A Journey of Transition: Becoming a Professional Permaculture Designer

by Dan French


Photo © Craig Mackintosh

Like the title suggests, I’m going to write a few articles about my journey to becoming a professional permaculture designer… if you don’t mind? I’m doing this for a few reasons: to help me articulate and formalize what it is I’m doing; to tell others who might be interested in doing the same about my ups and downs; to gain exposure and fast track my development as a designer; and perhaps, on some sadistic level, to just put a bit more pressure on myself. Let me explain to you why.

I grew up in the Adelaide hills, on the top of the ridge where the elements are in full swing, alongside a national park. This ensured there was plenty of animal and wildlife interaction during my upbringing and lots of time spent outdoors. Here I developed my affinity with my environment, which has stayed with me and led me to studying environmental science and taking employment as a fisheries research scientist, environmental consultant in a large engineering company, environmental volunteer manager and now permaculture designer and eventually, educator… I hope.

During my previous professional lives, I spent many moments wondering what it would be like to break the shackles of endless corporate procedures, boring reporting and restriction of action by various legislative approaches. I remembered back to when I first starting working out of school in the landscape and building industries and the satisfaction at the end of the day or week when you could stand back and see the results of your work laid out in front of you. These are the drivers for me to take on being a professional permaculture and environmental designer and because I believe in the urgent need to start rebuilding and repairing our environment, and that the diverse services of permaculture are desperately needed in the professional world.

German philosopher, Arthur Schopenhauer stated, “All truth passes through three stages: First, it is ridiculed; Second, it is violently opposed; and Third, it is accepted as self-evident.” I’m not exactly sure which phase permaculture has reached yet in terms of acceptance, but I believe it belongs in the third. If that’s the aim, the practice of permaculture needs to be rapidly accelerated to be incorporated into not only agricultural and landscaping practices but also in infrastructure, social, development and energy sectors. I know this is already the case, I don’t however believe it is occurring at the rate which is necessary. The three guiding principles of care of the earth, care of people and return of surplus are simple and timeless and seem like sensible considerations for most things we do.

Just like a religion, it seems permaculture is expressed in many forms. I highly doubt becoming a professional in this field is for everyone, but to me it seems a noble pursuit. It’s something I believe in and I aim to practice to the best of my ability. To this end, I am starting to collaborate with others in the fields of permaculture, science, media, business and other industries (i.e. drawing on the skills and knowledge of others and creating a business ecosystem) and am not letting my ‘greenness’ in this new field stop me from setting plenty of personal challenges.

I like working with people and getting the occasional kick up the bum, so I have teamed with Nick Huggins of Permaculture Business World who, I’m glad to say, has really fired up my progress. He has challenged me initially to define both my services and client target groups, formalise promotional gear/branding (i.e. business name, potential clients, capability statements aimed at client groups, etc.) and to start networking with potential clients, previous professional associates and business networks (which are likely to include people who have never heard of permaculture before). I have found this process to be extremely helpful for solidifying my intent of what it is I’m doing and how I’m going to go about it. Furthermore, it forces me to learn how to concisely state these things to those with no knowledge of permaculture. Furthermore, by starting to network I am formally making a commitment to following through.

Another task I have been assigned is to start writing about and promoting permaculture. There are several benefits that I expect will result, the most obvious being that I am increasing awareness of permaculture and its benefits to a wider audience, I am forced to know my subject if I aim to build credibility and I am getting my name out there.

My other major focus at present is to hone down on what I want to get out my business financially, what it’s going to cost me to run and therefore what my rates, terms and conditions will be. This is vitally important information that’s essential for starting, maintaining and growing a business; making it sustainable, so to speak.

Although I’ve been thinking about this for quite some time I have only formally begun pursuing this idea in the last three weeks and at times it can get overwhelming… and I’ve hardly started yet! It feels pretty satisfying though. My life and professional goals of accelerating real ‘on-ground’ environmental remediation in domestic and commercial circumstances is happening. I want to promote permaculture and holistic environmental management as a viable commercial alternative — i.e. to show that re-aligning domestic and commercial practice with being truly socially and environmentally aware can be good for all. Satisfaction also comes from committing to a course of action. It eliminates my internal banter.

I’m lucky enough to have another part-time contract in the field of community fisheries that can provide a buffer for my family and I while things get up and running. I would still be doing this regardless, but having this extra work for me makes it all possible now. My intent is to become a skilled designer/rebuilder of ecosystems and to carry these skills over into the world of fisheries and aquaculture, as whole systems management approaches and a decentralization of these industries is sorely needed.

Ok, enough gas-bagging. Hopefully this is helpful to someone somewhere or stimulates some discussion. I will write more about how its all going with details of the methods behind my development a little further down the track.