This is the first part of an article published in Permaculture Magazine in Summer 2016.
Many people are unhappy in our jobs and yet most don’t do anything about it. Discovering permaculture can be the catalyst for us to start considering how we might make that transition to the more positive-impact lifestyle we aspire to. At first it may seem that the only available permaculture livelihoods are as a teacher or food grower, but these are just the visible ‘front end’ of a wide network of interdependencies.
While teaching and writing are my passion, I currently still manage my own websites, do my own accounts and convene some of my own courses. I gained those skills out of necessity, but would love to be able to call on them from within the permaculture community to free up my time for the things I’m more interested in. So this article shares some ideas and reflections in the hope it will help bring more of you into the permaculture economy.
My Own Journey
As a busy permaculture teacher I’m privileged to spend time with a lot of great people, from all walks of life and with a diverse range of skills. It wasn’t always this way. My journey has taken me through a number of vocations, but going self-employed 15 years ago was one of the best decisions I’ve made, allowing me to fully follow my passions. Returning to Britain from a year living on the land free of money in Eire, I took a job three days a week as a self-employed gardener. As well as being just the right amount of income to meet my needs, it was a dream job. The owners were hardly ever at home and I could eat any of the abundant fruit in the times between. One day several years later though, when I was weeding the extensive gravel drive by hand (no sprays for me) I had an epiphany. I was maintaining a desert! – the complete opposite of the permaculture I was sharing with people on the courses I had begun to teach. I decided to give up that gardening job and develop more of a poly-income. I found a different gardening job two days a week and took on some I.T. work, mainly building websites for friends. I apprenticed on a few Permaculture Design Courses (PDCs) and found the confidence to go solo. Though the financial rewards from teaching were initially low, I always gained valuable experience. The things I learnt in particular at that time were:
Money is just one of many possible yields – I once earned just £70 for teaching a two week residential design course. It took place however, on the beautiful Brownsea Island Nature Reserve in Dorset where I returned twice more to teach as part of a great team. Those courses resulted from an introductory day I taught at my home, earning me £20 at the time, but the two people who attended that day each went away and organised three PDCs for me to teach where they lived.
I can never know what course participants will go on to do, so I always do whatever I can to run a course. I was just one of four students on the PDC I took in 1996. My teacher Stephen Nutt could easily have cancelled, but he didn’t and I’ll always be grateful for that.
In promoting a course or event, even if you later have to cancel, you’ll still raise the profile of permaculture in your area.
Over a decade later my poly-income now comes mostly from permaculture teaching, with some royalties and sales of my book and a little consulting. I also have a small online retail-based business to supplement this. I stopped gardening for others a number of years ago, preferring to spend time in my own garden. I always have I.T. up my sleeve in case I should ever need it again.
Create Your Own Livelihood Plan
You may at first consider your acquired skill-set to be redundant in your new future, but we can apply permaculture to most things. An accountant for instance is good with numbers and those skills are needed in many areas of life. Give it a little thought and you may realise that your skillset could be a great asset in the permaculture community. What better way to get some clarity on this than to apply a design process?