VET Permaculture: Shortages and Opportunities

VET Permaculture: Shortages and Opportunities

Did you know:

  • There is a shortage of VET (permaculture) teachers and assessors *1
  • Several longstanding permaculture VET teachers have retired in recent times and many are happy to provide advice/assistance to new teachers
  • Permaculture units and knowledge is included in various other qualifications (mostly agriculture and horticulture) *2 post the reaccreditation process completed in 2022 *3
  • The agriculture and horticulture sectors have a shortage of qualified workers *4, 5
  • Cert I and II in Permaculture can, and are, taught in various schools *6
  • You need a Cert IV TAE to be a VET teacher, but you don’t need the equivalent Permaculture qualification to teach into a course. Now a PDC or other training, relevant industry experience (relevant to the units you teach) is sufficient *7

The Education team has been working with Linda Woodrow this year to develop a Certificate IV in Training and Assessment (Cert IV TAE) with a strong focus on accessibility (mostly online), student support and interaction, incorporating permaculture units where possible and face to face teaching practicums within existing permaculture course offerings.

This is a very exciting project as the last time a Cert IV teaching qualification with a focus on permaculture was offered, was in 2010 at Crystal Waters Eco Village with the teachers being Virginia Solomon and Robin Clayfield. I participated in that wonderful course and was exposed to very creative and inspiring teaching practices. The photo accompanying this article, with a background of Virginia’s garden, is a picture of the quilt that was used in that course. Students created an avatar on the first day and placed it/moved it on the quilt each day in accordance with how they felt and where they were at in terms of progress. It was a fabulous way to check-in and have a visual of where everyone was at any point in time.

We have reached the stage in the project of now seeking an interested Registered Training Organisation (RTO) to partner with to offer this permaculture focused Cert IV TAE, developed by a very experienced teacher of this course for many years. Do you think your organisation could be that RTO or do you know of an appropriate RTO that may be interested? 

Interested, need more information?

Also, let us know, if you haven’t already, whether you’re interested in potentially doing this Cert IV TAE for permies. We need evidence of demand, so spread the word. Anyone, with an interest/experience in permaculture who wishes to teach VET in any field would be suitable.
This course will be engaging and very different from current offerings in the market.

We’d dearly love to get his course going from next year so any ideas, relevant contacts, assistance, would be much appreciated.

Please email
Wendy Marchment
Convenor, Education Team

Photo supplied by Virginia Solomon

  2. Egs,,,,
Growing Inclusivity: practical strategies for making permaculture teaching more accessible

Growing Inclusivity: practical strategies for making permaculture teaching more accessible

Debbi Long, Naomi Amber, Toad Dell and Guy Ritani

Written by Naomi Amber

Heading Image by Woz Bone taken at APC2023

The following article is an excerpt taken from panel presentation Australian Permaculture Convergence, April 2023

Permaculture and its teachings have always been set in non-formal, alternative and community level environments. This is critical to ensuring permaculture knowledge is available to all. The practice of understanding diversity and inclusion must be continuously revisited as society evolves around us. Promoting inclusivity and diversity in education for the neurodivergent learner presented, by Naomi Amber

Everyone is different, there are no two people who are exactly the same in absolutely every way. Even identical twins have differences. Just as everyone has unique fingerprints, no one has exactly the same brain. There is diversity at every level in every aspect of human life. Understanding the diversity within students and knowing how they learn is essential for a teacher to create learning environments that promote success.
So, what is neurodiversity?

  • Neurodiversity refers to the variation of brain, or cognitive, functioning in people. Everyone has a unique brain and therefore different skills, abilities and needs.
  • Within this scope of difference, or spectrum, lies people who are considered neurotypical, or having brain functioning that is considered as typical or common within the population.
  • Neurodivergence refers to people who have a brain that diverges, or is significantly different to, that which is considered typical or common. These differences can present in social preferences, ways of learning, ways of communicating and ways of perceiving the environment. 

Let’s look at everyone here in this room. We are a group of people who are neurologically diverse. Within our group there are people who are considered neurotypical and others who are neurodivergent. Examples of neurodivergent people include people who have Austism, Epilepsy, or ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder). However, it is important to note that we need to be careful when using these ‘labels’, as not all people who are neurodivergent have been formally diagnosed and each person can present or not present with a wide range of characteristics within each neurodivergent classification.
As a teacher, I believe it is more important to focus on what students need to be successful in learning, rather than focusing on labels and then making assumptions on what their challenges may or may not be. For example, instead of saying that Johnny has ADHD and lacks focus in class, we can say Johnny requires a stand-up desk to help focus on tasks in class. However, in a school setting, diagnosis and labels are required for access to funding from the government.

Ways we can support neurodiversity in learning include:

  1. Maintain a holistically safe classroom by addressing psychological, physical, emotional, social, ethical, and academic needs
  2. Present lessons in small chunks, also known as task analysis
  3. Vary your teaching strategies
  4. Know your student’s strengths and challenges
  5. Set goals for success for ALL students

These teaching practices are effective for both neurotypical and neurodivergent learners and should be incorporated in every lesson of every unit of every course.
An issue we face as educators is that not all people know whether they are neurotypical, neurodivergent or have any challenges for learning. Unless diagnosed, people can be unaware of where they lie on the ‘spectrum’. However, if you ask people how they feel they best learn, most would be able to tell you. This is why I believe it is best practice not to focus on a ‘label’, but rather on identifying the needs of a person.
For example, it was only last year that I was formally diagnosed with ADHD. Prior to the diagnosis, I knew that I had certain challenges when learning or working and had figured out strategies I needed to implement to improve my success within a learning or workspace. The formal diagnosis just gave me access to other tools that I had previously not been able to. An inclusive classroom should include lessons that inherently cater for neurodiversity and neurodivergence. This can be done by using a wide range of varied strategies and techniques embedded in every unit program of the course being delivered.
As a teacher it is necessary to research and stay up to date with strategies that cater for diversity in the classroom. These strategies can address features such as the physical layout of the classroom, the furniture available, timing of lesson and activities, types of activities, resource development and presentation, and modes of delivery of content. For example, where possible it can be helpful to make course delivery available online, as well as in person. It enables students to access your course who have challenges such as social anxiety, living remote, lack of transport, family or work commitments. It also creates the opportunity to include other features that can be added to improve accessibility using varied technologies.

“Social inclusion is the process of improving the terms on which individuals and groups take part in society—improving the ability, opportunity, and dignity of those disadvantaged on the basis of their identity.” (World Bank, 2017)

Even the World Bank recognises Inclusivity as important!
Permaculture’s ethics of People Care and Fair Share align with social inclusion. We suggest that it’s the responsibility of those of us who teach in this space to proactively ensure that we are being as inclusive as possible.

The Permaculture Edge

The Permaculture Edge

Written and Photography by Rosemary Morrow
Sundry thoughts about the cutting edge, or the unrecognised edges of permaculture.

No. 1. Decolonising designs for Zone 1 kitchen gardens
Spending time with refugees in sub-standard crowded housing in camps woke me up to the idea that the classic design for Zone 1 – the kitchen garden – was not going to work here. The traditional Zone 1, with the lemon tree and circular path, was excellent for those who had land and resources but couldn’t be considered the ‘gold standard’ for kitchen gardens. Most of the world’s people did not have this possibility. Was permaculture too elite to apply globally?
We, permaculturists, had already accepted that people in high density housing would probably have their kitchen garden some distance way – say at Community gardens, or, on a roof top.
However the thought that they could pack in good quality food in windows, roofs, hang from barrier fences was not a thought in most permaculture minds.
So did that mean that permaculture had nothing to offer where large numbers of people did not have land and access to resources?
We at P4R – Permaculture for Refugees realised that Kitchen Gardens, Zone 1 in these places was an essential need and also possible but they wouldn’t look like the traditional Zone 1. We developed kitchen gardens that looked like the photo below where every and any space grows food whether on the ground, in a ditch of dirty water or on a roof.

And Wall Gardens – Zone 1 – like the newly planted one which within a few weeks would be prolific with kitchen vegetables. And we established that permaculture design for Kitchen Gardens was possible in tiny spaces and vertical spaces.

But that raised the question of First Nations ‘kitchen gardens’?
From South East Asia I knew that most kitchen foods grew and were harvested on trees in forests and weren’t planted as annuals in beds. This is necessary where monsoon floods, torrid temperatures and pests destroy the conventional plants and beds. I knew that the people of Tenganan went to the forrest when the fruits and vegetables were ready and harvested them in place in their microclimates and ecosystems.
However what about Australia, for example, and the First Nation’s agriculture? From my years in the Kimberleys and Alice Springs many years ago, and some reading, I realised that Kitchen Gardens are those created by ‘enrichment’ planting. Which means establishing plants where the
microclimates are most suitable. For example, along river beds which tribes and clans would visit in drought or perhaps ceremony, many seeds would be planted and later visited and harvested appropriately.
This required detailed knowledge of a plant in its ecosystem and increasing its number in place not modifying an ecosystem to suit a plant as it done with ‘colonial’ planting. The Australian attempts at bush tucker gardens tend to follow the colonial model.
However close observation of plants and place reveals what flourishes. With implementing this design, harvesting means visiting the ppropriate microclimate which may be slightly inconvenient but also an opportunity for a rich engagement with Nature.
When appraising the Planetary Health Initiative site in Katoomba; a place with many microclimates, there was discussion was about bush gardens design which tended to favour the ‘colonial’ placing vegetation together for easy harvesting and sometimes in ‘guilds’ but not logical and traditional enrichment planting in the appropriate microclimates.
This would establish best practice for other bush tucker’ gardens. Such a planting design is more likely to endure and survive, droughts, floods, and fires because plants are in their natural ‘guilds’ and also good for disaster planning. It would also be a valuable model for other First
Nations people in the region to restore their traditional practices.

By visiting and harvesting food where it grows best in microclimates, and the plants are mainly perennial, we again become food gathers in the sense of the past.  It’s likely to be very rewarding.

Your comments and responses are welcome.

For the Earth,
Rowe Morrow

Mushrooming hope in Nakivale

Mushrooming hope in Nakivale

Jessica Perini

Jessica Perini –  from the Permaculture Australia education team –  is combining local and refugee learners in a new model of online learning. She hopes to create long-distance connections, funding for refugee projects, and lasting memories and opportunities for all.

Elijah and I have been friends for a while now.

Together we do yoga sessions over Zoom, even though he’s in Nakivale, among the largest refugee camps in the world, and even though his internet is … well, rubbish … But we laugh over tree pose, and the constant internet dropouts. Laughter is the ultimate remedy.

Having worked with refugees remotely since COVID, I’ve come to understand that connection is among the most important things for people like Elijah.

I know this because around 4 pm Sydney time I am inundated with messages that tell me East Africa is waking up. ‘Hey Jess, how you going?’ ‘Hi big sis.’ ‘Hi Mum.’ Followed by copious photos of mulching, worms, and food forests flourishing. Mostly from refugees in settlements in Uganda, and Kenya. My group, Permaculture Partners, has built these connections since the pandemic through numerous workshops. Generally covering the topics most requested by refugees. (Maggot farming being one of the most popular – go figure!)

 This is just my observation as an outsider, but having contact with the outside world seems to sustain these refugees. And when it comes to permaculture, this also means hope.

What does all this have to do with mushrooms?

A few months ago, I was running a training session for Elijah’s group (Biogreen) on the three most important soil properties – physical, chemical, and biological. Their main question (apart from ‘What do you mean “chemicals”? Aren’t chemicals bad?’ – translating English to Swahili is fraught!) was ‘When can we learn about mushrooms?’

A 15-minute discussion on soils quickly turned into a one-and-a-half-hour Q and A about the best types of mushrooms, whether refugee farmers would be able to grow them, how quickly they grew and how much they’d have to spend to get the business going. From these people who had little experience with mushroom farming, the fascination was palpable.

Many conversations ensued. Elijah went on a mission to the nearest big local town, Mbarara, 42 kilometres away. I’d found trainers there, but the cost was many thousands of dollars, so we looked at alternatives.

Knowing of his love and knowledge of mushrooms, I asked Nick Ritar of Milkwood if he would volunteer to teach a two-hour introductory session online. 

Having worked with Milkwood on and off since I did their Permaculture Design Certificate in 2010, and having completed their excellent Home Mushroom Cultivation Course, I was delighted when they said they’d help. The workshop was set for 1 June.

The model I’ve developed over the years is simple. Put on two-hour training for local Australian audiences and refugees in camps concurrently; charge the locals, and the refugees attend for free. The locals finance materials for the refugees. Everyone gets to mingle and connect. People grow more food. Beautiful connections are made.

As we sold tickets to the June 1 event, I sent the funds to Elijah. Mushroom supplies were hard to come by in Mbarara, so he had to go further afield – to the capital of Uganda, Kampala. This involved numerous buses and boda bodas (motorbike taxis with whole families precariously perched on them, and, sometimes, astounding amounts of furniture).*     

Working his way through the markets and squares, Elijah found the materials he needed. Grain spawn, alcohol for cleaning, gloves, gypsum … all the bits and pieces he would be hard-pressed to find in the refugee camp.

Together we workshopped a few ideas and adapted them.

Finding clean water and materials to burn in a refugee camp can be challenging. Boiling water was going to be a problem. So we explored steeping the substrate in cold water overnight.

For a time we couldn’t locate hydrated lime, so we considered using wood ash to raise the water’s pH. Although it doesn’t have all the same properties and functions as hydrated lime, it was a good alternative – provided Elijah’s group could get the pH to around 12 or 13.

They just needed pH strips … Another hurdle! We needed low-tech solutions. Think, think! Red cabbage water! Did they have red cabbage? Yes! A workshop for another day.

When the June 1 workshop rolled around, Elijah and his team had found everything they needed; it had been a Herculean feat. But we still had the dodgy internet to contend with.

The various refugee groups would be gathered – around 15 people per group – projecting the computer screen onto their walls, and we had no way of knowing whether the internet would hold up. If it rained, or if someone sneezed strangely … goodbye workshop. We met a few days pre-workshop to run through the process. Worst case scenario, Elijah could show them all the materials and play back the recorded session later.

On June 1, the refugees and locals came online to hear Nick speak. The participants from Uganda were thrown off the call by their weak connections, so we stumbled around for solutions. I considered WhatsApping, beaming my screen to them through two platforms. But eventually, the internet picked up, and most people hopped back in.

Everyone thoroughly enjoyed the session, and we were so thankful for Nick’s help and guidance. He answered a barrage of questions and has continued helping us over the last month.

Since then, Elijah and I have been growing our mushrooms in tandem. Mine have bloomed, but Biogreen’s first attempt has been patchy, the Nakivale team struggling with conditions in the camp. The heat, combined with the tin roof of the mushroom growing house, is not ideal. The new plan is to purpose-build a structure, with a leafy roof to mitigate the extreme heat. Maybe low-tech air con. More workshopping to come.

As the mushrooms reach the fruiting stage, the team will also have to contend with theft due to starvation. In a similar situation in Kakuma camp, my refugee friends have had to create a separate garden, with strong fences and 24-hour guards to protect their harvests.

Fair share is well and good when you’re not starving. But when you’re surrounded by a mounting refugee population, and your United Nations Food Program rations have gone down to a paltry $5 a month, or 1.5 kilos of flour, who can blame anyone for stealing food?

It’s easy to feel overwhelmed by the problems faced by refugee communities like Elijah’s. I’ve sat on this story for almost a month, trying to think of the perfect way forward.

But yesterday, I saw a photo of Elijah. As much as he smiles and jokes, his limbs all twisted into Eagle pose, and rushes about on these crazy quests, and tries to grow mushrooms in non-ideal conditions, he’s still skinny as.

Still disconnected from the bounties we enjoy here. Still struggling.

We can’t wait for the perfect answer to these big issues. Nor can we stumble at all the hurdles.

Elijah and his team have started a second batch of mushrooms, learning from their issues the first time around.

And we’re pressing ahead with small solutions. We have $100 left from the workshop sales, which is enough for transport, food, and 3-days of business and mushroom-growing training for Elijah in Kampala. After that, he’ll be equipped to teach his Nakivale group and the villagers beyond.

They’ll still need close and ongoing support from someone who’s not 11,000 kilometres away. 

In the last month, we’ve met several people who are growing mushrooms not far from Nakivale. Some are even preparing their own spawn, despite the limitations of an African setting. A few have very kindly offered to come to Nakivale and help the farmers establish a mushroom-growing enterprise. We just need to set the farmers up with a few basics and they’ll be on their way.

So the plan is: get Elijah to Kampala. When he comes back, at some stage ask a kind individual or group with experience to come and help them get set up. Create a secure building, well suited to mushroom growing. Buy some materials. Milkwood has very kindly offered scholarships in its online mushroom-growing course – ongoing education is key. 

Two days into the new grow, Elijah texts me: ‘I have good news.’ I’m on a call with someone else, so I can’t answer. ‘I have good news!’ That exclamation is a good amount of energy from Elijah. I have to check-in. When I get him on a video call, his eyes are shining. The second batch of mushrooms is growing! I don’t think I’ve ever seen him so happy.

We’d like to give our heartfelt thanks to Nick and Kirsten from Milkwood for giving us their time, knowledge and patience as we work our way through this process. We’d also like to thank everyone who came along on 1 June and donated to this wonderful venture, and the countless individuals who help conduct workshops, and give their time and experience free of charge to help refugees in these camps. A big shout out to BioGreen and all the groups that attended on the day. Individuals such as Elijah volunteer for such groups purely for the benefit of their communities, and we are inspired by their persistence, grace in the face of extreme difficulty, and big smiles when things go well.

If you’d like to help us set up a group of 25 farmers with a secure building and enough spawn to get them cracking in mushroom growing you can donate here

 *Photo of boda boda used with permission courtesy of Elizabeth Fekonia, from her June 2023 permaculture workshop tour of Kenya and Uganda. Thanks to Elijah and BioGreen for the workshop photos.

APC23 – in photo!

APC23 – in photo!

Permaculture South Australia hosted an incredible three-day event celebrating permaculture, sustainability and urban food movements from across Australia. Featuring inspiring keynote speakers, workshops, stalls, hands-on activities and more, it was a weekend of learning, connecting and sharing. Held at the beautiful Mount Barker Waldorf School, at Yaktunga / Mount Barker in South Australia’s Adelaide Hills and with the autumn sun shining, it was an APC for the memory books.

22nd to the 24th April, 2023

With special thanks to the incredible team at Permaculture South Australia and all their amazing volunteers, who put in months (years even!) of energy, hard work and passion to create a wonderful event that will be celebrated for years!

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