What’s in a name?

Christian Monahan

Regulation for being organically certified is pretty stringent, you have to give a great deal of information in regards to your property, its history, your plans and then you must go through a process of organic “transition” that goes over a three year period. Pretty full on eh?

Rightly so I would say too. There’s a lot of money in the organic industry nowadays. Gone are the times of parading for miles, just to find that little “hippy” store that was always miles away, in order to buy some organic produce. Now I can go into any supermarket and buy some, albeit from a fairly small choice of stock. Even biodiverse farms must adhere to the same strict code of registration in order to advertise the fact that they are as such and then be able to emblazon their products with the logo of that regulated body. If it ain’t got the logo, it ain’t what you’re looking for.

So what about permaculture?

Everywhere I look, I see permaculture this and permaculture that, courses by people I’ve never heard of before at “permaculture farms and lodges” that seem to have sprung up out of nowhere, run by people who (to me) don’t even demonstrate the proper skills needed in order to take people’s hard earned cash. Are they qualified? Have they just done one of the plethora of weekend permaculture design courses that are everywhere now, or have they just read a few of Bill Mollison’s books?

I’ve even seen courses that were to be run by people who didn’t even have a garden of their own. Don’t get me wrong, there are loads of great, dedicated and authentic permaculture courses out there, but how do you discern from the crap? You have to do your research, ask them what they’re about, where they’ve studied, where they’ve worked, do they have a permaculture farm/smallholding/backyard/allotment of their own?

I talk a bit about permaculture in my workshops and videos, just a bit to explain where I’ve instigated a permaculture technique, I’ll explain the how and the why. I’m not an expert, I don’t claim to be. Do I have years of experience in the horticulture industry? Yes. Do I run a smallholding that is run on organic and permaculture principals? Yes. Have I run it for nearly a decade? Yes. Have I had articles published in Australian and overseas publications, done talks in front of hundreds of people about organic agriculture, made over 300 videos on this lifestyle and been offered a book publishing contract for a for a three-book deal. Yes!

Why don’t I do talks and workshops on permaculture? Because I’m still learning.


Gardening is my whole life, it is pretty much a 24/7 part of my existence. I read, work, write and watch it, I love it. This is why I get annoyed at the charlatans, the inexperienced “experts”, the ones who are quick to take your cash and indeed, cash in on the name of permaculture.

So do we need a regulating body for all this? Should we have some sort of certification process, all too often I see permaculture “courses” advertised with no content description, just, Saturday-Sunday 9am to 4pm, $400.

Sorry, but that’s not good enough, we’re already fighting an uphill battle with our outdated agricultural system, we don’t need you taking advantage of things and besmirching the “industry” any further. It’s hard enough sometimes with the “hippy” or “treehugger” stigma that most people who don’t understand what we’re about labelling us with.

It’s about learning, teaching to people what we know and always learning back again. Sadly, some people are motivated by money and not the giving of knowledge but I know they will (unfortunately) always exist. So please, ask questions before you hand over your money. What will I get for my money? What qualifications do you have? What will I achieve at the end? You deserve to know and most importantly, you deserve to grow.


Christian Monahan

After living three quarters of his life in Melbourne and studying at various places overseas including Japan, Nepal and China, Christian finally left city life behind to pursue his dream of self sufficiency in the rural heartland of Victoria. Almost eight years later he’s still there, growing, writing, planting and sharing his years of organic, permaculture and horticultural experience with like-minded people. Giving talks and workshops and sharing with others, not only the joys of growing their own vegetables, fruit and produce, but also being aware of how our food is grown and the agricultural practices behind it.

Writer, Australia & Overseas

Agriculture, Organic food/growing, Self Sufficiency, Permaculture, Food manufacture,


Self Sufficiency, Gardening, Permaculture, Agriculture.

Read his other stories on CI


Posted in Featured slide, Food, Health, Local news, Social Justice, The Main Featured Story

15 Responses

  1. Doug Ralph

    I also share Christian’s concerns regarding the teaching of permaculture, a great theory but extremely difficult and confusing for inexperienced gardeners to put into practice.

  2. Ian Lillington

    Hi Christian, and thanks for your thought provoking piece on permaculture “labelling”. This has been discussed on and off over the years amongst some permaculturists, and perhaps the time is right for it, although permaculture ‘went viral’ before that was even a concept. There are now at least a million holders of the Permaculture Design Certificate world-wide, and millions more without a recognised certificate, so the horse may have bolted.

    As you say, you do have to do your research [in regard to where you spend your money] and that’s not a bad thing. I am one of a group of permaculture teachers who have, over 10 years [and as volunteers], established Accredited Permaculture Training which means that there are certified courses in permaculture as part of the national training system [often mis-named as TAFE].

    There also will always be non-accredited courses and the 72 hour Permaculture Design Course is an example. In Castlemaine we regularly offer these through the Community House. Pleased to say our team are highly experienced and thanks to some government support, prices are low.

    I haven’t seen, locally, any course “Saturday-Sunday 9am to 4pm, $400,” but a web-search shows one of them in rural NSW where accommodation is part of the $400.

    If you’d like to talk more about the ‘certification’ issue, pls contact me on ian.lillington@internode.on.net

    also my book info at http://permacultureprinciples.com/resources_holistic.php


  3. Christian

    Hi Ian,
    I’m good with it all, after nearly 20 years in all this I know the system, thanks tho.
    Locally I’m quite happy with the PDC situation, I’m talking nationally and (to a lesser extent)in the states and uk in particular which is where most of my work goes/readers are, unfortunately I don’t get local offers for talks, workshops etc. I just want people to ask questions really.
    Thanks for the feedback!

  4. oldpermiehead


    I appreciate your putting this into the e-realm! Does it really matter? I did PC training many moons ago and have practiced, taught, consulted, designed….etc …etc.. ever since. If people wish to know permaculture they will seek it, if they wish to practice, they will train, if they wish to teach it they will seek further. If they see beyond this they might be on their own.

  5. MMM?

    Christian who?

  6. Nikki

    Good article! Permaculture (great as it is) is now the “organic” catchphrase of the 2000’s. I think it matters permie, so does he obviously.
    MMM who? idiot!

  7. Ken W K

    You obviously didn’t even read the article o p head. What a ridiculous statement, bong on dude!!!

  8. Mark

    Christian, it sounds like you are well-equipped to run workshops yourself.

    What a peculiar statement you make though: “Why don’t I do talks and workshops on permaculture? Because I’m still learning.”

    Surely the best teachers are those who are still learning? Does it follow from your logic that once you reach the elusive goal of becoming a teacher you then have no need to learn? I’m sure that’s not what you mean…

    In my field/primary interest area of natural therapies I’ve seen some of the true healers fall by the wayside as the ‘industry’ tries to ‘legitimise’ itself through rigorous uni training, kicking out trainers with innate skills and ‘wise women’ traditions to replace them with teachers with PhDs and a focus on paperwork.

    I’m sure you are well intentioned but I’m not convinced your argument is the ‘right’ one for permaculture or indeed many other fields of endeavour and learning.

    Kind regards,

  9. Sandy

    It’s not what he meant Mark, read it again, you obviously didn’t get it at all in the first sitting. Would you teach something if you were still learning? The difference between teacher and student obviously eludes you, I’ve been to this guys workshops before and he is brilliant! Another example of Melbourne goes to the country with all their pompous attitude no doubt. You should really re-read your writings before you commit them to the public arena, it makes the people up here sound stupid. What do you know on the subject that would qualify you to make statements?

    (Edited for brevity and politeness – Editor)

  10. Mark

    Wow Sandy, sorry to hear you have such anger issues. Perhaps you should move out of the smelly city to healthier climates.

    You also should read closer before you comment. That is exactly my point: yes I would definitely teach if I’m still learning. Learners are the best teachers. Get it now?

    Good trachers are also the best learners. That one might be a bit trickier for you, especially since you are probably not a teacher yourself.

    Now go and take some deep breaths and think happy thoughts.

  11. Gill H

    What do you know on the subject that would qualify you to make statements?

  12. Nathaniel Muller

    Dear Mark, considering the kind of responses you have received thus far, i thought it relevant to thank you for your words. I can see what you are saying and i would agree on a number of levels. I am also shocked by the responses you have received -quite nasty really and unnecessary. i felt that your (initial) comment was not offensive in any way and so the responses to them seem rather out of proportion. Your detractors seem to require you to have some form of academic like credentials before having an opinion. Wisdom gained through experience does not cut it any more apparently.

  13. oldpermiehead

    Fortunately or unfortunatley, there are no formal (or at least recognised by most academic institutions or industry bodies) qulaifications for permaculture. It has always been learning from within the industry, networking and some weird level of guru idolisation.

    There is absolutely nothing wrong with this,as it does allow great wisdom to be passed on and most students will not end up teaching, practicing on a professional level or designing for others. So, as my earlier post suggests, what is the point in pontificating on which course is more beneficial than others, or as Christian has suggested ‘what are your qualifications?’. Many moves in the past decades have proposed formalising this.

    Christian is quite right that the ‘industry’ has always stuggled with this dilemna. Like or not, tree huggers and ‘hippys’ will always be attracted to PC regardless of the price tag associated with the course. And I must disagree that most teachers are not motivated by the money – that comment shows a great injustice and misunderstanding of the history and intention of PC teaching!

    You have made some pretty big claims of charlatanism and fraud in your writing,I invite you to explain a bit further before placing yourself above everyone else in an industry that is struggling for a place in the modern vernacular. Please do not try to own it.

    Permaculture is the natural accummulation of centuries of subsistence agricultural wisdom gleaned from across cultures, across the globe over all time, applied to local needs and can not easliy be translated into one person’s singular understanding; it belongs to all humanity and to claim otherwise assumes ownership.

  14. G. Hancombe

    Perm head,
    How is this guy “placing himself above everyone else”??? Or owning it??? By promoting free thinking and honest debate?
    Seems like inciting article driven questions and debate in people nowadays is akin to putting a target on your back. Write your own articles. Good luck.

  15. Mr and Mrs

    Never let down by the armchair authors and their comments…sad but hilarious, mostly sad!