[permaculture] Why is permaculture more about selling books, DVDs and training courses?

Michael Burns michael at fingerlakespermaculture.org
Wed Jun 24 11:50:00 EDT 2009

Suraj replied:

"I personally decided to lead by example and just collect a community.
Whether they want to pay me in kind or by money or by grains, I'll
leave it to them. Afterall, if I can get self-sufficient, why would I
need money?.. and afterall, how long can this money keep existing?"

That's the spirit, if it works for you and your community. So they are paying
you for permaculture work? Great, just like others do in many parts of the
world. I hope the exchange spreads the word like "free" information on the

I have to ask: Why is your perception of permaculture limited to the internet?
Besides, many people do donate their time, pay for internet service put up a
lot of free information about permaculture. This is a very small sampling of
permaculture resources: http://delicious.com/michaelgburns/permaculture. If
you want free, stick to the internet and you will find plenty. In fact, much
of the labor of many permaculture writers has been pirated and offered online
if you know where to look and are comfortable with theft.

Have you spent much time attempting to practice what you've read? Have you
visited sites? Have you considered donating a large chunk of your time to work
on a permaculture site? You might learn a lot if that is what you seek.

Do you expect those who are designing and implementing permaculture sites to
also donate their time to teach you? Regardless, they do. They bust their
butts to organize, promote, and host dozens of strangers on their land. They
pull themselves away from their homes, jobs, families and other obligations to
teach (often two and a half weeks straight)and usually for pay that is much
lower than what they earn on the job or land.

While organizing PDCs, I have always encountered people who question why they
should pay for the labor of their teachers or the food and facilities we set
up for them. Likewise, I have also always been impressed and honored to have a
team of teachers who devote so much time and energy towards preparing lessons,
teaching, and earnestly reflecting and struggling to be better teachers, and
rarely complaining about the sacrifices they give to make the courses a

Using our local Permaculture Institute as an example... we know that many
can't afford the full PDC. We also know that many can't afford the time
either. So we offer weekend workshops, free presentations, book clubs, and
other specialized programs. We just spent two days teaching dozens how to
inoculate mushroom logs. Our total cost: $80 plus a lot of free labor, spawn
and lumber from the teachers. Many of these students appreciated our work and
gave donations which in turn subsidized other programs like our May to October
apprentice program (another way to learn permaculture without spending much
cash and actually immersing oneself into the subject more than a PDC!) Again,
the success of these programs is partly based on the willingness of both the
teachers and the students to give a great deal in order to teach and learn. It
inspires me!

If you Youtube and Google present you the world of permaculture then you are
only getting a digital glimmer of permaculture as experienced by the vast
minority of permaculture practioners who are lucky, wealthy enough or
motivated to access these technologies. As one of those, I try to use the
internet to reflect what is happening in real life. It is a reflection. These
digital messages and resources are a brief moment's work that cannot fully
represent the hours, materials, and pattern of life that moves anyone
practicing and teaching permaculture.

I would argue that the overwhelming majority of agricultural workers who have
received permaculture instruction do not have an email account. Granted that
nearly all of these people did not attend a course advertised on the internet
and many did not pay either. Their courses were funded by development and aid
organizations. Still, someone was paid something to teach, house and feed

With all due respect, please consider that maybe you also need to step out of
the cave to see what the "experts" are doing when they aren't posting,
twittering, blogging or updating.  You maybe be unshackled and free enough to
turn around and see more than shadows, but the light of the internet cannot
tell the whole truth. Go see what the others are doing in the light of day and
you won't resent the limitations of permaculture via the internet, and might
see it as merely a useful reflection and pointer of permaculture work by a

> I get the feeling that the permaculture movement has morphed into a market
place to sell books, DVDs and training courses related to permaculture than a
platform for sharing techniques and allowing humans to live closer to nature
in a simpler way. Many a material I find on the internet are incomplete and
keep referring to "Stuff to Buy" or "Courses to Take". Just search for
permaculture on youtube and that's what you find. Any site claiming to be a
"permaculture" site talks about doing a course.
> Or am I mistaken? I'd love to be corrected if I'm mistaken.
> I remember some noble soul here who had setup permaculture.info - that is
great! WTG! But, why do the 'experts' end up locking themselves into seclusion
and not share their knowledge?
> Cheers,
>   -Suraj
> --
> "The Greatest Shortcoming of the Human Race is
> our Inability to Understand the Exponential Function"
> Dr. Albert Bartlett
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