How To Land Your Ideal Permaculture Job


As the public-relations point person for Austin Permaculture Guild, I hear from a lot of people who want to know where they can find a permaculture job.

The bad news (if you can call it that) is that you'll probably have to make your own permaculture job. The good news is, there are lots of ways to do that — and the path you carve for yourself will be far better than any readymade thing someone else can hand you. Here are some paths to a permaculture occupation:

1. Traditional apprenticeship:
If you're a graduate of a Permaculture Design Certificate course (PDC), the traditional path is to become a teacher or a designer. In the past, apprenticing with a teacher/designer has been the usual route. The apprenticeship may or may not be paid, but various aspects of the permaculture community make it relatively easy to get by on much less money than you might be used to. If apprenticeship is too long a path for your liking, no worries: Nowadays there are a number of excellent permaculture teacher training courses, which make it possible for a Permaculture Design Certificate course graduate to hit the ground running as a permaculture course instructor. (Caveat: Because of the depth and complexity of the permaculture course curriculum, it is still always a good idea for new PDC instructors to team-teach with more experienced instructors for a while.)

2. Self-apprenticed designer:
If you aspire mainly to work as a designer, rather than a teacher, you can "apprentice" yourself to the craft by doing several pro bono designs (for friends, neighbors, etc.) and putting together a design portfolio and using that to attract paying clients.

3. Self-apprenticed teacher: 
If you're not particularly looking to teach the full permaculture design certificate curriculum, but would just like to offer weekend workshops and such, you can go the self-apprentice route there as well. Start by offering talks to the public and to niche audiences. And set up permaculture information booths/tables at festivals and other events. People are thirsty for practical sustainability knowledge, and if you put yourself out there in this manner, you might find that your students come out of the woodwork.

4. Volunteer/intern:
This is another of the oft-tread paths to a permaculture occupation. Become a volunteer-member at a local CSA or other farm, or farmer's market; hop on the WWOOFing circuit; put in some hours with a local sustainability-focused nonprofit. If you really put your heart into it and set out to make yourself invaluable to the people around you, paying work is likely to come out of this one way or the other. The key is to really care about the work you're doing.

5. Launch a sustainable business:
Remember, permaculture isn't just about agriculture. It covers every facet of human life. Building, energy, finance, communications, and much more. Solo or with partners, permaculture enthusiasts have set up all sorts of little businesses. From local juice purveyors to composting services to green funeral consultants, the list goes on and on. My latest favorite is East Side Compost Pedallers, a bicycle-based composting business. (With a REALLY cool logo BTW.)

6. Permaculture your existing business:
Just about any business can be retooled as a local sustainable business. As just one example, if you sew for a living, hook up solar panels and advertise yourself as the first sun-powered seamstress in town. Or be the tailor who does all her work on a treadle-powered or hand-cranked sewing machine from 1909. If you're a landscaper who has to drive, then decide to only accept work within a certain mileage radius. If you're a building or landscaping contractor who works for days or weeks at a time on one site, do what the savvy natural builders do and camp out on the job site whenever possible. Cutting the daily commute and camping on-site reduces your business overhead, cuts your eco-footprint, builds employee cohesion, and frees up your time.

7. Shift your time mix:
Keep your existing job as a store clerk or tech-support person or whatever, but focus your off-time on the things you want to do, that contribute to a more sustainable world. Learn to garden; make soap; spend more time with family; set up neighborhood freebox or tool library. As you gain more skills and inspiration, you'll gain the confidence to ask for the terms you want at work: flexible hours, telecommuting, etc. And you'll gain the skills and confidence to apply for one of the growing number of juicy green jobs listed here on Austin EcoNetwork.

8. Create a permaculture niche within your current job:
Become your company's unofficial green guru. Set up recycling; collect everyone's food "waste" for your compost. Go further: identify areas of waste in your company's actual operations, and propose permaculture design solutions. Make yourself the indispensable in-house efficiency expert.

9. Reduce your overhead costs:
In permaculture we call this "reducing your need to earn." By cutting your overhead, you'll gain the freedom to refuse work that doesn't enrich your life or the community. As one of my favorite permaculture designers, Art Ludwig of Oasis Designs, puts it in the Q&A on his website, the single most important skill for an ecological designer is "the ability to live very well on almost nothing." Some of the best career advice I've ever heard and put into practice. For me it has made the difference between being able to eke out a living as a permaculture organizer and educator, and having to take a job I wouldn't really want. By reducing your need to earn, you can gain the ability to transform one of your favorite activities from a hobby to a viable occupation.

10. Don't compromise on the big picture:
Mr. Ludwig goes on to say, "Stay focused on what you believe in. Refuse to give in to the temptations of consumer society or well-paying but soulless work any more than absolutely necessary. Make only the most strategic of compromises. The only sure way to fail to achieve your dream is to give up."

11. Invest in yourself:
Don't hold back on continuing education. Stinting in this area is a false economy. If there's some course, workshop, conference, or other educational opportunity that's truly calling to you — that you really feel will boost your skills, make good contacts, and take you in the direction you want to go — then find a way to do it. Don't sit on the sidelines and let it pass you by. While you're sitting on the sidelines, the people competing with you in the job market are gaining confidence and skills hand-over-fist by making their continuing education a priority. 

12. And, on that subject:
Take a Permaculture Design Certificate course, already! You know you've been wanting to! And yes, it WILL be worth your while. By gaining an awareness of ecologically rooted efficiency principles, you will be a leg up on most of the industrialized world, and you will have a lot to offer an employer.

As you can see, while there may not be some great big Permaculture Employment Agency standing there waiting to hand you the permaculture job of your dreams, there is a viable path to getting yourself a permaculture job. Right this minute, all over the world, people are creating permaculture jobs, in ways I haven't even begun to imagine. It's more about your own passion and inner determination than about any external opportunity.

When you create your permaculture occupation, don't forget to tell us about it!


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