year, please select the maximum fee. Please place yourself in this range where you deem appropriate, based on your income.
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