Permaculture course participants gardening in an organic garden.

Dirt Time

Permaculture course participants gardening in an organic garden.
Permaculture Design Course participants gain hands-on experience in organic gardening.

After six months of creating bonds with new people, transforming the way they think about ecosystems, communities, gardens, and relationships, and gathering hands-on experiences that broaden their skills and deepen their knowledge, our permaculture design students are eager to evaluate their new strengths and chart their next course. During our last weekend together we have a session on “where to from here?” Focus on what you are most passionate about and also challenge your assumptions and conclusions. Once you have narrowed your aim, find ways to gain experience, or “dirt time,” and seek greater knowledge and community around your pursuit. Go forth and make good in the world!

Buckminster Fuller grave showing "call me a trim tab" inscription - permaculture designers can be a trim tab in their permaculture work.

Seek Direction

The first step is to seek direction. Start with yourself, your immediate home and your kin. Buckminster Fuller had “Call me trim tab” on his gravestone. A trim tab on a rudder is a small piece that allows the operator to reduce the manual force required for the desired effect. It’s a real life tool that achieves maximum effect with minimum energy. We all have trim tabs. Let’s go out and be early adopters of the changes we’d like to see in the world. Let’s get as much as we can out of every experience.

Find what you love from the permaculture curriculum and go deeper. Take your passion, develop it, and share it with the world. Dig swales, make gabions, grow a garden, build communities, and plant trees! Assemble “dirt time” so that when you talk about permaculture you can use the pronoun “I” to describe “when I did this, this happened” instead of “in a book and in this video it shows that this can happen.” Be humble and always grateful and stay connected.

Permaculture is an awakening for many of us. One student recently described her design course as “a really amazing opportunity to connect in a profound way with nature…in short, it was life-changing!” We leave our design course wanting to shout about permaculture from the mountain tops. Yes! AND, it might not be helpful to go out telling everyone that permaculture is the answer to all the world’s problems. It’s invaluable to learn additional approaches to thinking about the world, including critiques of permaculture, agroecology, sustainability and society. Permaculture has a lot to offer to the world, and learning which behaviors are positive and which are limiting is essential. Some approaches that offer a critique of permaculture include: 

Dirty hands hold soil, showing how permaculture design students can gain hands-on experience working in the field.
Get your hands dirty!

Seek Experience: Get “dirt time” and engage in skill building

Once you’ve found a greater sense of direction, seek experience, or “dirt time,” and engage in skill building. For many of us, we get so excited about the potential of permaculture that we forget to build our hands-on skills, such as learning to assess soil texture by feel, knowing how to prune a peach tree, or feeling what a good batch of cob feels like. 

The USDA considers people a beginning farmer for ten years. Better get started! There are many opportunities for getting dirt time – that hands on experience that is so irreplaceable. For some, the simplest approach is to do-it-yourself. Just start, go for it, make it happen, become a guerrilla gardener. Don’t wait for others/anything to get going, be the one who gets things going. Celebrate the things you did wrong, that’s how we learn. Host work parties for each other (see guild & village below) and start working for people doing pro bono work: installing gardens and doing design work.

Look for volunteer opportunities:

Join or explore associations doing permaculture without “the p-word.”

Consider apprenticeships, trainings and certificates. Take another PDC, perhaps with another teacher or in a different location. Some have themes like permaculture for women, children, international aid or social permaculture.

Seek Community & Information

This post emphasizes practical skill building, but sometimes it’s raining, and magazines and YouTube videos are very helpful. Furthermore, we love getting together with other permies at conferences and meetings all over the place.

Permaculture design course students build community by waving their hands together while touring a broadscale permaculture site.

Thanks for reading! Please email us if you have any suggestions.

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