Praise of The Weekend Design Course
Hemenway and Jude Hobbs
two-week Permaculture Design Course (PDC) is a life-changing
experience: a fortnight of living with like-minded souls,
the exhilaration of encountering a new way of looking at nearly
everything, and that ready-to-change-the-world feeling at
the course's end. It's a powerful process and one of the key
elements in permaculture's transformative power. Not much,
it seems, can match it.
the two-week PDC is a challenging format for several reasons.
It can be exhausting to teach and to take. The cost of room
and board prices it out of reach of many low-income people.
The time commitment means that people with full-time jobs-the
majority of the population-must sacrifice their vacation to
take it, which creates a permanent limit to the number of
people the format can reach.
alternative is the weekend PDC, in which the standard curriculum
is presented over roughly six weekends. Michael Pilarski sums
up some people's feeling toward it in his article, "Diversity
in Permaculture Design Courses" (see PcA #51, pp.79-80), when
he writes, "My experience and the general opinion is that
weekend courses lack the power of residential courses." We
used to agree with that sentiment.
the past three years, we have taught weekend design courses
in Eugene, Oregon. We have seen that these courses can match
the power and impact of the residential PDC and present some
advantages over the standard course. Participant evaluations
from our weekend courses glow with the same phrases found
in our two-week course reports: "changed my life," "most important
course I've taken," "utterly transformative," and the like.
We'd like to share what we've learned about making this course
problem is that the weekend PDC is often viewed and implemented
as merely a stretched-out version of the residential course-a
"PDC-lite:" the two-week course minus the shared meals, housing,
and pressure-cooker intensity. This thinking is a design flaw
that can lead to failure. The weekend PDC is a different creature
altogether, full of opportunities to be explored.
power of the two-week PDC lies in the community that it creates.
A weekend PDC also can create a tremendous sense of community,
and one that can be even more powerful and long-lasting.
about what happens after the residential course. When it ends,
the glorious, but often short-lived, community dies, and participants
scatter to the four winds. Sometimes, classmates remain in
contact, but they often return to their homes to find that
the bubble has burst-they are back in the real world with
no kindred souls with whom to continue the experience. This
is the "Permaculture Pit" (Permaculture Magazine 17:43). But
when a weekend course ends, the participants return to homes
that are often very near each other. Observing and building
on the local nature of the weekend PDC-harvesting and using
this regional resource-is the key to maximizing the course's
can we capitalize on the local nature of weekend courses?
It's important to offer the weekend course to the correct
population. A weekend course whose participants are spread
across a major metropolitan area like Los Angeles or Chicago
is too diffuse to retain local energy. They probably won't
encounter each other again. We've been fortunate with Eugene
as our base, with 130,000 residents who live within about
ten miles of each other. At this scale, the participants can
easily remain in contact after the course, yet there is a
large enough population to fill a course once a year or more.
Our first weekend course was offered to residents of a single
neighborhood in Eugene, and we'd recommend marketing weekend
courses similarly-to neighborhoods, clusters of small towns,
or sections of a city from two to 15 miles across.
taught our first weekend course in an upstairs room of a neighborhood
food store. During breaks, we'd all troop down to buy snacks
and drinks, or venture to the restaurant next door. In one
hands-on project, we tidied up the store's street-side garden.
Suddenly, the course was supporting the local community and
being seen by the locals. When we picked up tools and marched
en masse to garden at a nearby cooperative house, a neighbor
called out to us, "I don't know where you're going, but I
can see it involves gardening, and that's great!" All the
course's projects were in one neighborhood-many at participants'
houses, and they had a lasting impact on the community.
building and supporting community is at the heart of the PDC's
power, how can we maximize these effects in a weekend course?
Here are some observations:
the intensity of personal relationships in a weekend course
may be less than in the two-week format, friendships and trust
can deepen over a longer time. Saturday morning check-ins
allow each person to share the past week. We become enmeshed
in each other's daily (real) lives, as we see and hear of
a child's illness and recovery, the jitters and subsequent
pride over an art opening, and other evolving personal stories.
Participants often end up making more of an investment in
each other because they know they'll see each other and the
is time during the week to digest the enormous volume of material.
Two-week PDC students often complain of being overwhelmed
and the lack of detail. But a weekend course allows outside
reading, participant discussion groups and get-togethers outside
class, and even homework that can deepen the grasp of the
right venue can support and be supported by the course. We've
taught several courses at an emerging neighborhood retreat
center with a large strawbale classroom. Design projects using
a site like this one are more than just theoretical exercises.
Many ideas from one course can be implemented by the next
one. Our venue is evolving into a premier demonstration site,
plus the owners and their neighbors are learning permaculture
while they benefit from the projects. Not incidentally, implementation
of projects can be traded for venue fees, reducing the cost
of the course.
projects can benefit neighbors. We put the word out that we
were looking for sites to design, and quickly had over ten
responses from people within walking distance who wanted to
sponsor the design project.
can work on each other's sites during the week or in work
parties after the course is over.
resources are available. Participants and instructors aren't
limited to what they remembered to bring to the course; between
sessions they can pick up books, tools, and other resources.
Plus they can share resources and local knowledge with each
experts can teach during the course, and they often will stay
connected with participants afterward, enhancing community
and participants can share their libraries and other resources.
post-course email list and get-togethers will strengthen the
bond forged by the course. With over 75 participants living
in Eugene, permaculture has achieved critical mass, and its
influence is being felt all over the city. Neighborhoods made
up of participants and their friends are coalescing into permaculture
communities. In Eugene we have an existing permaculture guild
that participants can easily hook into.
major challenge is the potential for a personal crisis to
occur over the six weekends, such as a family illness or job
change, that may cause participants to drop out. Dropouts
occasionally occur during the two-week course, too, but there
can be a higher incidence of it during the two months or more
of a weekend course.
benefits are specific to the weekend course. One is the more
relaxed atmosphere. The intensity of the two-week course provides
part of its power, but it's not for everyone, and sometimes
results in illnesses, emotional blow-ups, anxiety about the
design project, and even short-term romances that aren't always
easy to be around.
positive is the lower price. Without room and board, we can
offer courses for as low as $300-400 per student. And local
courses are eligible for grants that support community development
and education. A grant from the City of Eugene allowed us
to give the course to low-income people for only the cost
of supplies, about $40.
with so many former students nearby, word-of-mouth marketing
(always the most powerful kind) can fill courses quickly.
Work-trades are also easier to do, since participants are
been able to overcome some of the potential downsides to weekend
courses with a little thought. The shared meals in a residential
PDC are a big source of community-building, so we suggest
pot-luck lunches or grabbing a large table in a nearby restaurant.
Often, a weekend-only venue means we need to remove posters
and projects from the site between classes. So we offer a
work-trade for organizing the course and helping with course
logistics: this person arrives early to set up the room, restoring
that homey feel provided by walls full of participant projects,
colorful graphics, and useful information. We strongly recommend
staying away from venues that reinforce the classroom feel
of no windows, fluorescent lights, and rows of desks.
two-week PDC is an outstanding format for presenting permaculture
to activists and others who can devote a large block of time
to the course. We remember ours as a major life experience.
Permaculture won't reach a very large audience if learning
it requires a two-week residency.
that great day when permaculture is offered in schools, we
see the weekend PDC as an excellent format for making permaculture
design available to people of all incomes and lifestyles,
and potentially just as transformative as the residential
PDC. The key is to remember that the weekend course acts locally,
and done right, can build an enormous and active local permaculture
Hemenway is associate editor of Permaculture Activist
and author of Gaia's Garden: A Guide to Home-Scale Permaculture,
and will be teaching a residential PDC next January at the
Island School in the Bahamas (www.islandschool.org).
Hobbs is a horticulturist, permaculture designer, and instructor.
Her teaching techniques are based on developing curricula
that encompass diverse learning styles. (www.cascadiapermaculture.com).
Check with Jude for dates for the next Weekend Design Course.
firstname.lastname@example.org - 541-342-1160
1161 - Lincoln Street Eugene, Oregon. 97401