Getting into Permaculture | a Trade School Dudley class

A scrummy recipe, delicious fresh veg and herbs given to me by learners in exchange for my Trade School class

The Trade School network is a collective of self-organised barter-for-knowledge schools across the world. Trade School began in 2009 as an experiment by a group of New York City artists. With support and encouragement from Tessy Britton and Laura Billings we bought the idea to Dudley. Trade School Dudley launched in July 2016 and to date over 50 classes have been offered, and with over 160 people bartering for knowledge.

I support local people to plan and promote Trade School Dudley classes, and I’ve caught the bug! I love learning through Trade School and offering classes. I started with classes on Slow Living and Dealing with Clutter, and gradually built up the courage to offer a Getting into Permaculture class. I wasn’t sure anyone would be interested as it sounds a bit specialist, so I was over the moon to find myself sitting down with seven curious learners on the day the class came around.

The objectives I set for the class were that learners would:

  • Understand the origins, ethics and applications of Permaculture Design.
  • Explore some of the ethics or Permaculture Principles in relation to their garden, for self-care and/or in community activities.
  • Know where to find great resources to learn more.
  • Discuss ways we might connect people interested in permaculture in Dudley.

Origins and applications of permaculture design

Following a round of introductions I gave an brief overview of the origins and applications of permaculture design from some books and courses:

Permaculture is a method of using nature as a guide to design for sustainability. It is a way of thinking that promotes resourcefulness, resilience and creativity.
“Permaculture” by name first gained international recognition when Australians Bill Mollison and David Holmgren released their book Permaculture One in 1978. They took the idea of a “permanent agriculture”, spliced the words together, and used the term to describe a methodology for designing perennially productive landscapes.
It was a response to the destruction modern farming practices were having on the environment and economies. It began with a reframing of agricultural strategies and systems, and translating ideas and principles from natural ecosystems into gardens, farms and smallholdings. Over the last few decades permaculture has evolved beyond the garden and is being used to enhance the quality of life in all aspects.
- Looby Macnamara, 7 Ways to Think Differently
Permaculture began as a set of tools for designing landscapes that are modelled after nature, and include humans. … Permaculture has been used to design buildings, energy systems, villages, businesses, community groups, healthcare and school curriculums.
- Toby Hemenway, Gaia’s Garden
The same principles that make permaculture so successful on the landscape also work for designing invisible structures like social, emotional, economical, and political systems. That’s because permaculture is not just about the components of a system; it is also about the flows and connections between those components. It is about the relationships.
You can have solar power, an organic garden, an electric car, and a straw-bale house and still not live in a permaculture. A project becomes a permaculture only when special attention is paid to the relationships between each component, among the functions of those components, and among the people who work within the system. Through a permaculture design process, we can organize these relationships for optimum success. Our creativity is our most powerful tool for overcoming problems,, and design helps us harness that creativity and put it to work.
- Heather Jo Flores, Women’s Permaculture Guild course content

What’s great about permaculture design is that we can all use it in unique ways to enhance what we are doing already and take us in new directions. We don’t have to follow a prescribed route of how to use it.

I explained that I’m currently using permaculture design on a personal level (developing practices, habits and rhythms which help me be my best), on a social level (in the design of work I do with people in Dudley) and I’m starting to design my garden using permaculture.

Permaculture ethics and principles

This downloadable poster of Permaculture Ethics and Design Principles proved a useful resource to introduces these important aspects of permaculture.

I’d already made some rough prototype permaculture principles cards to use with my team, populated on the reverse with self-reflection questions from Looby Macanamara’s fantastic People and Permaculture book. This Trade School class offered me another opportunity to observe and understand if they were useful. I invited learners to choose one or two they were drawn to, and explore the questions in pairs.

Examples of the self-reflection questions:

  • Catch and store energy: What gives me energy? Am I making best use of my current energy levels and opportunities?
  • Design from patterns to details: What are the patterns at play here? What are the useful patterns and what would I like to change?
  • Use small and slow solutions: Is there a small step in the right direction I could take today? Where am I likely to trip up if I go too fast?

As Looby explains:

The principles are not isolated. They interplay, oscillating in iportance as the need and relevancy arises. The princples can be used like a lens to look through for problem-solving or decision making. There are different approaches to using the principles:
- Reflect on a problem or issues
- Generate solutions
- Choose from options

Useful resources

Keen to put permaculture principles into practice even during a short Trade School class, I had planned a quick activity to obtain a yield. We all jotted down on post-it notes details of websites, blogs, magazines, books, podcasts, videos etc. where we could find out more about permaculture and related things. Below is what eight of us shared in a just a few minutes:


In print:



Resource stores nearby:

Royal Horticultural Society initiatives:

We closed the session with a short discussion about ways we might continue and grow the conversation, connecting people in Dudley interested in permaculture. Something every few months involving food, perhaps at different community spaces (coffee shops and gardens) was favoured. This will be something I will consider convening, unless someone else extends an invitation first :)

The stuffed winter squash with black bean sauce that I made with the recipe and squash that Janet and Charlie gave me in return for the class. Yum yum!