Permaculture Design Course: Training for True Stewardship

2.1.Corn Beans Squash
The Three Sisters: Corn, beans and squash

Three Sisters Permaculture has been leading Permaculture Design Certification Courses since 1987.  We use the core curriculum as recognized by The Permaculture Institute of North America. This curriculum is based on a format developed by Bill Mollison and his book Permaculture: a Designer’s Manual. The course material is generally adapted to the course location. For example, we might offer a rural focus on a farm our homestead, an urban permaculture focus in on location in a city, or a Mediterranean focus in a course in Spain. Co-teachers, guest speakers, field trips and hands on activities are chosen to augment the program and aid students in developing sound design plans for the course project. Throughout the course we work to build community, friendship and meaningful networks.  During a two week residence course, all participants are well fed, and cared for to provide a relaxed, yet focused and inspiring experience.

A permaculture course begins with a review of our human relationship to the earth and the bioregions where we live. It is important at the beginning to understand the issues we face as designers, so that we have common understanding of human needs and ecological constraints. This provides a base for the design of sustainable, regenerative homes and communities.

This first part of the course includes exploring the ethics that guide permaculture practitioners:  caring for the earth, caring for people and fairly sharing our planet’s resources with all life forms. These ethics, while simply stated, have profound influence of choices we must make to regenerate the earth and live in abundant beauty.

Next we look more closely at principles of ecology, earth science and permaculture design principles. These principles are the core of permaculture design and are reiterated throughout the course. Similarly, we study permaculture design processes and techniques as outlined by Bill Mollison in the book Permaculture: A Designer’s Manual, and by David Holmgren in Permaculture:  Principles and Pathways Beyond Sustainability.

Early in the program we will interview the “client” or course host in order to introduce the class to design projects. Each student participates in a design team, and presents on a design projects at the end of the course.

The course continues with an overview of the topics listed below to give students an understanding on how the subject area fits into the design process. Topics such as designing earthworks, water management, understanding soils, homestead design, useful plants, animals and so forth are covered with the intention of providing a working knowledge and base for further study after the course work.

Presentations and discussions are supplemented with hands on activities. We might ferment foods, make compost, tend gardens, propagate plants, build with straw and clay, dig swales and lay mulch. Each activity is planned to supplement lecture and help students understand the needs of the client.

As the course progresses, students work in teams to map and measure and study the site dynamics, discuss and plan and finally prepare and present a design plan to address the client’s needs.

After completing a permaculture design course, one may offer goods and services using the name permaculture. Many students continue their studies with mentors and advisors in their home region, and may take advanced training. Various permaculture institutes offer diplomas of permaculture after a period of applied work.

Core Curriculum (from

  1. Introduction to Permaculture
  2. Ethics and Principles
  3. The Local Ecosystem
  4. Patterns and Pattern Application
  5. Climates, Biogeography and Microclimates
  6. Design Methods and Process
  7. The Home System
  8. Water
  9. Earthworks
  10. Soils
  11. Trees, Forests, Plants, and Cultivated Ecologies
  12. Animals
  13. Aquaculture
  14. The Built Environment
  15. Waste and Bioremediation
  16. Appropriate Technology
  17. Design for Catastrophe
  18. Urban Permaculture
  19. Broad-scale Landscape Design
  20. Design for Invisible Structures
  21. Economic Systems
  22. Access to Land
  23. Ecovillage and Neighborhood Design
  24. Permaculture Scene
  25. Design Projects and Presentations
  26. Passion / Talent Show