From “frustrated farmer” to permaculture educator – Andrew Nicholson

From “frustrated farmer” to permaculture educator – Andrew Nicholson

Andrew Nicholson is a PA professional member who teaches Certificate III Permaculture at the South Regional TAFE in Albany, Western Australia. Martina Hoeppner from the Permaculture Australia Education team chats with Andrew about teaching accredited permaculture at TAFE and how permaculture qualifications & skills will be in demand jobs over the next decade.

How did you get involved in Permaculture? 
I first came across the idea of Permaculture as a year 12 student in 1978 (the year Permaculture One was published) and still have that very tattered book in my library. I was fascinated by the ideas of Bill Mollison and David Holmgren and as a bit of a frustrated farmer I read up a lot of the books that were their influencers at the time. I also have 1978 editions of Fukuoka’s The One-Straw Revolution and Yeoman’s Water for every farm in my library. I got married in 1985 and my wife Andrea, who was from a farming background, was also interested in sustainable living, vegie growing and preserving. When we bought our first house in York we started implementing permaculture practices on our block. We had no formal training through this period but read and absorbed whatever was published, we watched the Global Gardener series and designed integrated plant and animal systems on our ¼ acre block. By this time, I was working on a farm and my boss was open to doing some pasture renovation using a Wallace soil conditioner, holistically planning tree lines and fencing, keeping water high in the landscape and to using rock mineral fertilisers in places.
We have now ‘permacultured’ six properties, including a 255-hectare farm. We currently live on a ¼ acre block in Albany with an aquaculture system, rabbits, guinea pigs, chickens, ducks and worms integrated with raised vegie beds, ground cover crops and fruit trees. I also co-ordinate the Good Life Community Garden in Albany (permaculture oriented) and the Permaculture courses at the South Regional TAFE.
What formal permaculture training have you completed?
My formal education in permaculture didn’t start until 2017 when I raised the idea of starting a permaculture section at South Regional TAFE (SRTAFE) with my manager. She agreed I could investigate it and when my wife Andrea raised the idea of doing a PDC at Fair Harvest Permaculture in Margaret River, I realised this would be a good start to getting the qualification on our scope of registration. We completed the PDC and inspired I enrolled to do the Certificate III at Candlelight Farm in Mundaring with Dr Ross Mars. Traveling from Albany to Mundaring (900 km round trip) each month for a year was challenging but Ross and his team taught a great course and I obtained my Certificate III at the end of the year. Bitten with bug I enrolled in the Diploma course and once again made the trek up and down every month for another year, completing it in July 2020 amidst Covid-19 lockdown.
South Regional TAFE in Albany are offering several permaculture opportunities – can you tell us about the different courses?
We offer two separate Certificate III courses at SRTAFE. Our mainstream course runs two days/week over three terms, with five units of competence being offered each term. Students have the option of completing the course one or two days/week – if they enrol for both days they can complete the Certificate in nine  months. Our facilities include a fully equipped horticultural training site with a separate area for us to develop a permaculture space from scratch. We also do some of our course work at the Good Life Community Garden where there is an established food forest and integrated animals as well as the community engagement aspects that are important for an understanding of the Permaculture principles. We also offer the Certificate III in Permaculture as a series of weekend workshops for those who work or find weekends easier. The 15 units that make up the qualification are divided into eight workshops that are offered over a year. People can enrol in one unit or all of them. Some workshops will be offered more than once during the year depending on demand.
Where are students working after completing the Certificate – are there any jobs in permaculture?
Most of our students are on small to medium sized properties and are wanting to integrate permaculture principles and practices into their farming enterprises and lives. A couple are doing the course for interest and some are Ppermaculture practitioners who want to obtain a formal qualification. A couple are interested in becoming permaculture teachers in schools and in the community. There are no advertised permaculture jobs in our region at the moment, but there is a strong sustainability push in the Great Southern and a number of schools are implementing sustainability into their curriculum, including creating permaculture gardens and spaces for kids to learn in. I think people with permaculture qualifications will be well set up for the new wave of sustainability jobs that will become part of every forward-thinking organisation over the next decade.
Do you think the emergencies of the last year have changed these job prospects?
Not yet, but I think they will. Designing for disaster (civil unrest, fires, power loss, water shortages as well as pandemics) is a key concept in permaculture thinking. Although ‘preppers’ and fringe groups have caught the headlines in this area over the past ten years, preparation for some of these disasters has already lead to people wanting to learn skills in growing and preserving food, going off the grid and developing resilient community networks.
Where do you see Permaculture skills needed most in the future?
The bulk of our food production will remain on conventional farms, but progressive farmers are already moving away from whole of farm cropping programs and reintroducing grazing animals because of concerns around weed resistance to herbicides. Concerns about health effects associated with some chemical usage is prompting more people to seek out healthy food options. The Good Life Community Garden hosted David Holmgren during his Retrosuburbia tour of WA and had a tremendous response with over 100 people wanting to learn more about growing food in their backyard. We have the capacity to reduce the pressure on our farmers to harvest unsustainable levels of food from their land by turning some of our lawns and underutilised soil in back yards into productive food forests and even developing small businesses based on permaculture principles and practices. These are skills not only for food production but for a more resilient permanent culture. Organisational culture is a buzz word at the moment and the Permaculture ethics, Earth Care, People Care and Fair Share are the best conversation starters about culture that I know.
How do you think the Accredited Training in Permaculture (APT) compares to the Permaculture Design Course (PDC) in the skills taught?
The PDC course is an amazing overload of information and mind-expanding experiences over an intense 14-day block. There is a little practical hands-on stuff, a lot of observation (with not much interaction) and the opportunity to work with a group of people to put together a concept for a design. An experience with food, camping and permaculture knowledge that I would recommend to anyone.
Accredited training (APT) is much more practically based with the course broken into 15 units that all have a knowledge component and a practical component – and because it runs over 60 days in total there is more opportunity to explore in depth the subject matter and to implement large scale practical projects. At SRTAFE we are building a permaculture garden from a patch of grass, and students are involved in all aspects from site investigation, design, construction of the gardens, food forest, paths, reactional spaces through to maintenance of the finished areas. If you have been inspired by doing a PDC, I recommend you consolidate your knowledge and skills by doing a Certificate III in Permaculture. The Certificate IV of Permaculture is for people who already have some skills and would like skills to supervise and manage permaculture installations from a design, and the Diploma of Permaculture provides in depth training in consulting, interviewing clients, developing permaculture designs to industry standard and researching permaculture principles and practices.
Should more training organisations offer Permaculture?
Yes. I would like to see every region across Australia offering Permaculture. The way to create permaculture jobs is to develop a groundswell of qualified practitioners who are competent, inspiring workers in horticulture, sustainability and agriculture. Hiring a permaculture graduate gives you not only someone with growing and nurturing skills, but analytical and researching skills, community engagement and social cohesion skills as well as a passion for the planet and robust human societies. They are ethical and inclusive, sharing and cooperative, they are the workers this rapidly changing world needs and the more we train, the faster the world will realise this.
There was a Permaculture surge in the nineties after the Global Gardener came out and I think we could be at the start of another surge if more RTO’s took up the challenge of delivering Permaculture. I have been lecturing in the fields of horticulture, conservation land management, sustainability, forestry and agriculture for 25 years at SRTAFE and my most satisfying and enjoyable training times have been with my permaculture students over the past two years. I love it.
Additional information

Martina Hoeppner holds a Diploma in Permaculture and a Certificate IV in Training & Assessment, teaches PDCs and Certificate III in Permaculture in Perth and is the current Co-Convenor of Permaculture West. She contributes to Permaculture Australia’s Education Team and tries keep alive her own garden and three sons in her spare time. More information on the different types of permaculture education completed by both Martina and Andrew can be found here.

Martina and Andrew are professional members of Permaculture Australia, the national member based organisation in Australia. Sign up as a member here today to join hundreds of members across Australia advocating for permaculture solutions.

Southern Regional TAFE delivers accredited vocation education and training, working with industiry to build the capacity of current and future employees through training and skills recognition in the region. There are several options to study Permaculture at the Albany campus with more details available here.

Giving Greens – Permaculture careers

Giving Greens – Permaculture careers

Martina Hoeppner from the PA Education team chats with Western Australia based James McDonald about finding permaculture in England, microgreens, and the link between permaculture studies and small scale urban farming enterprises.

Can you tell us a little bit about your permaculture journey and education?

My permaculture journey began when I was living in England. I stumbled across the term in my search for information on growing food. At the time I had suddenly become aware of homelessness as a significant social issue and I had taken it upon myself to become acquainted with the many people experiencing homelessness in Exeter, where I was living at the time. It struck me that, for the most part, these people were struggling each day to get enough food, quality food, while there were people walking right past them to the Tesco and Sainsburys to buy food. Money was the missing link; the lack of money. Realising that all that was needed to grow food, for free, was human effort, I set out to learn how so I could grow food for those that needed it.

Having stumbled across Permaculture and falling in love with the concept through my online research, I went to the local library and found Patrick Whitefield’s The Earth Care Manual. I devoured it, read it cover to cover in a matter of days. That sparked further exploration living and working on various properties in Portugal, Romania, and Ireland to learn more and put some of what I was reading in to practice. When I returned to Australia I was fortunate to meet Ross Mars and ended up living on his property, continuing to learn and practice while completing my Bachelor of Sustainability, and then eventually completed my PDC down at Fair Harvest in Margaret River.

After getting involved in permaculture and serving on the Permaculture West committee, you founded Giving Greens, a social business producing microgreens. Tell us a little bit about this business.

While not any formal form of social business, or social enterprise, I do see Giving Greens as a social business, but it is firstly a business, that has social intent. When I first launched Giving Greens, for each tray I sold, I was donating a tray of microgreens to a local charity that provided meals for Perth’s homeless. I liked to consider it ‘secret nutrition’ as the recipients had little awareness of what microgreens were, or their benefits, but they were consuming them, which was the important part. As well intentioned as this was it was really difficult to maintain in the early stages of a new business. I ended up scrapping the 1-for-1 model to focus on building the business knowing that one day, when Giving Greens was in a stronger position, donating would be much easier. Also, the scope of what I considered to be a ‘social good’ expanded.

With studies suggesting that microgreens are more nutrient dense than regular greens, and that when we are receiving adequate nutrients to fuel our bodies optimally, we feel better. When we feel better, we show up differently in the world to our family, our partners, our colleagues, peers, and our community. If I can change just one person’s eating habits so that they are now eating better, getting enough nutrients, they feel better about themselves and encourage, by example, those around them to do the same, it creates a ripple effect that can be carried on almost infinitely. What looks like a fun, exciting, and colourful microgreen can be a powerful agent for change, however subtle it may be. If I can help people shift from a ‘me’ mindset by getting their bodies and minds out of survival mode, and into a ‘us’ mindset thinking more consciously about the people around them and their environment, then I see that as a social good.

What do you think is the relevance of small-scale urban food production for the future?

I have always considered small-scale local food production to be important for building resilience in the food supply. Rather than relying on a few large national/multinational companies for our food, I’d certainly encourage small-scale production. This would create localised economies that, should something significant happen, would be resilient enough to stand alone. The tricky thing, though, about having more suppliers/growers would be that the pricing would be driven down. With increased supply, less revenue would be available to pay for the overheads to produce that food, making it less viable for smaller producers. I’m certainly not saying that is right, it is just a consequence of our contemporary economic system. If permaculture teaches you anything it is the connectivity between components in a system. You can’t make a significant change in one area without impacting another.

Have recent events like the bushfires last year and the pandemic this year confirmed or changed your mind on this?

Confirmed, certainly. The pandemic, or at least the panic and fear around the pandemic, demonstrated the vulnerabilities in our food supply. Suddenly, the availability of some items that we took for granted just dried up. If you were relying on the larger supermarkets for your food some things became much harder to get, if you even wanted to go to a supermarket. Even a lot of the local growers were inundated with orders for home deliveries during this time leaving the local supply stretched also.

Do you think permaculture education provides a good entry to small-scale intensive food production?

Yeah, absolutely. Again, understanding that to produce food you must have an understanding of the various components that play a role. Things like the soil with its microbial life, nutrient cycling, structure and water storage, water collection distribution, pests, light wind, temperature, the sun. The conventional form of food production aims to eliminate as may variables as possible to make it easier to control. The permaculture approach recognises, embraces, and uses the many variables to produce quality food with less exogenous inputs, and sometimes, certainly not always, less human energy input. I’d love to see an economic system that recognises and rewards the efforts of food producers.


Additional information

Martina Hoeppner holds a Diploma in Permaculture and a Certificate IV in Training & Assessment, teaches PDCs and Certificate III in Permaculture in Perth and is the current Co-Convenor of Permaculture West. She contributes to Permaculture Australia’s Education Team and tries keep alive her own garden and three sons in her spare time. More information on the different types of permaculture education completed by both Martina and James can be found here.

Martina is professional member and volunteer of Permaculture Australia, the national member based organisation in Australia. Sign up as a member here today to join hundreds of members across Australia advocating for permaculture solutions.

Permaculture West is the WA permaculture association, including local groups across the state.

Marrying horticulture and permaculture: graduate stories

Marrying horticulture and permaculture: graduate stories

Lisa Passmore is a third generation Horticulturalist and has worked in the production and retail horticulture sectors in Perth, England and New Zealand. Lisa’s twin passions of Horticulture and Art led her to create her own landscape design and consultancy business in 1998.  In addition, Lisa has been co-teaching the Diploma in Permaculture with Ross Mars in 2019 and running the Garden Design Course at Homebase since 2006. Lisa holds a Diploma in Horticulture, a Diploma in Permaculture and a Certificate IV in Training and Assessment. A Water Corporation endorsed water- wise landscaper, Lisa is a member of the Horticultural Media Association (HMA) and is a regular contributor to horticultural industry publications. She has featured on the Garden Gurus TV program, Burkes Backyard and is a regular speaker at Garden Week and various WA garden clubs. 

Martina Hoeppner from the PA Education team chats with Lisa about the impact on studying permaculture, changing beliefs about insects and soil health, and marrying permaculture & horticulture in her career.

You were a horticulturist before you studied permaculture. How has permaculture changed your view of horticulture and has it changed your practices? 

Studying Permaculture has opened my eyes to the bigger picture of growing plants on this planet, specifically to what is going on underneath our feet. This new understanding and appreciation of the soil biome has had a profound effect on what I teach my students and how I garden at home. Whilst previously I advocated organic practices as preferable for optimising human health, now I advocate organic practices as imperative in protecting the soil. 

When I first studied Horticulture (some 25 years ago) we spent a lot of time learning the lifecycles of common garden insects from the point of view of when best to spray pesticides for maximum effect. Now I advocate balance in the garden and urge my clients and students to encourage insects to the garden, to learn to tolerate some damage, to live and let live and above all else avoid using chemicals in the garden. So much has changed! 


Like many permaculturists, you currently have more than one job. Could you tell us a little bit about the things you do at the moment? 

I have been running a small garden design and consultancy business since 2000 and in addition to this provide talks and workshops on garden related topics. Being self-employed is wonderful and I’ve enjoyed the flexibility of being able to work around the family’s needs, however it does come with seasonal fluctuations. At the beginning of 2020 I took on extra work in different areas as a way of weathering any economic uncertainty. I applied for a casual pool position at TAFE teaching Horticulture and as a Senior Horticulturist at a local specialist native garden centre. I am now on contract at TAFE teaching most of the week, whilst still helping on Saturday’s at the garden centre and looking after my garden design clients in my spare time.  


How do you see the future of permaculture in this current climate of emergencies, including COVID-19? 

I do feel that people are looking to gardening right now for mental health surrounding themselves with greenery inside and outside their homes, as well as for food security in growing their herbs and vegetables.   

I actively recommend to my students the Accredited training in permaculture (as well as the PDC) and hope to have TAFE pick up the training in the future.  There is a real opportunity for permaculture education at the moment. Now is the time!

Additional information

Martina Hoeppner holds a Diploma in Permaculture and a Certificate IV in Training & Assessment, teaches PDCs and Certificate III in Permaculture in Perth and is the current Co-Convenor of Permaculture West. She contributes to Permaculture Australia’s Education Team and tries keep alive her own garden and three sons in her spare time.

More information on the Accredited Permaculture Training, including the Diploma of Permaculture completed by both Martina and Lisa can be found here.

Martina is professional member and volunteer of Permaculture Australia, the national member based organisation in Australia. Sign up as a member here today to join hundreds of members across Australia advocating for permaculture solutions.

We are always keen to hear from PA members who would like to volunteer, please get in touch via to see how we can utilise your skills.

Permaculture Stories – Delldint Megan Fleming

Permaculture Stories – Delldint Megan Fleming

“Learning permaculture is one of those cyclical patterns, each time you go round it’s like a year: every summer is different from the summer before, you’re a bit older and wiser, it’s a different environment. It’s been really fascinating.”

Delldint chatted to PA volunteer Julia about her approach to teaching permaculture online and how she makes use of her suburban block as a permaculture canvas for the public. She also gives us a VIP tour of her amazing garden.


Permaculture Stories – Jared Robinson

Permaculture Stories – Jared Robinson

“Our main focus is to continue providing access to local food through the community garden and introducing various workshops/demonstrations that address barriers to food security, educate about good soil and plant health and offer hands on experience in growing your own food.”

Jared Robinson chatted to PA volunteer Julia about his background in permaculture, its future under coronavirus and the most underrated piece of space in the garden: the verge.