What Should I Charge as a Permaculture Design Consultant?

Over the last few years I have spent a good amount of time working on a variety of different permaculture designs and consultations in different parts of the US and abroad. Even though some techniques and strategies are similar, which mostly remain the same (chicken tractoring, cattle grazing, swales, contour plowing, sheet mulched gardens, water storage etc…), every consultation has presented their own set of challenges and restrictions that have produced a unique set of experiences for each one.

After a somewhat rocky start, a bit of winging it, and using my past entrepreneurial experience in business and marketing – I started documenting the details of each consultation, both on the landscape and the actual process of consultation itself. There has not been a lot written on how to install a permaculture design and after much documentation, evaluation, and hindsight this process has turned itself into a new “permaculture how to book” currently entitled: “How to Plan and Develop a Permaculture Site” (Fingers crossed for this year’s release). The aim being to serve both permaculture consultants and those wanting to know the steps, procedures, and thought processes of how to install permaculture on their site with or without consulting for others.

Some of the questions that quickly arise when given the certification of permaculture designer are:

  • Should I charge by the hour, day, project?
  • Should I charge differently for urban, suburban, farm, or broad acre jobs?
  • How do I get my first clients?
  • Does every client need a design?
  • How do I market?
  • What kind of business structure should I start?

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Consulting a 2000 acre project to make an eco-village on the Red River

Let me be the first to tell you – I am not in this for the money, matter of fact, if I was I would be miserable. Not that there is not enough work, but the idea of doing something today just for money and not helping people is just plain unfulfilling to me. Here is the kicker – I have traveled the globe, taken multiple internships for permaculture, some serious off grid building construction internships, and have taken (if I am not mistaken) Bill Mollison’s last permaculture design course co-taught with my mentor Geoff Lawton. I now have a nice body of work behind me, which I can show clients, and today I charge $150 USD per hour. Some jobs are only half an hour over the phone and others are months at a time. However, the majority of jobs that are just permaculture landscapes usually take 3-4 days/part on site (not all at once) and 3-6 hours per day.

Before I proceed, I do think it is worthy to mention that if you feel intimidated about breaking into permaculture line of work or not sure where to start then I would I highly recommend reading this very helpful article!

sp3

Rehydrating landscape on 65 acres

Let ‘s break this pricing down a bit further:

Day/Part 1: Consulting

Not only the site, but the client is consulted and interviewed. An in depth on site walk through and tour is made, some education, and a detailed sit down with a back and forth dialog of possibilities are worked through. This day usually lasts 3-6 hours.

Day/Part 2: Earthworking

This day/s is a double whammy for the customer as they are paying you and the earthmovers, so the need to stack functions and work diligently to help the client save money are mandatory. This day too, depending on size of property, is 3-6 hours and is used as both a pegging/marking of earthworks day as well as earth mover supervision (especially if you have not worked with the earth mover before). This day may branch out into multiple days and you will have to make a decision as to weather you need to be on site subsequent days.

Day/Part 3: Planting

It comes as a shock to some folks but being on site for the initial plantings, especially the long term perennial plantings, is crucial. This day too can branch out into multiple days and you will need to make a decision as to whether you need to be on site for the subsequent days.

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On site walk through design and explanation for a 36 acre rental property

Rounding it out and getting a generalization

If we average a day at 4 hours and are only on site for 3 days of consultation, then that averages out to $1,800 USD to the consultant which included a consultation, design, earthworks, and rudimentary site installation. Not counted are other billable hours for component installation and features such as water storage, black or gray water systems, greenhouse construction, etc… which are almost always needed and in demand.

A point of interest to think about (and a position many of us still have) is that in my area/region there were not many permaculture consultants at work when I started. This allowed me to set the standard for what a permaculture consultant charges and what is expected. I had the opportunity to set the highest rates for permaculture design consultants in my area. I started by charging per day and went from $850 per day to $1,500 per day within a year. Other than being an economically good decision, by doing this I created a market value for permaculture design consultants and raised the bar from something no one had heard of to something that was valuable and worthy of doing on your property. Since then, I have changed from a daily rate to a hourly rate. And by running School of Permaculture, we created a niche so that our students could easily make $500 per day working as a design consultant. True that I did not get as many jobs when I was charging that high, but by doing so it did create the market value in the area, which was/is totally worth doing.

Before I went into business for myself I could never imagine making $500 per day doing anything working for someone else!

There is still a lot of area to cover on this side of a permaculture design course (one of the reasons for writing the book) and I cannot give you an exact figure as to what to charge to your clientele. But this information should provide a place of reference to set your own prices and expectations. There is a lot of permaculture work out there to do and a lot of landscapes and people to help. Do make sure, that by hiring you, the client saves money on the overall design and installation of their site. Now get out there and go do!

Nicholas Burtner is the managing director of School of Permaculture based in Plano, Texas, USA. More about the services offered and his portfolio can be found here.

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zone 1 of a 5 acre egg, tree, and nut farm

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57 thoughts on “What Should I Charge as a Permaculture Design Consultant?

    1. Simon see my post to Danial as it also applies to you. When you get a garden designed by a landscape architect do you not expect to pay? [comment edited] Full text approved in error – Webmaster

    1. So basically you’re saying, how dare he makes a living for himself? I don’t know what kind of Utopian world you live in, but just because we are Permaculturists does not mean we can grow money off trees (although in a non-literal sense you can). Principle 3 – ‘Obtain a yield,’ can also be interpreted as self-sustaining your own livelihood and in the current world we live in, the primary form of exchange is money. Nicholas even states, “I am not in this for the money, matter of fact, if I was I would be miserable. Not that there is not enough work, but the idea of doing something today just for money and not helping people is just plain unfulfilling to me.” He’s managed to weave his passion into an income stream and people are willing to pay him for his extensive experience and knowledge that he himself has invested in over the years. I think that’s completely fair.

      Thanks for shedding light on this Nicholas. I’m sure many will find this information valuable!

    2. I used the services of a landscape architect who is an expert at ecological/permaculture urban design. The front yard plan cost me $850 and the rear yard about $1,100. Being an expert it wouldn’t have taken him long to draw up the design. I was happy to pay the fee, I felt it was the same as paying to do a course in permaculture in that through the implementation of that design, which I did myself, I began to understand permaculture much more thoroughly than before. When you buy a sandwich in the sandwich shop, there is a service fee that goes with it. There is expertise to pay for and the designer is saving you the trouble of doing all the research and trying to figure out all the connections that need to be made. The design is our opportunity to get on with living the permaculture lifestyle without having to suffer all of the doubts that go along with not knowing or understanding the ins and outs of the very vast subject that is permaculture. I remain happy to have paid that fee and it was worth every cent. The garden I put together is a sight to behold. I wouldn’t have been able to work out all of that information without having to get involved with a lot of on the ground experience and a lot of study. Instead I have been able to study at the practical level and in my opinion, it did not cost me much to do that. I also suspect that Nicholas Burtner would give a lot of himself to the cause when he can as anyone would when they are in the position to do so. $150 an hour? It is not much when it is considered how much is given back.

    3. If people can afford his service, they can pay for it. Our knowledge helps save money, they would need to give to other corporations and what not. If you read his other article, then you will know that he’s been doing plenty community work. I’m with you about helping people. I wish to create relationships in my community, rather than have all debts squared at once. If money is available, use it’s flow like the water and nutrient flow. It’s a long subject, and I was initially like you, simply negating it. It all can work together. Peace!

    4. [comment edited] These designers have paid and studied at no small cost to themselves and really would YOU expect a LANDSCAPE designer to design and oversee your project for nothing? People who always EXPECT something for NOTHING, Something that will more than pay for itself in the FIRST YEAR I always ask them the one question “please explain how much you have done for others for nothing that you have had to pay for or study for long periods?” [comment edited] – Full text approved in error – Webmaster

  1. Thanks Nicholas,
    We’ve got a few pages up now that show how much we charge for completing designs, this one included: https://www.regrarians.org/services/farm-design-process/
    We started charging $35/hour back in 1993 and stuck with that until the late 90’s and then went to $66/hour and then moved to $120/hour in about 2006 and $150/hour last year.
    Pricing your services in my view should be done after completing a Holistic Management Financial Plan or similar process in which you determine your fixed and variable costs AND include your profit as a cost so that it is planned for. Your hourly rate is accordingly determined by the number of hours you need or can feasibly work according to your Holistic Context in this framework.
    The value proposition is another thing and this is where you will get everything like the kind of comments Daniel just left or others such as your real clients who might say, ‘well Nick actually saved me a bundle so his fee was worth while’ and so on.
    Could go on big time but these are my 2 bobs worth.
    Cheers,
    Darren J. Doherty
    Regrarians Ltd.
    http://www.Regrarians.org

  2. No, he shouldn’t be ashamed. Architects, Engineers, and the heavy equipment operators are often in the same price range. Hourly rates are affected by area also. In a low income state like Missouri, maybe $75/hour is reasonable. In California or Texas, where incomes and cost of living are higher, more could be expected. Here in Iowa, I would expect around $100/hr for a proven permaculture designer.

    1. Architects and engineers spend years in training before they can call themselves architects and engineers. A permie needs just 72 hours. Architects and engineers have uniform professional standards to adhere to; permies teachers do not. In fact, there’s been a certain amount of discussion about course content consistency. There are some permie teachers teaching horticultural nonsense in an attempt to force annual vegetable gardens into food forest layer design. Architects’ and engineers’ projects are of the sort that if not done correctly people can die from structural failure; most permie projects do not have that failure consequence.

      I don’t know whether a heavy equipment operator is a valid comparison or note although I suspect that operator mistake has a far greater consequence – those are BIG Tonka toys.

  3. This may upset some.

    I am currently in the works to build an underground house for a client that is completely off grid that will:
    -heat and cool itself
    -harvest it’s own water
    -clean its own septic
    -grow a lot of food
    -and create its own energy.

    I am going to make good money on the project!

    She (the client) was about to spend nearly $50-60,000 dollars on buying a pre-fab cabin (for her mother to stay in) that would of been hooked to the grid.

    Her property had a pond that was poorly built and did not capture its own water.

    I suggested we use the earth and hole from the pond to make an underground house.

    The cost of the underground house including my design and supervisory time will be less than $20,000 “probably less than that when all finished”

    Then we actually designed the house to be a duplex so “mom” can live in one side and she can rent out the other to make a profit.

    Savings of $30,000 right off the bat with a house for mom, a totally cool off grid house for rent, a corrected water feature, and one happy client.

    I’d say I should of charged more

    1. It sounds like a bunch of these people posting comments are think you shouldn’t have any money on a project like that. I however am not one of those people. Like you said it sounds like you should have/could have charged much more for such a comprehensive/ all encompassing design. It sounds like these posters are envious, wishing they had your experience and training and wish they were working in permaculture. I believe city folk refer to those types as ‘haters’.

  4. Do you have an actual portfolio with pictures of all these completed designs you’ve worked up and installed or just a bunch of crayon colored drawings? How many years of experience do you actually have in designing and installing permaculture / regenerative land designs? Your prices are equal to that of somebody with a decade of experience and an accomplished portfolio.

  5. Good and useful article Nicholas. It helped me a great deal as I am one of those people with bills showing up in the mailbox and kids in university regardless of whether I work for free or decide to accept a paycheck in return for my time, experience and educational expense. I’ll be charging a professional rate for my design services just as soon as I can. Thanks again!

  6. As idealistic as I like to be about a world without money, or even better, a world where people are not slaves to some type of financial system – the fact is, we “are” living in a system that is completely opposite of that currently. If I want to change that system or have any influence in it then it would be wise to not only remember – but implement a Mollisonian principle – that we are very familiar with: “the problem is the solution”. The positivity that could impact the people and the planet if resources from giants like monsanto or the US military came on board with pemaculture is massive.

    Permaculturists with right intentions about making money can yield real positive results. Below is a link to our Aid and Orphanage program where most of our proceeds from both the school and consultations go back to helping orphanages, kids homes, and truly struggling farms across the planet. (Hoping to add abused women’s shelters in the future)
    https://schoolofpermaculture.com/aid-orphanage-programs/#.VNHKOyvF8hU

    To make it clear – my price was high ($1,500 per day) in my area not for me to make more money, but to set the standard regionally and to purposely be “too high” for most clients where the clients choose to hire our students who are starting their practices and charging lower more affordable rates as opposed to me (but still make a good living). This isn’t about me. It is strategic to building an army of world and climate changing permaculturists.

    I did forget to put a link to our services page which links to my portfolio – here you go.
    https://schoolofpermaculture.com/services/#.VNHK9SvF8hU

    A new tip of the day with my thoughts on hand renderings and computer aided designs will be up Thursday – make sure to check it out and also get on our mailing list so we can update you with those tips weekly!
    https://schoolofpermaculture.us6.list-manage2.com/subscribe?u=e21371b048e5e57156a2f40c6&id=477965d8fe

    While I am on topics of debate… … I couldn’t agree more with “not” trying to indoctrinate students into any faith during a permaculture course of any kind – obviously people’s choices of faith is up to their own free will. But, same as as the money issue – What type of rapid progress could be made if faith leaders like the pope, an imam, or Joel Osteen started preaching permaculture? – just a thought. LOL Sounds like I got a new article brewing!

    Lastly I would like to tell you that YOU are worth it. You are worth doing something big. You are worth making money. You are worth making a change. You are worth helping people. You are worth doing something great. I refuse to let the internet or social media turn us into armchair permaculturists. I’ll leave you with a little bit of wisdom from Larry Santoyo: Expect nothing, blame no one, just get out and do epic sh*t!

    1. I know this is an older article but thought it would be worth whole to put in my two cents anyway. I read this comment and my heart jumped. After reading and learning and considering taking a design course in the next few years (finances gotta come together) I have been looking at all the places I go in a different way. Looking at microclimate and water drain patterns etc. Anyways I was looking at a grassy area on the south side of our Church using the building as a wind block this little area could be an awesome warmer than usual microclomate. Then it dawned on me if even just 1 in 100 churches used their grass area in a more food forest-y type way the impact would be huge! We as church members would be able to actually help those in our church and community who are struggling with food scarcity. If we as a community pushed for more sustainable and edible landscaping in our public and business areas then families dealing with hunger and homelessness could find food all around them in the community. Sorry for the ramble but this has become my vision for my community, my church and my world and every article I read gives me hope this is possible.

  7. I do appreciate your knowledge and experience but good luck with these prices. There’s nothing “perma” in the max profit mentality, no matter what you say to yourself to make it sound right.

  8. There are permaculture principles and then there are the site specific application of those principles. That would be the design (for a specific site)..
    One is paid for the value of services rendered. Its an agreement between parties. Whatever the market will bear is reasonable. Good luck.

  9. Well, we do need to pay for most of value containing info, many of the free ones are actually not to trust..
    We would not have problem to pay for consultations – but is there permaculture specialist/designer that resides in Serbia?
    There is something like web page for Serbian permaculture but nothing more for consultations…
    And, if all we have is 2.900m² old orchard..is that size property worth doing permaculture way? We believe it is – we just built house on it, we would like to have a veggie garden that would add to our kitchen table, maybe keep some chickens and improve the orchard – or turn it into fruit forest that you keep talking about (and I still don’t quite know what is difference between orchard and fruit forest :-) ..My pensioner’s budget does not relay allow me to travel around the world to some of the courses – and I do not plan to do permaculture teaching for living, just want to apply it in my life. So, please, tell me – how can I get help that I need? Is there any book there already? Or your one is going to be answer?
    Keep up the good work, all the best!

      1. Thanks, we’ll try it. The thing is – Amazon does not deliver anything to Serbia,(:-() so it becomes complicated to get books. We lived for 22 years in South Africa and since our daughter is still there – guess what – when we go to visit, there will be loads of books awaiting that she will order and keep for us. But than, you know how it is with weight of your luggage when you fly – eh, you might not know – we are in economy class limited to 25kg (and books are heavy – look at that big one with snake-y design on the cover)…So if we order something and carry it back to Serbia – we would like (if possible) to know which are within the best ones…

        We are checking all you past posts and learning hips…Maybe you can let us know if you organize some courses in Europe, closer to us…Thanks again and will be in touch!

        1. Thank you for viewing Ljiljana! It really means a lot to me.

          We work wherever there is a need. We can come to Serbia. Help us organize a permaculture design course at an orphanage near or around you. It would honor us to help and serve.

          Please email myself and Kristi at – learn (at) schoolofpermaculture.com

          Thank you
          Nicholas

  10. Thanks for the portfolio information. You’ve come a long way in a short time since taking the permie courses. Great to see you flowing funds from those who have to those who don’t. Re: aid sites, do you have a portfolio of these that you can show?

  11. Wait, you’re designing an in-ground home or your guiding a licensed architect & civil engineer team to design & build a home? Seems very lofty for someone with a few years design experience and very little install experience. Were you a builder before? Have you ever designed and built a home? Also, how often do you interact with Geoff Lawton to call him a mentor. Would Geoff Lawton call himself your mentor?

    1. I don’t want to speak for Nick but when I worked with him he showed me a letter from Geoff that states, “I give my highest recommendation to Mr. Burtner”. Let me add that if he is working with a “a licensed architect & civil engineer” that is exactly what he should be doing. When we get into big dams, we always bring in extra engineering and we have a PE as an officer in our company.

    2. Hi Toby, I’m proud that Nick calls me his Mentor. He can and does get in contact with me anytime he needs to. Cheers Geoff.

  12. I just had a person inquire about our rates to consult from PermaEthos. Rate quoted was 1200 a day for one of our consultants on site, plus travel and likely a charge for a computer generated design if they wanted that.

    This yes was considered “expensive” by the client. So we are not going to do the work.

    I think people need to get a clue at times. Here is what is being asked for an on site design. My consultant is supposed to drive hundreds of miles, stay in the clients area for 2-3 days, use all his knowledge gained which he has heavily invested in and 1200 bucks is too much a day. We are talking easily 10 hour days with travel time, 120 an hour is what that comes out to.

    This is contracting, no benefits, no insurance and no guarantee of the next job and it is expensive? Ever notice it is called expensive by those who don’t know how to do it and haven’t made the investment in their own education and experience. I love when they say “I could just take a PDC for that price”.

    Well do it, spend the 80 hours plus to get a basic design understanding, have no experience and you might then be happy to pay our fee for our design work.

    Let’s look at this another way. This client starts out with “we have 83 acres we would like to develop”. Nice, so what do you think that will cost?

    3×1200 for consulting
    say 1500 for the design
    300 a day to cover travel

    Our bill on that job would be what, 2700 dollars.

    How much do they expect that it will cost to develop the 83 acres, hell how much to develop 5 to real potential. Low ball as hell here we are talking with dirt work, plants, infrastructure say 10k an acre.

    If they did it low ball at 10K an acre and did only 5 acres, what do you think the odds are that our 3K in design and consulting would save them say 20K in long term costs and mistakes?

    I am getting to the point were I don’t even want to call what we do Permaculture. It is why Mark Sheppard calls what he does “restoration agriculture”. To many “purple breathers” in the Permaculture movement. They want everything free or very cheap.

    Anyway great article Nick!

      1. Daniel I can likely make the best case there is for permaculture as a profitable enterprise out of just about any person alive right now and yes I would do it with among other things many of Bill’s words.

        I am not talking about leaving the techniques behind or stopping the way we teach PDCs, etc. I am more talking just leaving it out of our top line marketing.

        The way I see it is this. Permaculturists ranging from large scale farmers, to suburbanites to even what Paul Wheaton calls “productive hippies” know permaculture when they see it. The best known permculturists in the world today (other than Geoff who is my greatest teacher by the way) and Bill never really called what they did permaculture until we labeled them.

        Allan Savory told me he doesn’t even get permaculture and doesn’t think he does it because get this, “he sees no point to a swale and has never even learned to build one” because “all you need are cattle”. We all know that Savory though is an increadible person and his methods are Permaculture because

        He takes responsibility for himself and that of his children

        His methods care for the earth.

        His methods care for people.

        His methods create a RETURN not redistribution but a RETURN of surplus. (please stop rewriting the third ethic purple breathers)

        So what he does is permaculture even though he doesn’t know it.

        I think we can sit back and do “sustainable design of agricultural systems” all day long and be as permaculture as we always were. We can teach PDCs, Urban Design Courses, Earth Works Courses and the word Permaculture will be in many of our write ups, courses, etc.

        Top line marketing though, it has done us more harm than good. Hell for a year we tried to get insurance and no one would underwrite us. So we tried telling the insurance company instead of “we design, build and co manage permaculture farms” simply we “we design, build and co manage sustainable farms” and holly butt crack we had quotes (fair ones a that) for General and Professional Liability i about 48 hours.

        To me Permaculture is a fine word, I will always live, teach and practice it. But I am more interested in converting the savages than preaching to the choir at this point. And I am growing increasingly weary of those who for political causes and supposed “social justice” want to make Permaculture into what it never was and was never intended to be.

  13. farmer africa (earns 1 dollar per hour) = prize 1 dollar per hour
    taxi driver usa (earns 50 dollar per hour) = prize 50 dollar per hour
    white collar manager (earns 1000 dollar per hour) = prize 1000 dollar per hour
    someone in need for help = no prize at all, but only help until job done

  14. And then there are taxes/long term savings (retirement if you believe it’ll exist in 50 years…) I’ve looked into starting here in Finland and I’d need to charge double what I intend to take home. I don’t mean to start a debate about taxes/government, but the fact remains that most of us live in countries where taxes, licensing, and other regulatory fees exist.

    Start adding all that up and 150USD/hr is more than reasonable. Especially once one considers that the design and implementation of a permaculture system should reap benefits for decades, if not centuries, into the future. You pay a website designer 150USD/hr to get a current design that works cross platform, has e-commerce, etc. and in two, maybe three years it is dated. You’ve gotta call ’em up and design from scratch (if you want to stay modern that is).

    Anyway you slice it, your website isn’t going to update itself. Three years, five years, whatever. A well designed permaculture system? It’ll pay for itself and, hopefully, never need another full consultation. You co evolve with it and learn how to steer it as abundance returns.

    150USD/hr is more than reasonable. Setting a high bar so entrants into the field can offer more affordable options is laudable in my opinion.

    1. @Joshua

      The best way to inform a person about how much the government really takes in most nations today is simply to get them to start a business of their own. It takes about a year in business for yourself and at that point what others want to call social justice you will simply call theft.

      Build a company with a few employees and you will really get it. Most people making say 15 dollars an hour have no idea that you likely cost your employer about 30-35 and that differential continues to go up.

      This is why I love permacultue, properly executed it is an investment whose dividends are largely outside of the theft scheme we call taxation.

      If I put 50,000 dollars of improvements into my home, I get taxed more on the improvements I made to my own home. Sigh. And for most people that would be done with borrowed money at interest, they pay twice.

      If I put 10,000 dollars of trees onto a property done the right way I can actually create a tax deduction it isn’t strait but it does exist. When those trees are mature in 10 years they have little to no effect on my taxes. When my table is full of nuts and fruits from them and meat from animals under them it is money not spent.

      Permaculture builds its own systems, and only by building your own systems can you escape the systems that currently are failing.

  15. Holy cow you guys you have 3 bigs here giving their endorsments.

    Geoff(king of epic stuff)
    Darren(doing epic stuff)
    Jack(doing epic stuff)

    Goodness gracious do you guys want Bill to get on here and give an endorsment too. The nerve of some people.

  16. Geoff, so you agree, a PDC and 6 to 8 small scale projects is qualification enough to design unsupervised and charge top dollar rate? Can you think of any other profession that is possible?

    1. Well put Jason. I would add the following…

      A pemaculture consultant such a Nick here doesn’t need to know everything. What he needs is to understand the clients needs, understand the methods and techniques that get those needs accomplished and then be skilled as a project manager in coordinating with OTHER QUALIFIED PROFESSIONALS and act as a project manager/coordinator between them and the client.

      Experienced earthmovers are not going to build a dam that fails. They may not understand swales the way we use them but they always do in a 5 minute conversation. You can explain on contour and slightly off (key line) in another 5 minutes. When you explain the design, they will know how to improve it and they will tell you. If what you have designed presents a risk they are NOT GOING TO DO IT.

      Just as an architect may not really know out of the box how to build a passive solar home but explain what you want to do, they get it, and if the house is going to fall in, they won’t sign off on it. This is why the bigger the project the more specialists you involve as a consultant.

      Sadly some (most of whom have never run a business) don’t understand this.

      @Toby perhaps this photo can give you some inspiration? https://on.fb.me/1zc8ZMh

  17. Please do not put pricing on-line. It does not serve a useful purpose and it confuses the actual value of the work. Each designer needs to learn their own market, client base, and apply their ability to negotiate, and then deliver high quality work. Please shift focus to the design produced, not the fees. My hourly rates or day rate and someone else’s have no relevance to each other. The quality of my work should be the only value of concern to anyone else. Sharing techniques and stories of success and failures is much better information and advances our professionalism.

    1. @Daniel, I am sorry I totally disagree. I can tell you the price of oranges in Cairo vs. Dallas but it doesn’t confuse an orange producer. I sell my duck eggs for 7.50 a dozen, does that make it hard for a person in Australia to price their duck eggs?

      The market is going to impact your price and you are going to learn your market because the market ALWAYS tells you the truth. It is not a focus group, it cares not about your feelings, etc.

      In our case for instance with duck eggs we wanted to start out at least double what chicken eggs from a factory cost and see if anyone would buy them. They did so we went up a bit and found a reasonable spot.

      Had no one bought them, what do you expect we would have done? Held our breath?

      Every consultant/teacher is going to run into their own market realities. Knowing what the most experienced charge and GET is a good data point to work with.

      The bigger data point is where do you make vs. lose money!

      The most valuable principle I can add to most permaculturists knowledge point is the following…

      “Excel never lies”.

      Far too many in permaculture don’t understand money, budgets, cost analysis, value of services rendered, cost of operations, etc.

      When you know what your service or product costs and how what you deliver compares to others in your market you seldom find yourself apologizing for what you charge.

      Someday we may live in a world where we all trade BitcoingLETs, when that happens fine, until then we have government notes they tell us are money. That is one of our current design restrictions until we design ourselves out of it.

      That is why I plant trees instead of corn!

      1. On another note you know what would be cool?

        A RentACoder.com type site for permaculture skills. Everything from on site consulting, to remote design, to just people that make hand drawn designs into computer designs. For instance I don’t know crap about sketchup, graphics stuff, etc. I knock out a design with bubble diagrams. We have someone that can do the pretty stuff some people want but consider the small guy, on his/her own.

        How nice would it be if they could just post the hand drawings and have 5 people bid on the computer work, present their portfolios, etc. Pay that person fairly, take the design back to the client, add a few points and then do what ever the client wants next.

        Technically this could be done on odesk and rentacoder now but you won’t find the right talent pool. If this were done for Permaculture there are many other labor trades that could be made.

        You want to spread permaculture into the market, you need to first understand the market.

  18. I dont think that there is any price that you can put on common sense, and there is a lot of people that have lost that capacity. I feel that doing a PDC gives this ability back and in a consultation process it is passed on.On most consultations I feel like Im teaching still.
    Thanks for the article, I hope to see more.
    Tom

  19. Nicholas first came out to help to design our permaculture project in October of 2013. Our place is South of Abilene in West Texas. He is a wealth of knowledge and experience. He has a heart of gold and truly loves helping people. One thing that stands out to me is that he is really concerned about what “we” wanted the end result to look like and he took our desires into account as he was designing. He has helped us tremendously to realize the locked up potential of our property. My limited understanding of permaculture is that there is no perfect way to design a permaculture project however, by applying principals and installing systems, you design it based on what outcome you want. Basically it is like a artist painting a picture. We couldn’t be happier with our project that Nicholas designed, after the original design was put in place, the maintenance is left up to us. You get out of it what you put into it. With only 16″ of rain in 2014 for us, it is a little slow going. Peace of mind for me is that we have a system that is in place that has the potential to feed people long after we are gone, good stuff. Thanks again Nicholas!

  20. I have been asked by some folks – Why am I writing the book? The short and sweet is because there is big a need. There is hardly anything written on the topic. I can only imagine because the topic is so varied and dependent upon so many factors. The permaculture design course’s purpose is to guide the student in design. This book and it’s purpose will bolt on top of that and give students, consultants, and practitioners a “how to” on the next phase of the progression which is to plan and implement – something I am calling the “strategic implementation plan”. In all honestly, I believe it to be the meat and potatoes of design.

    The book addresses many of the different moving parts, such as: the financial ability from the client, who will maintain it, how much income can be designated to installation over periods of time, how many people are on the site on a regular bases, etc… The book addresses this and also what layer is stacked on top of the next in order of sequence what makes sense logistically, financially, ethically, and that will benefit all parties. It is not a book on how to install swales or keyline or techniques. It is a construct and mainframe which I created, and am constantly improving upon (thank You Jesus), that I’d like to share and do my part in helping the movement progress. My hope is that the book will give permaculturists a “this is what I do next” after a PDC or other related training.

    “everyone who has been given much, much will be required ” The proceeds from the book will go to helping those in need, especially through our aid and orphanage program. We are a non profit organization and our next orphanage project is in Haiti. I will be posting the updates on our website and School of Permaculture’s facebook page as we progress.

    *Admin Edited*

  21. Great article.

    I find it interesting that in the comments there is a subtle debate as to how much per hour a perm designer is worth – with an undertone of architects etc earned the right to charge more. I personally feel a service is worth whatever the world see it as being worth and that sometimes the people whom I feel are doing the greatest good (teachers, firefighters etc) are in the grand scheme way underpaid while people on wall street, CEO’s etc, whom I believe are just perpetuating a un-sustainable system of debt and consumerism make million per year (hardly paying their share of taxes) and no one cares.

    My feeling is that perm designers are doing jobs that may change the future for the better – why in the heck should they NOT be making great money?

    In setting the standard for higher per hour wages we are saying that is what we are worth and in my experience there is always someone willing to pay it. Thankfully the rate is widely varied between entry level perm designers and seasoned designers (free to $150 hr) which means there will always be accessible perm knowledge to most any budget.

  22. Bill Mollison in The short and Incomplete History of Permaculture is quoted to have said: “But no one had any long-term ideas and it was obvious to me what had to be done,” he said. “That was to build an army of permaculture field workers to go out and teach the ideas of sustainable food production.”

    If this field is to make a broad impact, it needs to be affordable. Traditional landscape architects are not working with the same sets of principles as permaculturists, to integrate earth care, people care and fare share. I think the fair share lies in the intentions of the individual and cannot be quantified easily from the outside. Your investment of time and effort into learning this craft can be recuperated in different time frames and depends on the individual’s needs.
    I really think that this field is special and skilled individuals should be applauded for their efforts. But I also feel that permaculture has not taken off as it should to restore health to the earth, people and their communities because it is too expensive for many individuals to afford and the community outreach efforts are not vast enough.

    1. Well first “fair share” as it has been twisted to be meant by many isn’t the third ethic.

      The original third ethic as written by Bill was, “setting limits to population and consumption” this can be explained as fair share in that you can only take so much from a system before returning to it, before it becomes unsustainable.

      This is why later Bill and others restated it as RETURN of surplus, not redistribution. The word redistribute was introduced for political reason by other parties, not by the PRI of Australia. Now as is almost always the case when a political concept is forced into a science it breaks the science. Redistribution is exactly what makes systems fail.

      I have a video on this. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xIRGXSkAFms

      Geoff also explains the Third Ethic far differently than the political re write https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wBn1HMy7pdU

      So the concept that I or any Permaculturist should keep prices low out of some twisted obligation to the third ethic is simply off point, not in keeping with the intentions of Permacultures founder nor his top protege. It is also not in keeping with the way the majority of Permaculture teachers who are not dead broke teach the system and the ethics. In our world we need money to exit, people must be able to make a living if they are to live in meaningful ways.

      Also you say, “Traditional landscape architects are not working with the same sets of principles as permaculturists”

      Okay well that’s fine and true but if Suburban Landscape Architecture as a niche market is a basketball, then permaculture as a total market is a pea. And landscaping isn’t cheap, nor is an education in it, nor is a license to do it as a profession. It isn’t money holding back permaculture because money isn’t holding back landscaping.

      If you read Permaculture One and Two Bill is all about making these systems profitable.

      Now let’s move beyond the back yard. Right now if we again represent the total permaculture market as a pea, main stream agriculture is The Rock of Gibraltar.

      What is holding permaculture back right now isn’t money, it is the lack of sufficient application to produce money in you guessed it, surplus in sufficient quantities to make it an effort people would pursue with sufficient effort to make it main stream.

      The truth is many of us who do charge for design, consulting and education also have given so much for free that there is plenty to learn at no cost. By the way Nick here does that too, very much so. I have put out entire youtube series. Geoff puts on videos online that are Hollywood quality.

      Here is a free 155 page transcription of Bill’s lectures from long ago. This PDF alone is worth a fortune in the knowledge it freely provides. https://www.survivalpodcast.net/audio/2015/2-15/PDC_ALL.pdf

      Just so you know the original provider Barking Frogs Permaculture is happy to have it distributed, I simply put it on my server because they keep jacking with their website and my old links stop working.

      If you look a bit on google the Designers Manual, Permaculture One and Two are both available as PDFs.

      You can take a free PDC here, https://www.openpermaculture.com/ there is a fee if you want a certification and a fee if you want it in DVD but you can have the course free. I don’t think the instructor is as good as many but he is good enough and well worth the price of admission.

      Now with all of that available free why do some people pay 500 bucks to come to a three day course at my property. Frankly because I make them feel that is worth it. I feed them (meat by the way) like kings, adult beverages about, we trade on a barter blanket, I bring in great instructors (at considerable expense) and they learn both by lecture and by doing. I don’t apologize for the price, those that don’t want to pay it, don’t have to come.

      Recently we took a HUGE project on, one bigger than we have ever done. One looking to go full scale commercial. 1500 acres with an initial development of about 300-500, plus a very large educational site on the same property.

      They want permaculture but you don’t harvest 500 acres of chestnut, apple and pecan with five woofers and woven baskets, you do it with harvesting equipment. So we brought in Mark Sheppard’s team from RAD. To do the design, I, Nick Ferguson, Mark and three other members of his team traveled to the client. Many of us will be going back for the install, that will take two week. Now what do you think we have to charge to do that?

      To make Permaculture what most people claim to want, a force that changes the world as a whole we need it all.

      We need Dave Jacke types selling back yard design to yuppies, governments and Universities.

      We need Mark Sheppard types that understand that to change Agriculture across the world we need to start changing 1500 – 5000 acre farms in the mid west.

      We need Toby Hemingway types convincing people they can transform their own back yards.

      We need Nicholas Burtner types willing to invest a year a whole damn year of their lives to learning via internships of various types and then willing to travel and do the work for mid sized clients.

      We need people like me frankly that teach permacutlure to mostly right wing republicans by explaining the science and the benefits vs. some guilt laden politically twisted message that the movements founder never intended.

      We need Holzer transforming mountains.

      We need Urban Farming Guys transforming ghettos into Permaculture and Makerspace wonderlands.

      We need Ron Finley types using guerrilla tactics to transform LAs inner city into gardens.

      We need Allan Savory types grazing 10,000 acres of desert and transforming it with nothing but cattle into grasslands.

      We need Wheaton’s creating virtual communities and doing weird ass research just to prove that some of it does work.

      I invite anyone who has an issue with people who do permaculture profitably to try one simple experiment. Take a trip to a large grocery. Look at the shear staggering quantity of food there. Not just the perimeter of meat, dairy and produce where most of us likely shop. Go up and down what I call the crap isles too, chips, cookies, TV dinners. Garbage or not it is food, people eat it and every spec is produced on a farm or a ranch.

      Think about how much food is in ONE store. Now think of how many stores, markets, farmers markets, restaurants, cafeterias, etc, etc, etc there are in the world. Now ask how many people does that industry employ. Not just pickers and growers but scientists, vets, distributors, chefs, mechanics, machinists, etc, etc, etc.

      You want to make a micro dent in that system? Well then Permaculture must be profitable so people can make a living with it. I for one don’t want a dent, I want to tear the entire thing asunder! I want permaculture to be more than a few groups of people growing great food and withdrawing to some yuppie neighborhood to discuss social justice and make a rocket stove in the back yard out of bricks. I want Presidents and heads of State demanding Permaculture quality food for their meals. At least then they’d be doing something useful for the world.

      This takes an all of the above approach. From the guerilla gardener to the 1500 acre farm and everything in between and everything that makes them go.

      If we have anything holding us back in Permaculture it isn’t money or the lack there of, it is simply that we think far to small. In the words of Geoff Lawton, “being scared is boring”.

  23. Nick’s success is really a testament to PRIs old internship program, which has produced some very talented and active permies. Here is hoping the new format will have a similar effect. My only advice to Nick is that if you do work with civil engineers, please don’t hand them your designs in crayon drawings. Learn CAD or get some one to help you work with it. Good luck and keep up the good work!

  24. The point being missed in some comments is that Permaculture is a design framework that incorporates design disciplines within it. If you want to design Permaculture gardens, you need to know something about horticulture, if you want to design Permaculture housing, then you need to understand something about architecture, and so on.
    It’s erroneous to assume that Permaculture designers might not already be professional horticulturalists, architects or whatever who are looking for a more sustainable, efficient, effective and ethical way to do their jobs. I myself am employed as a professional horticulturalist and sustainable gardening teacher, and I run my own Permaculture design consultancy service.
    That said, formal qualifications are just one possible avenue of learning, and there are many other ways to gain skill and experience. Speaking to other professionals in the horticulture industry, it’s agreed that most learning happens after studying, on the job. That’s the reason why the trades have apprenticeships. The effectiveness of a designer will be determined by the skills they bring into Permaculture, which they have developed by whatever means they choose, and continue to develop as they gain experience and knowledge in their working lives. Permaculture shows you the best way to apply those skills.
    In terms of fees, you charge a price that is commensurate with your design skill and experience. That’s how it is with all trades and professions, that’s common sense. Your work will speak for itself, and will show people your level of skill, experience and aptitude as a designer. A client will see what a designer is capable of, and will decide what they are willing to pay for the service in line with standard industry rates. The standard industry rate for an experienced garden designer is $150/hour in Australia, with travel costs on top of that. The rate for an experienced Permaculture designer should be the same. I am talking design here, not construction, which would reflect the industry standard rates for that type of work, which may differ. Again, let’s not mix up design, with construction, which can incorporate soft and hard landscaping works, minor or major earthworks and a potentially infinite range of construction tasks.
    The more work, or the greater the complexity of the work, the longer it takes, the more it costs. You could produce a hand-drawn design on site for small urban sites, which does not take long at all, but if a client wants a you to produce a fancy design with computer design software, that takes extra time to produce off-site, and incurs more billable time, and hence increases the cost.
    A designer does not have to do the construction by the way, many horticulturalists only do design but don’t do the digging, simply because it pays better and is a better use of their time as knowledge workers rather than labourers.
    There is no ‘average permie’ that we can generalise about in respect to pay, what you can reasonably charge will be determined by your skill, experience, the quality and reputation of your work, and market demand.

  25. Better correct my typo! The standard industry rate for an experienced garden designer is $100/hour in Australia, with travel costs on top of that. $150 is what a 90 minute consultation which are common in the industry, some people want additional design work and pay an $100 per hour on top of that.

  26. Seems much more like a witch hunt over than a constructive conversation like we were having over at Regrarians. There were some very valid points brought up in both places and it has given me plenty to think about as I enter into this movement. One thing I do know about Nicholas is that he genuinely wants to help people. He’s very clear that he doesn’t do this to get rich and I am inclined to believe him as I know him a tad bit more than the average citizen.

    On a realistic note, my degree wraps up early next year. Then I will be a degreed horticulturist & sustainable farm manager, certified in soil sciences, certified in HM and half way finished with my certified HM educator program at HMI, 10+ years as a project manager on multi-million dollar construction projects with work forces numbering over 1k in craftsman, experience in operating and directing heavy equipment, welding and hopefully will also have completed my RAD. All that will idealistically be accompanied by a dozen regenerative ag projects behind me. After running my family & business through hm finance, I know that we can do well on 70 to 90 dollars per as I apprentice under a more experienced designer for a few years. So I don’t expect to make what the top names in the business will make even with all that going for me. It’s not a matter of whether the market can support it or not. It is common sense that there has to be great value in what we charge to bolster the industry and help move it into the light. We’re not talking about starving here, there is just no way in my mind that someone with less than a dozen solid projects under his belt and less than 3 years actual design and installation experience can command those prices without being a little vague. If my page says something like: Michael has 2 years in regenerative ag design and planning and here are 6 projects that I have worked on, three of which only did I design from scratch and install. I don’t think people would pay top dollar. But I would go to bed at night absolved as I knew I was beyond honest, I was transparent.

    Another surprise here to me is the mention of writing of a book. Are you planning to write it from the layman to moderately experienced viewpoint? I’d say if there’s a need for a book in that realm, it would be better served to be written after you’ve had time to gain more experience and become an authority. Just my 2 cents, but I don’t think you’re there yet, ya know. Get some complete systems designed and installed in the ground with a more complete and transparent portfolio (Actual project names / locations, years of experience, etc) and the book will have more of an impact and a value. Statements like “after much documentation, evaluation, and hindsight” are a little misleading to me and others. Within your own portfolio on your website you either are leaving many projects out or aren’t being up front about the actual amount of experience you have. If anybody wants to see regenerative design find its way into our market it’s me. I just want to see it done in such a way it will bring transparency and respect to our industry.

    ** To the editor: This is how my post should have read. Please feel free to release the post awaiting moderation **

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