Permaculture Design Certification Course Curriculum



1. Permaculture Ethics and Principals of Natural Systems and Design

The course begins by covering the three main Permaculture Principles of Earth Care, People Care, and Sharing the Abundance. We move from there to a detailed analysis of the principles that govern natural systems and holistic design. This section covers design methodologies, needs analysis, zones and sectors, and other basic natural design approaches. Here, we also cover pattern analysis, as well as the observation, mimicking, andpattern adaptation from natural systems and cycles.

 Rony Lec, IMAP and Atitlan Organics PDC
 The Permaculture Market Garden, Atitlan Organics and Zach Loeks PDC

2. Mayan Cosmology and the Influence on Natural Systems

This is a special component that is unique to our course. Led by our lead facilitator, Ronaldo Lec, an indigenous Mayan Anthropologist, this component will provide an in depth look at the Mayan calendar and how to use this and other astrological tools to guide your interaction with the landscape. Aside from the calendar, there will be ample opportunities to connect with native Mayan communities and learn traditional techniques of seed saving, food production, and indigenous design. (Specific to course with IMAP)


2. Design and Implementation of Permaculture Market Gardens

This aspect of the course takes a close look at how permaculture can be scaled up and managed so as to be productive for more than one household. How can the ideas of permaculture be used to produce abundance, and how can that abundance be shared with the surrounding community? How can the models of permaculture and market gardens combine to form a whole greater than their parts? How can surplus be generated for the farmer and the ecosystem simultaneously? These are some of the questions we will be exploring during the course. (Specific to course with Zach Loeks)

 Mountain woodlan, Atitlan Organics

3. Understanding Natural Systems and the Establishment of the 3 Major Land Types within a Site

This section takes a look at trees and forests, as well as wetland areas, pasture, and other natural ecosystems in order to understand the importance of each and how they can be integrated together to build resilient landscapes. Permaculture tends to favor perennial plants and self-regulating systems, and being able to integrate the various major land-types into a specific site is the surest way to maximize diversity and build regenerative landscapes. Here, we are focusing on site diversification within the context of the various zones and sectors.

 Earthworks at Atitlan Organics

4. Earthworks, Swales, Contours, and Deep Site Modification

Earthworks are a major piece of permaculture that often gets overlooked. Stripping native vegetation can often cause people to shutter and write this whole process off as not being ecologically sound. In reality, nothing could be further from the truth. Through earthworks such as pond building, texturing the landscape, swales, and terracing, we are actually accelerating and steering the succession and evolution of natural systems. Nature, when left to her own devices, thinks nothing of the human inhabitants. We must guide the evolution of a site to not only provide for the earth and other creatures, but also for ourselves. While earthworks can be initially labor and resource intensive and seemingly destructive to the current landscape, they are the ONLY way to fully develop a site for efficient energy capture and storage, which in turn, increases abundance and resiliency.

 Water systems, Atitlan Organics

5. Water Management, Capture, and Efficient Use

Water is the most important resource that is available for us to capture and utilize. We cover a wide range of strategies across a variety of different climatic conditions for the efficient capture, storage, and use of water. Relating back to earthworks and the three major land types, we see how water retention can be improved, which is the foundation of any successful, self-regulating site.

 Gardens, Atitlan Organics

6. Permaculture Gardening Techniques, Soil Basics, and Fertility Management

Mainly a Zone 1 and 2 strategy, this part of the course will cover intensive vegetable gardening techniques that allow for big production in small spaces with minimal reliance on outside inputs. Various strategies for both wet and dry climates will be covered, as well as the placement of these generally annual gardens within the overall perennial Permaculture site. Here, we will also cover soil fertility and the building of soil within a site. Carbon to Nitrogen Ratios, the use of animals, mulching, and other techniques will be covered and accompanied by hands-on activities.

 Chickens, Atitlan Organics

7. Sustainable Animal Systems, Wetland Integration, and other Innovative Land-Use Strategies

This part of the course will cover a variety of animal systems and their integration into the total landscape design. These include:

  • Chickens, both for meat and eggs
  • Ducks, Geese, and other water fowl
  • Rabbits
  • Bees, including honey production and harvesting
  • Goats, cows, and other grazers/browsers
  • Free range systems, rotational grazing, wetland integration, grazing within food forests

 Coffee Harvest, Atitlan Organics

8. Food Forest Establishment

This is where all the various components come together, focusing on the integration of animals, wetlands, and perennial/annual productions systems. We will talk about accelerating succession in an evolving landscape and how to maximize impact with minimal effort. Earthworks are covered here again and the whole process of site design, modification, and evolution comes together in this section.


 Seed Saving, Atitlan Organics

9. Seed Banks and Plant Propagation

Nursery work and seed saving are major activities that can aid in building the diversity of a site. Learn to master the tools that nature has given us, which allow us to tap into her abundance through the use of propagation material for useful plants. A lot of hands on work will be done in this section of the course, including grafting, cloning, and more basic propagation techniques.

 Dairy Goats at Atitlan Organics

10. Value-Adding, Fermentation, and Handling Abundance

Another component that is heavy on the hands-on participation. Students will have the opportunity to kill and process a chicken (which will be part of their meals for non-vegetarians), as well as milking goats and making cheese/yogurt. There will be a fermentation workshop and lectures on how to preserve the harvest and improve its value over time, without diminishing the nutritive value.

 Fresh Goat's Milk, Atitlan Organics

11. Small-Scale, Sustainable, Land-based Business Opportunities

Another unique aspect of our course is the focus on making a sustainable and comfortable living based on a Permaculture site. We have always felt that Permaculture has been limited in the way it is used to generate income from the land. Practitioners of Permaculture have a great opportunity for producing food, fuel, and other products from a sustainably-managed system, which would enable them to provide employment, as well as nutrient dense food to their community. Basic business models for small-scale cottage industries are covered, as well as case studies of past successes and failures. As industrial food continues to degrade the landscape and the consumer both, agriculturists will have a continued responsibility to use their skills for the production of necessary goods for their communities. We will show you how to take responsibility and seize these opportunities.

 Watercress River terraces at Quixya (Atitlan Organics field trip)

12. Aquaculture

We will briefly cover aquaculture and the diversification of landscapes via ponds, wetlands, and water systems. Useful plants, animals, and water retention systems will be looked at and the opportunities for aquaculture will be covered, with relevant examples provided.

 Natural Building at Atitlan Organics

13. Natural Building

Guest Speaker Charlie Rendall will be leading the natural building component of the course. Charlie has been building and designing with natural materials for over 7 years and now runs a design consultancy for natural building projects in Guatemala. His specialty is building with bamboo, but he also has extensive experience in cob structures, natural stucco, traditional stone buildings, thatch roofing, and many other natural building techniques.

 Rocket Stove, Atitlan Organics

14. Alternative Technology

Both passive and active technologies will be explored, with many examples and hands-on opportunities. Compost heated showers, passive solar showers, solar electric systems, rocket stoves, and a wide array of other technologies will be covered. Charlie Rendall will be involved in this component of the course as well.

 Atitlan Organics

15. Community-Based Alternatives and Invisible Structures

Building on the small-scale business opportunities for permaculturists, this lecture will examine invisible structures at play in the current prevailing socioeconomic arrangement and cover a variety of ways that we can work to change the status quo. New approaches including time banks, land-based production systems, and local-only distribution of goods will be covered.

 River, Atitlan Organics

16. Design for Climate Change and Resilience to Natural Disasters

As the climate continues to change before our eyes, we now see that the only normal weather patterns are abnormal ones. More and more natural disasters are occurring worldwide, which is a driving force for the new-found interest in more sustainable approaches to land-use and business. This area will focus on how to design for climate change and natural catastrophe, via the built-in resiliency that can be achieved by permaculture design. Trends in climate change, new threats to living systems, and biological remediation techniques will all be looked at here.



 Shad Qudsi, Atitlan Organics

shad qudsi

Shad Qudsi has over 13 years experience in organic and commercial gardening and farming. He is certified in Permaculture Design and has over 3 years experience in permaculture design consulting. After graduating from Johns Hopkins University with a double major in Applied Math and Psychology, Shad and his wife, Colleen, moved to Central America with only vague goals of farming at some point in the near future. In January of 2010, Shad and his wife bought and moved onto a very small farm located in the traditional Mayan village of Tzununa, which on the north shore of Lake Atitlan, in Guatemala. The farm developed into Atitlan Organics and now mainly focuses on greens and chickens, a large edible and useful plant nursery, a food forest, and training and education.  Shad is an enthusiastic teacher who truly believes in the work he is doing. Human resiliency cannot be erased from the landscape and now, it is coming back with a loving grace.

 Neal Hegarty

neal hegarty

Neal is originally from Ireland. He grew up on a dairy farm and has been around animals all his life. He studied agriculture in Ireland and has worked as a permaculturist for the past 10 years. Neal was the Volunteer Manager at Atitlan Organics for 2 years before co-founding his own Permaculture-based enterprise, Abundant Edge Farm, in Tzununa. He brings a wealth of experience, enthusiasm, and energy into each Intro to Permaculture Course and Permaculture Design Certification Course and we're happy to continue to collaborate with him!

 Rony Lec

rony lec

Rony is one of the world’s leading experts in permaculture and Mayan ancestral knowledge. Rony has spent the last 20 years teaching and implementing permaculture throughout Central, South and North America focusing on promoting food sovereignty and preserving biodiversity for the survival of Indigenous communities.

Through his extensive work with Indigenous communities on traditional ecological knowledge, seed saving, native plants, local/global food movements, livelihood security, and the interaction between communities and the environment, he has made a key contribution to the empowerment of Indigenous people around the world. Rony is a co-founder of IMAP.


 Zach Loeks

zach loeks

Hailing from Ottawa, Canada where he and his partner run the 50-acre Kula Permaculture Farm, Zach brings a wealth of knowledge and experience to the course. He works as an educator, designer, consultant and farmer, with an emphasis on integrating diversity, conserving soil and maximizing farm ecosystem services while maintaining high productivity.

Last year Zach published The Permaculture Market Garden, which explores ways that permaculture can be scaled up be a profitable whole-systems enterprise. Zach is a leading figure in permaculture, who brings a new and exciting vision of how it can be integrated into the wider community and marketplace.