Pre-Conference Workshop: Hands-On Permaculture Design Intensive


by guest blogger Mitra Sticklen


Friday afternoon I attended Will Hooker’s Hands-On Permaculture Design Intensive. As a professor at North Carolina State University, he offers permaculture design courses including online courses and especially hands-on design practice and instruction. Check out his urban permaculture website about his Raleigh homestead: If you’re familiar with the book Gaia’s Garden by Toby Hemenway, you already know Will’s homestead – it’s featured on the book’s cover! He began the workshop with a brief powerpoint presentation about permaculture foundations, design process, and case studies before launching into an open and free-flowing design session.


After reviewing the permaculture principles he uses as a designer and educator, Will focused on the four concepts we’d be using throughout the workshop:

1. relative location

2. each element performs many functions

3. each function supported by many elements

4. energy efficient planning by permaculture zones


We compared the standard scientific process (observe, hypothesis, test, analyze results, conclusion) to the process that Will uses (see Kober & Bagnall’s The Universal Traveler, below for resources)


1.     accept responsibility

2.     analyze -> wild energies (sun, shade, slopes, water, wind, noise, light, great and undesirable views, wildlife, fire, kids

3.     define problem / design program

4.     activities/food/water/shelter…

5.     ideate/brainstorm (bubble diagrams, schematic designs)

6.     choose (preliminary planning)

7.     implementing

8.     evaluating


During a brief ‘show and tell’, Will shared a few case studies from his work and practice and travels. Examples included:



Then we began working on our own projects. Will asked us to take out our maps and schematics of the land we’re designing. He guided us in brainstorming our “program elements,” i.e. the list of things you want the space to DO for you or your community. What are your GOALS? Examples of program elements could include saving seeds, growing vegetables, teaching groups, making music, hosting bonfires, washing produce and packing for market, cooking food, sharing meals, etc. Will stressed that this is YOUR space, and you can dream big! It’s OK if you don’t have the resources to do all these projects right now, “but get started with bite-size projects today!”


Will then asked us to categorize the above features of our program elements by each physical systems present:


1.     food

2.     water

3.     shelter/built environment

4.     energy

5.     material resources (including waste/re-used)


I worked on the Inter-Faith Food Shuttle’s farm but after a while of working on my project I joined Brenda Brodie (co-founder of SEEDS in Durham, ) in following Will around from table to table. We watched him field questions, suggest innovative design elements, and tell many stories of success and challenges as a designer and teacher.


Here are a few grains of wisdom from the Piedmont’s premier permaculture designer/teacher:


  • Ponds need 75% shade to function
  • Slopes with 6% grade or higher will erode if gardened! Best to focus gardens elsewhere
  • In the Piedmont, in general, the wind comes from SW for 10 months/year, then from NE in hurricane season
  • For a 1000 square foot roof, every 1” of rain collects 600 gallons of water. Don’t use a 55 gallon collection tank! Will always uses a minimum of 300 gallons.
  • Will suggests installing orchards on a north-facing slope so it isn’t susceptible to early blooming and unpredictable late frosts


Here are a number of books Will recommended during the workshop:


  • Gaia’s Garden: A Guide to Home-Scale Permaculture by Toby Hemenway
  • Edible Forest Gardens 1 & 2 by Dave Jacke
  • Regenerative Design for Sustainable Development by John Lyle
  • The Universal Traveler: A Soft-Systems Guide to Creativity, Problem-Solving, and the Process of Reaching Goal, by Koberg & Bagnall
  • A Pattern Language: Towns, Buildings, Construction, by Alexander, Ishikawa and Silverstein


This hands-on intensive was a great introduction to the principles and practices of design, and a great way to watch an experienced designer/teacher facilitate our design process. If you’re interested in getting deeper into permaculture or pursuing a Permaculture Design Certification, check out . I look forward to learning more from Will Hooker here in Raleigh, and highly recommend reaching out to him about permaculture courses and consultation!

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