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Reviews: Permaculture Courses in South East Asia and Australia

Recently, I obtained my Permaculture Design Certificate (PDC) in Sydney with Milkwood, and was keen to find out about the courses offered in the region. Since several people in the urban farming community in Singapore have one, I thought to ask them about their experiences and write a blogpost listing PDC options and reviews.

For those asking, “Do I need a PDC?”, my personal opinion is that while it is a useful course and it sounds very interesting, it’s relevant if you’re designing your own backyard or someone else’s garden/farm space. Otherwise, learning the 12 permaculture principles would suffice, a more affordable option, because the full 14-day PDC will cost you at least $1,000 in course fees alone – my opinion, of course. It greatly helps if one already has gardening/farming experience. In my class, everyone pretty much had experience growing edible plants, and some people had chickens as well as goats, so we didn’t have to keep stopping to explain basic information on growing plants.

When deciding on a PDC, it is worth considering what climate you are thinking of applying your knowledge to – tropical, subtropical and/or temperate, and city or rural? Also, whether you prefer a more hands-on experience in the countryside or a less physically involved experience in the city. They each have their own strengths, so see if any of these 7 reviews pique your interest!

 

Indonesia

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1. Where did you complete your PDC?
Kul Kul Farm at Green School, Bali.

2. Who were your teachers? And how many people were in your class?
Ian Lillington (main trainer), Orin Hardy (practical training), Jodi Roebuck (grazing and bio-intensive gardening) and Scott Godfredson (planning and design). Additional evening talks and speakers – Brendan Morse (permaculture in East Timor), Jeni Kardinell (straw bale housing), Petra Schnieder (water technology), William Ingram (social enterprise and traditional weaving), Dennis Walker (systems approach) and Elora Hardy (bamboo architecture and design).

There were 26 students in total (including myself).

3. How much was it? Did it include accommodation?

The two-week design course is USD1,500. It includes food and tent accommodation. I added another USD150 for better comfort of staying in a twin-sharing bunkhouse.

4. Highlights of the course? 
  • Personally, the greatest highlight is getting to visit the Green School and Green Village to physically immerse in the amazing bamboo architecture.
  • We were also given a tour of the bamboo factory, PT Bamboo Pure, where different types of bamboo are treated and formed for making furniture and buildings.
  • On top of that, a short workshop by native craftsmen using bamboo to create simple building structures, musical instrument, etc.
  • I also thoroughly enjoyed myself on a half day tour of the Subak water management system in Bali.
  • Another highlight is a trash walk, led by John Hardy, which was an eye-opener on how destructive urbanisation and modern lifestyle can effect a once pristine and harmony with nature island.
  • Last but not least, the invaluable friendship of sharing culture and exchanging ideas with fellow classmates from all over the world. I’m so excited by the projects they will bring back home to start upon completion of this PDC!
5. Theory vs practical? 
Personally I found that the course inclines more towards theory-based classes and would prefer more practical and hands-on experiences. However, I also appreciate and understand it is next to impossible to cover the subject’s holistic and multidisciplinary teachings within two weeks when it is also evolving with the advancement of technology. Thus, this PDC generally managed to give a good overview of permaculture and its design as a form of a toolkit for the participants.

6. This course is for those who…

love Balinese culture and Green School! 🙂 I wouldn’t recommend just anyone to head there for PDC, especially city folks who are used to modern amenities. You will need to gauge your comfort level and appreciate a rural and back-to-basic lifestyle of insect bites, smell and sight of the composting toilet, stomach discomfort due to food and water, awareness of natural surrounding and possible danger, etc.
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Malaysia

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1. Where did you complete your PDC? 

Taman Pertanian Jubli Perak Sultan Haji Ahmad Shah (TPSAS) in Kuantan, Malaysia, organised by Murujan Permaculture Design

2. Who were your teachers? And how many people were in your class?

Salah Hammad, with guest instructors Wan Ridhwan Hanizan and Muneeb Bin Yousuf. There were 26 participants.

3. How much was it? Did it include accommodation?

RM3700, RM3000 for early birds. Includes accommodation and 5 meals! Breakfast, lunch, dinner, 2 tea breaks…and as many fruits as you want to harvest.

4.Highlights of the course?

  • We had a session of observation in the forest where we explored the area on our own, looking out for patterns in nature and whatever else interests us.
  • The site is huge (300 acres) and many areas have yet to be worked on, so we had the opportunity to learn how to design parts of the site from scratch.
  • Fresh fruits from the site every day! Papaya, rambutan, duku, starfruit and many more.
  • Formed strong bonds with the other participants in the course. We’re planning our reunion already!

5. Theory vs practical? 

Mostly theory, but we had 1 outdoor session (out of 4 sessions per day) nearly every day. We also had optional time in the morning to help out in the market garden for those of us who just can’t stay out of the garden. 🙂

6. This course is for those who…

are interested in designing/farming for the tropics. We’ll learn about different climates but the exposure to plant species which we can grow here in the tropics is fantastic. I would also recommend this course to people who would like to live/work/farm in a Muslim community. This course is for anyone who cares about the environment, the quality of the food they eat, the water they drink and the air they breathe.

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1. Where did you complete your PDC?

Murujan Permaculture Design, in Shah Alam, Selangor, Malaysia.

2. Who were your teachers? And how many people were in your class?

Teacher: Rhamis Kent

Participants: About 25 pax

3. How much was it? Did it include accommodation?

Total Course Fees: RM2700

Accommodation: Yes

Food: Yes (Breakfast, Lunch, Tea and Dinner)

4.Highlights of the course?

  • Accommodation was very kampong style but comfortable and cozy. It allowed us to bond with the other participants very well.
  • We watched many Permaculture based movies almost every alternate night. This was very insightful and very enjoyable.
  • The participants were all very knowledgeable, passionate and well-connected individuals
  • There was a lot of cross learning and sharing between participants, formally in class as well as casually over meals and at night.
  • The food was amazing Malay style food delivered hot each time. I think I definitely put on weight there.

5. Theory vs practical?

This was meant to be an intense Theoretical class so we spent everyday discussing the theories behind Permaculture. We only went out once to learn how to build a compost pile and another 2 times to map the site in order to do a table-top theoretical design.

6. This course is for those who…

  • Are new to Permaculture and want to get a good foundation in understanding the ethics, concepts and strategies of Permaculture
  • Enjoy staying out on a tropical farm (even though you can choose not to stay over there and travel home daily if you want)

 

Thailand

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1. Where did you complete your PDC?

The Panya Project, Chiangmai, Thailand

2. Who were your teachers? And how many people were in your class?

Greg Crawford, Brecht Deriemaeker, Nick Tittle and Toni Robinson,There were 4 teachers, there were 20 students in the course

3. How much was it? Did it include accommodation?

It was around US$1000 including shared accommodation
4. Highlights of the course?
  • We got to experience off grid living. As it was towards the end of the dry season, there was not plenty of water in storage, so we were encouraged to take shower in the lake before sunset.
  • The site was 7 years old when I was there so it was great to see a relatively mature permaculture site and be able to see systems in place.
  • The village in Panya includes a community of organic growers and we had neighbours that were doing great stuff. We got to visit other projects nearby that had various objectives and were of various maturity.
  • There were lots of natural building going on in changmai and thailand and we were exposed to various green buildings and structures.
  • We had yoga every morning by a yogi from an ashram.

5. Theory vs practical?

It was a 50/50 theory and practical session. For every theory session there was an accompanying practical session.
6. This course is for those who…
wish to pursue permaculture in the tropics, have a different outlook in life, or for those who have a passion in nature and sustainable living.
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Australia

lat1. Where did you complete your PDC?

In Mudgee, NSW, Australia, with Milkwood.

2. Who were your teachers? And how many people were in your class?

Nick Ritar, Michael Hewins, Floyd Constable, Brendan Morse, there were about 23 participants3. How much was it? Did it include accommodation?

It included tent and meals, the course fees were more than AUD1,200 – I can’t remember

4. Highlights of the course? 
  • I am fairly sensitive to group dynamics and how that can somehow create subtle overlooking of quieter individuals or subtle/obvious victimization of those that “don’t quite fit it”. There was a classmate in the class that can be described as marginal. In some groups, I am aware that he would be targeted and bullied or leaders while not subscribing to ‘bullying’ may turn a blind eye to others turning on him. It was heartening to see all teachers patiently answering his questions, affirming his gifts, sometimes politely having him ‘park’ his questions and also gently putting someone in place who rather abruptly had an outburst with this coursemate. They powerful demonstrated the principal of value the marginal with good boundaries and kindness.
  • To me Milkwood personnel at all levels demonstrated and modelled “care for people” (one of David Holmgren’s 3 permaculture ethics) with congruence. Although infrastructure was basic, we camped in tents, showers were via rocket heater, our comfort needs were well taken care of. All food was organic coming from the market garden and excellent cuisine was served by the chef. There was plenty of spare clothes blankets and sleeping bags to supplement what we had brought so we would be comfortable. I have heard stories where people who attended PDCs were not very well fed and were left in isolated settings hungry. Since we were 1 hour away from the nearest town, I was quite concerned in this aspect and that I would not be able to adapt to inclement weather and camping. But fears did not come to fruition.

5. Theory vs practical?
50/50

6. This course is for those who… 
want to be thinking designers and not just blindly apply permaculture tools for their own sake. That can result in costly mistakes from a false sense of confidence.
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 1. Where did you complete your PDC?

With  Milkwood, at 107 Projects in Redfern, Sydney, Australia.

2. Who were your teachers? And how many people were in your class?

Nick Ritar, Hannah Moloney, Brendan Morse, David Holmgren and Adam Kennedy. There were 3o participants in my class.

3. How much was it? Did it include accommodation?

It was AUD2,200 full price, and around AUD1980 for the early bird price – no accommodation. Includes fruit and coffee/tea for morning tea and afternoon tea breaks.
4. Highlights of the course? 
  • David Holmgren teaching us the 12 permaculture principles over two days. All the teachers were awesome – all highly knowledgeable and supportive. I found the facilitation outstanding
  • Meeting so many likeminded people from around Australia, who have inspired me and taught me so much
  • A tour of Michael Mobb’s famed sustainable house, and Pocket City Farms. Michael Mobbs personally walked us through his off-grid home in Chippendale, and Pocket City Farms’ Co-founder, Michael Zagoridis shared with us how they planned the layout of their edible garden in Camperdown
  • Opportunity to design a real life space in a group. In my case, a community garden. This is on top of our personal PDC project, which we submit after the first week
  • Milkwood created a Google and Facebook group for us to communicate, keep in touch and organise ourselves for instances such as carpooling opportunities and gatherings
5. Theory vs practical?
Lots of theory, but several visits to green spaces, such as the Redfern park, and the above-mentioned excursions.

6. This course is for those who… 
want to meet David Holmgren, gain a solid permaculture foundation, and gain an understanding of the application of permaculture in the city. The teachers touched on tropical, subtropical and temperate climates, which all exist in Australia, so that was very helpful for me.
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1. Where did you complete your PDC?

I attained my PDC with the Permaculture Research Institute (PRI) at The Channon, NSW, Australia.

2. Who were your teachers? And how many people were in your class?

Our teacher was Geoff Lawton.

There were many people in our class.  I can’t recall the exact number, but around 30+.

The number of people in the course was probably the only negative thing.  Personally I thought there were too many, but it’s understandable from Geoff’s point of view.  To get permaculture out to as many people as possible you have to teach as many as you can.  As Geoff mentioned in the course, it’s difficult to get students to become teachers.  It’s only a small percentage of students who end up teaching and passing the message on.  This is one of the reasons why he is putting much effort into his online courses.  He’s able to reach many more people on a global scale, and will get a proportionally bigger number of teachers.

3. How much was it? Did it include accommodation?

The regular price of the course was AUD2700, but I managed to get the early bird price of $AUD 2400.

The flight to the Gold Coast from Singapore was quite reasonable with Scoot.  From memory about $SG 199.

Accommodation was included on his property.  I just had to bring my own tent.  Camping… I love it, but it may not suit everyone.  So be prepared to “rough it” a little bit for two weeks.  I managed to arrive early and got a covered tent site.  There are only a handful of those, so get there early if you really want one.

Amenities are pretty good considering you have self contained hot showers and toilets on site.  And it’s actually great to see these systems in action.  Everything is off grid.  Solar heated rain water.  Waterless toilets.  That’s what it’s all about, right?  Immerse yourself in the environment so you get a feeling for what you are trying to achieve.  If your goal is to live off grid one day, you really need to experience these systems in action, because there are certain things you’re going to have to come to terms with pretty early on.  Take waterless toilets for example.  If you don’t follow the instructions, put in the wood chips and spray some microbes, you’ll get to know what a whole pile of poo smells like.  And it’s not just your poo, but everyone’s poo!

And of course rain water is precious, so be prepared to have short showers to conserve the rain water.

So while off grid sounds glamorous and hip, you’ve got to be prepared to make changes to personal behaviour.

I think that’s part of the course.  The unwritten part.

The price also included the Permaculture Designers’ Manual.

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4. Highlights of the course? 

  • For me personally one of the best highlights was the simple act of getting up early in the morning, before breakfast, walk down to the vegetable gardens and participate in the working bee.  I really missed the contact of the earth, getting dirt stuck under your fingernails, handling plants and pulling weeds while living in Singapore. So the prospect of getting up early and getting “stuck into it” was really satisfying for me.  This was optional, and some students chose not to participate.  It had no bearing on the outcome of the certificate.  There were many experienced gardeners doing the course, so the opportunity for them not to garden for these two weeks was just as attractive.
  • Another highlight were the different walks that we were able to go on.  I mean a guided tour by Geoff Lawton on his own property is pretty much a permaculture student’s dream, isn’t it?   Seeing all the different systems in action is vital to gaining better understanding.  Take the swales for example.  It was brilliant to see them full of water with so much life in them, slowly seeping into the soil over a period of days.  You read about it and see it on his Youtube clips, but to see it live is something else.  Seeing all his dams full of water, his whole property literally bursting at the seams.  He showed us sites of natural springs coming up because of the incredible hydration his property has had over the years from carefully planned and executed permaculture water saving techniques. And you don’t get to see Geoff Lawton jump into one of his dams everyday to catch an eel.
  • Geoff Lawton just talking.  Ok, it’s a bit weird this one, but I really enjoyed just listening to him especially when he’s talking about topics that are slightly off tangent to the actual course syllabus.  Apparently that happens quite a bit, but he simply is a very smart man with experiences to match that are hard to beat. This can be a double edged sword during a course which has some time restraints, meaning that as soon as he does go off topic, you can expect a delay of at least an hour while he covers that tangent. And when you have all chapters of the Permaculture Designers’ Manual to cover during your two weeks, you know it’s gonna be a loooong day!

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5. Theory vs practical? 

I think the theory was a little on the heavy side.  I mentioned previously that we had to cover all the chapters of the Permaculture Designers’ Manual, and that made for some long days.  Personally I would have loved to see each day split into two parts,  theory in the morning and practical in the afternoon.  However those chapters are very detailed and they require a thorough work through, so it would be an injustice to skip over them.  This is the foundation after all. 

6. This course is for those who…

…want a certificate from Geoff Lawton.

I think the online version would be a viable alternative, as it also has some benefits over the “live” course.

For example theory.  It was tough on some days sitting through the theory.  I could imagine that the online version would be far more flexible in that regard.  You can start / stop at your convenience.

The drawback of course is that you can’t touch those plants, or smell those waterless compost toilets after someone has forgotten to spray the microbes and put a couple of scoops of wood chips on them.

Whichever option you choose, your life will be changed for the better.

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Other Options

If you know of other PDCs offered in SEA and and Australia that should be on this list, let me know!

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