[permaculture] Re: Does Permaculture have to be so expensive???

Scott Pittman pci at permaculture-inst.org
Tue May 18 16:33:34 EDT 1999

At 10:39 AM 5/18/99 -0400, Kelley wrote:
>I don't think that teaching Pc for money is unethical.  But, one of the
reasons that I
>feel courses are so high in cost is that for me, I would have to travel quite a
>distance for a course.  

I have been teaching courses in the U.S. and in some twenty other countries
for the past 13 years and my best financial year teaching couldn't have been
over $15,000.  This obviously means that I live below the poverty line or I
have other sources if income, which I do.  Most of my income is from design
work which keeps me busy during the summer months in this temperate area of
New Mexico.  For five of those years teaching I have co-taught with Bill
Mollison and he never made any more than I did!, Bill had his books to fall
back on.

Though teaching in the U.S. and other developed countries would bring in
$800. to $1,000 per student approximately two-thirds of that money is spent
on food, convenors fees, advertising and travel for the teachers.  The
one-third left is taxed at the rate of 25%.  On average our courses were
attended by twenty participants giving us, at $1000 tuition, approximately
$6,666.66 to split; that amount represents 150 hours of teaching and
hands-on demonstration which is 44.44 per hour.  Add the time traveling and
preparing for the course and you can easily halve that amount to 22.22 per
hour.  A good teaching year is three to four courses in a developed country
then add two or three courses in the developing world and you are very lucky
to break even.  This is not a "get rich quick" profession.  I spend an
inordinate amount of time writing grants to support the developing world
projects and educational programs for which I am paid nothing.

I learned more in two weeks of the Permaculture Design Certification course
than in 8 years at the University and it was knowledge that could be put to
work to improve my own living situation as well as gave me positive tools
for improving the total health and sustainability of the planet.  I became a
member of a very unusual international group of caring and hard working
folks whose efforts are making a difference in tens of thousands of peoples
lives and that is the primary pay back for all of the time, money, weird
tropical deseases, close calls, interminable hours with bureaucrats, and
listening without going ballistic to belly-aching whingers.

I am convinced that permaculture is the most important work being done
globally and that what has been done and is being done in the realm of
teaching, designing, and project development has been very successful by
paying teachers and designers for honest and groundbreaking work.  Every
teacher I know has struggled with the problem of how do we reach more folks
cheaper and faster - we are all aware of the urgency of reversing the
rapaciousness that is destroying our planetary base.  The only things I have
come up with are to be born rich or write grants so that you can give the
courses free and still survive as a teacher.  I only have the latter option
and have had little success except in the developing world.  The granting
organizations find nothing "sexy" in giving courses for free in the U.S.
except for a very few targeted groups like Native Americans.

Most of the teachers I know are living way below their economic potential
because they are deeply committed to creating alternatives for all of us.  I
don't know about the efficacy of correspondance courses because I havn't met
or seen the work of those students.  I do know that a very magical and life
changing events occurs at residential permaculture courses that are well
taught and that the students who graduate from those courses never look at
the world in quite the same way, becoming themselves part of the solution
rather than the problem.

As far as travel costs are concerned all that is needed is for a group of
people in a bioregion to get together and organize a course with enough
participants to pay for the teachers transportation and an agreed upon fee
and then find a teacher to come to you - it's done all the time.  Bill had a
rule that you never go anywhere unless you have been invited, particularly
in developing countries. We always found some way to go once we received the

This letter is starting to feel like a ramble when what I really wanted to
say was I have known only a couple of teachers of permaculture who weren't
worth ten times what they were paid, expecially when you see the final
results as expressed by their students and their students students and
their... etc.


Scott Pittman

Permaculture Institute, USA
PO Box 3702, Pojoaque, NM 87501  US
phone 505.455.0270

Ingenio Patet Campus

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