Transition Culture

An Evolving Exploration into the Head, Heart and Hands of Energy Descent

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A Way of Seeing – the art of teaching permaculture creatively (2003)

**Permaculture Goes to College – the development of a pioneering permaculture course**
By Rob Hopkins *(originally appeared in Permaculture Magazine Issue No. 33)*

‘Permaculture – Designing for Sustainability’ is by a yearlong course run at the Kinsale Further Education Centre in Co. Cork, Ireland. It is the first time permaculture has been taught through the Adult Education system in Ireland, and in this article permaculture teacher and designer Rob Hopkins looks at how the course came about and how an approach to teaching known as Teaching Permaculture Creatively transformed the way he teaches it.

Permaculture first arrived on these shores with a Design Course taught by American permaculturist Dan Hemenway in the late eighties. This was followed by courses taught by Declan Kennedy, Marcus McCabe and Sandro Caffola, as well as Richard Webb and Dominic Waldron, and by Philip Allen, who has run a number of courses in Belfast. Most courses run here have been privately organized at various centers around the country. Ireland has two organic colleges, one in Leitrim and one in Limerick, as well as a big annual sustainability festival, Convergence, organized by the Sustainable Ireland Co-operative, held each April in Dublin. There is also a strong nascent natural building scene, and a lot of interest in the whole area of sustainability.

I‘ve been living in Ireland since 1996 and taught my first introductory course here in 1997. I teach regular courses here at The Hollies Centre for Practical Sustainability, as well as at other venues, but it wasn’t until I taught an evening class at a local college that I really considered the possibility of teaching through the Adult Education system.

The Kinsale Connection

I contacted a few colleges, and generally met with the response of ‘perma-what?’, but when I got in touch with John Thuellier, the Principal of Kinsale Further Education Centre, I got a hugely positive response. KFEC runs courses on a wide range of subjects, drama, art, photography as well as many outward bound skills, sailing, kayaking etc, and the permaculture course fitted in very well with his vision for the Centre. The first step was to get a module in permaculture recognized by the NCVA (National Council for Vocational Awards). This was relatively straightforward and is now there for anyone else who wants to teach permaculture in VEC colleges in Ireland (at some point it will be available to download on We needed 15 people to make the course run and we hoped we might just make the numbers. In the end we had 24 students and we could have filled the course twice over such was the response.

This phenomenal response meant that we had a budget for a good mix of guest lecturers, allowing input from a range of people with skills in many different areas. The course is in 2 halves; the first is fairly classroom based, with trips to related projects, all building up to a big design project in January, where the students do a design for the whole college grounds. The second half is practical, implementing projects of the students’ choosing. This year’s students have chosen to build a straw bale/cob hybrid building with a grass roof and rammed car tyre foundations (which will be the subject of a future article), plant a forest garden, make living willow sculptures, plant a Celtic tree ogham wood and make a ‘Tea Spiral’, a herb spiral planted with herb tea plants for the students to use in their tea breaks.

The course in Kinsale has many advantages for me as a permaculture teacher. Firstly it is funded, meaning that I get paid, that there is a budget for materials and it is affordable for participants (the whole year long course costs €35!). It is working within the mainstream, which opens all kinds of interesting doors that working in the alternative sector doesn’t seem to.

Lastly, it is two days a week, which leaves me time to develop other projects, nurture my young family, and enjoy my garden. I very much agree with the opinion put forward by David Holmgren (the co-founder of permaculture) in his 1998 article, ‘Searching for Ways Forward’, where he said “there are substantial dangers in establishing a career structure for teachers which rewards them just for teaching. Having to do other things to stay sane, earn income, maintain humility and connection to the earth, and continually to learn are essential. ‘Professional teachers’ who do not garden or in other ways face the enlightening and frustrating realities of living and working with nature are in grave danger of reinventing all the problems we seek to overturn