What’s a PDC? Part 1 (PVP073)

“You don’t do permaculture, you use permaculture in what you do.” Larry Santoyo


Permaculture Voices Part 1

The first PDC was taught 34 years ago in Australia by Bill Mollison. Back then it was 3 weeks long and consisted of Bill covering all of what was permaculture at that time – the ethics, principles, design techniques, and strategies for all of the world’s climate zones, with everything all delivered in chalk and talk form like only Bill could do.

For a while there was only one PDC being taught, and if you wanted to take it, then you had to take it from Bill. Fast forward to today, and there are hundreds, maybe even thousands, of PDCs being taught each year. Through those PDCs, thousands of students complete the now two week curriculum being introduced to the concepts, principles and ethics of permaculture. Many of these students leave these two weeks re-framed.

As Rob Avis says, “the PDC re-frames our place on the planet” and students often leave a PDC thinking “we can be just as positive as we are negative.

But how do people go from their place as a ‘civilian in the modern consumerism industrialized society,’ to that state of re-framing their place on the planet, thinking that they can now be a part of the solution, not the problem?

How do people arrive at a PDC?

There are new people entering the permaculture world each day, and whether it comes through food and diet, gardening, alternative education, or just trying to change up their life, they all end up following a similar path in the early days of exploring permaculture; a route that usually involves a lot of reading and watching YouTube videos. From there their curiosity grows, and if they stick around long enough then inevitably they come to a point where they ask themselves, ‘I wonder if I should take a PDC – Permaculture Design Certificate Course?

This question opens a can of worms, and becomes the first of many questions centered around PDCs and often leads to a feeling of confusion – centered around ‘What exactly is a PDC?, Which PDC should I take?, Is it worth it?

I get where the confusion comes from. There are a lot of PDCs out there. There are a lot of people teaching PDCs. Each PDC seems to have it’s own format, twist, spin, and class schedule – who knew you could cut up 72 hours so many ways?

Given the amount of confusion that I see on a day to day basis, and the fact that there seems to be a lot of unknowns out there about PDCs, I created this episode to try to answer a lot of the questions that I was getting regarding PDCs.

Now, I am not a PDC instructor and I have only taken one PDC, so I turned to eight well respected PDC instructors (names below) to get their thoughts on ‘What’s a PDC?

Combined these eight instructors have taught hundreds and hundreds of PDCs over the last 30 years and each brings their own twist to the PDC. I asked them all the same questions and compiled their thoughts into two easily digestible episodes.

At the end of each episode Byron Joel, a PDC instructor himself, joins me and we recap and discuss what we heard, and give our thoughts on PDCs based on our experiences with them.

To keep things interesting the subject matter was broken up into two pieces…

In Part 1, this episode, we take on the task of answering, What is a PDC? and What isn’t a PDC?

In the next episode, Part 2 we will answer the questions, What is the value of taking a PDC? and How do I choose and evaluate which PDC is right for me?

Hopefully this show will help answer some of the questions that you had about PDCs, and indirectly give you a better idea of what permaculture is all about..




My Takeaways from this episode (a far from complete list):

Larry Santoyo:

  • Garden as a metaphor for everything.
  • PDC isn’t about gardening.
  • “You don’t do permaculture, you use permaculture in what you do.”

Toby Hemenway:

  • A PDC is an overview of permaculture in general.  Shows the relationships of all permaculture principles together.
  • A PDC is not designed to make you an expert in any one area.
  • A PDC won’t make you a designer.
  • Toby’s PDC FAQ on Pattern Literacy

Javan Bernakevitch:

  • Introduces all of the concepts.  A buffet of sustainable solutions and ideas, and how we want to live in the world.
  • A PDC is conceptual and theoretical.  People hope to actually do stuff, but it’s just the theory.

David Shaw:

  • A PDC is a survey course that introduces topics, principles, practices, and ethics of permaculture.
  • It’s a launching off point.
  • “A PDC is a great place to start, but a terrible place to end.”
  • People want to come out of PDCs as an expert.  Come out of 14 days with years of experience.  But you won’t; it is an introduction to permaculture.
  • A PDC doesn’t give you a license to speak authoritatively.
  • It will hopefully spark some curiosity to learn more.

Cliff Davis:

  • It’s not a certificate to do everything permaculture.  It is more of an initiation into a cultural experience.
  • It sets the basis for whole systems design thinking.
  • The goal of the educator is to draw out the genius of the participant.

Stefan Sobkowiak:

  • A PDC is a starting place.  Not a be all, end all.
  • A PDC is where you go when you know you want to learn more, and then where you get a more rounded picture on everything permaculture without going into the fine details.
  • It is not a spiritual journey.
  • It is about design.
  • It’s as practical as possible while still getting the theoretical in there.

Rob Avis:

  • It is a design course.
  • It re-frames our place on the planet.  “We can be just as positive as we are negative.”
  • It is not spiritual.

Rosemary Morrow:

  • Applied science that is tangible and evidence based.
  • A PDC teaches a body of knowledge that is both global and local.  Principals globally, locally techniques.
  • Start with principals and work to local applications.
  • Not astrology.  Not spiritual.
  • “A PDC isn’t going to show you how to grow lettuce, it shows you how to design a garden.”



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