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The 10-Day Permaculture Design Intensive

Back in 1981, when I first took the Permaculture Design Course with Bill Mollison, the course duration was three weeks. And indeed it seemed that that everyone attending the course experienced overload bec ause we had tried to cover so much in such a short period of time. After several years of design work and teaching short workshops and courses, I began teaching the full Permaculture Design Course. It was quickly apparent that three weeks was not enough time to properly cover materials with adequate involvement of students in classroom presentations.

* Focus *

While I was looking for ways to offer a longer course, we began to get requests for shorter design courses. Since this is a certificate course, I did not want to cut the time, which I saw as tantamount to cutting quality. Other permaculture teachers responded by offering two week (and sometimes even shorter!) programs. My approach, over time, was to maintain the Three Week Permaculture Design Course as particularly suitable for people who may eventually teach permaculture or design for others and to develop a different, shorter program intended to provide the average person with enough information to get started with permaculture at home, particularly if home is like the region where the workshop is held. This became our 10-day permaculture design intensive. Later, we also developed a 6-months certificate program as an online correspondence course.

Learn Design by Designing

Elfin Permaculture's 10-day workshop is an intensive experience in learning the permaculture design process by producing a draft design for the workshop site. During the first weekend of the workshop, participants learn the basic principles of permaculture design and produce the first outline of the design to come. Teams formed during the initial weekend work through the following week to develop their portions of a permaculture design for the site. Simultaneously, they coordinate with the other design teams to assure an integrated final design report.

Typically, each team works on one or more of the following topics: water, food, energy, shelter, access, economics, aesthetics and community. The resulting design must work within the actual budget available for the site, utilize only techniques, technologies and resources that are actually available, fit the requirements, goals and resources of the residents, protect and nurture the environment, minimize the expenditure of resources (including work), protect endangered species, conserve and restore natural resources, provide enriched habitat for many life forms, and suit the conditions of the site so completely that the design represents an integration within the ecosystem and not an external manipulation of it. Design Recommendations Must Be Practical Design recommendations must be direct, practical and doable by the people involved. Provision for play, such as modest experiments of new techniques, are encouraged, provided that they hold to a modest scale so that nothing can go wrong which will deplete or destabilize the remainder of the design and/or the larger ecosystem. The design should be amusing and interesting to live and implement.

The key to our 10-day workshop is that it must be taught by an experienced Permaculture Design Course instructor. I generally bring to the 10-day intensive the same suitcase full of slides and overheads and the same computer full of lecture outlines that I use in the full, three-week Permaculture Design Course. However, only material that pertains to the design at hand is actually presented. As with any workshop or course, I arrive early and survey the site which the students will design. Ideally, the workshop host has purchased our client survey, about 20 pages of questions to be answered, covering both "client" needs/preferences and site characteristics. From direct experience of the site and input from residents, I construct an outline of which segments of the course will probably be required during the workshop. This permits me to load slides in advance and to review any specialized information that I feel I may be required to present. (Often, depending on transportation arrangements, I am able to bring a small library with me as well.) In addition, I bring large notebooks full of permaculture designs for the participants to study as examples.

Usually, I am able to anticipate more than half of the necessary presentations in a given workshop. Many sessions are held impromptu in response to needs discovered as the design process develops. Students use one another as consultants on design detail and the instructor also serves as consultant to the design teams. One of us, usually the instructor, develops presentations to deal with any questions which none of us can immediately answer. This is a big part of my work while students meet to develop their components of the design. I prepare such lessons while the students continue with other aspects of the design.

Long Hours and Changes of Pace

We generally work from 8 a.m. until 10 p.m. with breaks. Change of pace from classroom to small design groups helps people maintain vigor. While this improvisational teaching is far more demanding of me than teaching the full design course, such a pace can be easily maintained for 10 days. Keeping to strictly design-relevant material minimizes the need for classroom work, permitting a maximum exposure to a design process of local relevance. By Friday, after a week of work, the teams present a draft of the complete design. After a review and critique by the instructor, they prepare a revised draft which is presented early Sunday. Following another critique, the design is turned over to the residents who then complete the design as needed after the workshop. Local workshop participants often continue involvement in the design, which can be the first step in establishing a local permaculture study group.

The Process Works

The 10-day workshop is an excellent program for people who wish to use permaculture design at home, prospective Permaculture Design Course students who seek a solid preparation, and graduates of the Permaculture Design Course who desire further guided design experience. Because the 10-day workshop provides more design experience than is possible in the Permaculture Design Course, where far more subject matter is covered, I consider them to be complementary programs. Students in our six month online course may meet their practicum requirement through successful participation in our 10-day workshop with some follow-up work to polish the design and present it to an online class for critique.

Typical 10-Day Schedule

The following could be the outline of a typical 10-day workshop, exclusive of specialized and esoteric discussions pertinent to the exact design at hand. § 1st Friday evening: Our basic "Introduction to Permaculture" slide presentation is followed by discussion.
§  1st Saturday: In the morning, we form design teams, explore permaculture design principles, the "zone system" and, if relevant, keyline. After lunch, we go on a site walk and talk. Then interview the residents to get their input into the design. Teams begin their design work. A slide presentation on "Succession" is usually fit in or scheduled for early in the next week.
§  1st Sunday: Teams continue design work and present preliminary design recommendations and problems. Critique by instructor. (Sometimes a few people just come for the first weekend. They present any particular questions for discussion before they leave and receive an invitation to attend the final design report session.)
§  Monday: (Every day begins in classroom with Question, Answer, Feedback discussions.) In the morning we review the strategy of this design process, and typically we cover basics of "Energy" in the morning, teams work on their designs throughout the day, and we have the "Solar" slide presentation in the evening.
§  Tuesday: Following discussion of design progress, "Gardening" slides to the extent relevant. "Nutrient Cycles" discussion after lunch. Maybe more "Gardening" slides in evening, depending on relevance and need for other input.
§  Wednesday: "Water in Permaculture" opens day with optional session on Keyline and possibly evening slides, depending on need and design progress.
§  Thursday: "Edges/Edge Effect" discussion opens day. Teams work most of day on design.
§  Friday: Teams present a draft design. Critique by instructor.
§  Saturday: Teams begin revision. Party in the evening.
§  Sunday: Teams present revisions after lunch. Final critique. Evaluation. Discussion of future plans. Workshop closes Sunday afternoon.

Happily, this process works well. Although 10-day workshop alumni do not have the broad background provided by the full three-week Permaculture Design Course, they generally go on to incorporate permaculture design in their daily lives and a large percentage also volunteer significant support to the permaculture movement at large. Our online correspondence course enables graduates of the 10-day program to qualify for certification as Permaculture Design Trainees, equivalent to the certification provided by attending an Elfin Permaculture Design Course.

Reprinted by the author from Robin newsletter, Winter, 1992, edition. Copyright, 1992, Dan & Cynthia Hemenway. For a regular update on the schedule of Elfin Permaculture lectures, workshops and courses check our page on the Eastern Permaculture Teachers Association site at or our home page at

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Copyright Dan and Cynthia Hemenway, Barking Frogs Permaculture Center, Florida, USA. 2001. All rights reserved.
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