During my travels, I have come across some opinions of the permaculture movement being somewhat of a ponzi scheme; mostly in relation to the Permaculture Design Course. Though worded in many different ways, the general disgruntled rumblings surrounding permaculture are in relation to training teachers.
Here’s the issue that keeps cropping up. The PDC is expensive, there’s no doubt about that. While the PDC teaches you to design the systems to live a more sustainable and regenerative life, it doesn’t necessarily teach the skills to implement it so easily; a great deal more learning and experience is needed after. However, the argument comes in that quite a few PDC teachers don’t have farms of their own but instead travel around spending their time teaching courses, as this is a more reliable route to making money. These courses bring people into the permaculture forum, leading them themselves to shell out the dollars to train to become a PDC teacher. While the course should be teaching people to go out and practice, instead it is leading them to spend further money to become a teacher to teach others the PDC, then enrolling more people into the system of having to spend money to become a teacher, withut ever really building their own projects that demonstrate success and longevity.
While all this is going on, PDC teachers tend to go from place to place, helping on projects or even designing, but rarely following through with the full period of implementation, never allowing them to further gain the experience of implementation over time and long-term reassessment of a site. While the idea of teaching permaculture is to encourage others to live a more self-sufficient life, many people are not in fact actually following through with this, leading to the question of whether permaculture is merely a conceptual ideology rather than a practical reality.
It’s really difficult to address this concern. On the one hand, it’s no secret that Bill Mollison was not keen on traditional education and felt that people should learn from the nature around them. So while the permaculture institutions in each country seem to be enforcing a strict curriculum that must be followed to become a ‘permaculturist’, some may disagree with this method, likening it to a ponzi scheme, or just another indoctrinating education system.
On the other hand, however, I can personally say that the PDC was extremely important to helping me to think in the way I do. To connect the dots. The PDC puts a whole group of people on the same page. If we want this to work, we need to work together, fighting the good fight from all corners of the world, but on the same page. Not only does the PDC teach a basis that gives everyone a backbone to work from, a way of thinking to help increase their own empowerment.
With regards to becoming a teacher, I think it’s important to recognise that permaculture is not a mainstream idea. It’s getting there, but it’s not there yet. We’re not building fancy gardens to feed the world, we’re encouraging people to take their own power back and show them the way to learn to do that. This requires a mass paradigm shift, which really isn’t simple. Awareness and education are the best tools to doing this, and so having as many teachers as possible on the ground spreading the message is important.
The only reason that people would consider permaculture be a ponzi scheme is because there’s money involved. Yes, people do become PDC teachers to have some money in their back pockets. But why is that so wrong? While we hope for a utopian world of self-empowered humans creating abundance all around, the reality is that right now, we live in a world run by money. A well-constructed permaculture dwelling can provide you with most things you need, but unfortunately, there’s a need for money; even if it’s to buy the things you need to build your site.
In my journey, I can honestly say that making money is hard and not having it is worrying. We’ve been indoctrinated to need to be financially secure, which leads us to feel undervalued without it. Despite the fact that people can be rewarded in more ways than money, it is unrealistic to think that anybody would be happy to carry out work without a certain amount of financial gain.
For example, I have worked on many sites for food and accommodation. While I am grateful for the lack of those outgoings, it’s hard back-breaking garden work out in the sun all day. Every terrace I dig, every seed I sow, every shovelful of manure is toward building someone else’s future. So yes, gaining food and accommodation for my work leaves me with all I need in that moment, but it doesn’t allow me to work toward my future. I am gaining neither financial security toward having my own property, nor am I working to improve something I will later benefit from. I’m doing the work for somebody else to benefit.
Becoming a teacher means that I would be able to gain some financial means while also having ample time to help other people’s projects and to spread awareness. Those financial means would allow me to one day have a site that I can build on, while also enabling me to worry less when helping other people’s projects as my nest egg is safe.
It’s not a ponzi scheme at all. It’s a way of creating self-sustainability and empowerment in all ways. We live in a financial world, we need to consider that.
But and I stress this, anyone teaching PDCs and not practising is guilty of bringing this scene closer to being a ponzi scheme. Teaching permaculture is a noble thing to do and to be the best teacher you can be, you need to gain experience and enhance your skills, while also practising the messages of community and cooperation that we preach.