Doing a Permaculture Internship

 In Community, Featured, Why Permaculture?

Can the human race build an environmentally sustainable culture? Can we disprove the myth that humans are inherently destructive?

At the Permaculture Research Institute of Australia, 18 others and myself were a part of an intensive internship in an attempt to answer these big big questions. We asked ourselves, “If not now, when? If not us, than who?” Its clear to us there is a way, this is the time and we are the people we have been waiting for.

The Interns of June 2012

Diving Into My Permaculture Internship

I struggled for a long time to write this chapter. How do I encapsulate 10 weeks of courses, of learning, or meeting and living with 18 other people from 12 other countries?

Trying to explain permaculture alone has been a work in progress. Every time I answer what permaculture is I feel like a smith hammering away, refining and refining.

At first I tried to to explain permaculture by saying it was hard to explain. (Such a cop out, eh?) But I would follow that by saying its many fields (such as watershed management, horticulture, animal husbandry, landscape design, medicine, cooking, farming, architecture… the list goes on). To be more specific permaculture is about making meaningful connections between those fields in order to address the worlds problems.

But that wasn’t enough. It lacked punch. It was long-winded.  But more importantly I found that spewing a definition at others didn’t really generate conversation nor did it convey my passion. So conversations passed and I word-smithed out new ways of talking about permaculture: 

“What do you do?”

Trial 1: “I repair landscapes and facilitate creative life events to return function back to the land”.

Though satisfactory for a time this also wasn’t enough; to change the world I needed to change more than landscapes, I needed to change people!

Trial #2: I empower people to make meaningful connections so they can live WITH the land and build a regenerative human culture.”

Now that resonated with me with me as an educator! Since creating that definition for myself I have gone on to explain permaculture to others in all sorts of combinations of words. Below is one my new favourites! 


So what did I learn under the cause of Permaculture? The course included 6 week long courses plus I got an extra one in on a weekend. They included:

  1. Earthworks – I can now survey, can design in various earthworks (such as dams, swales, gabions, lemonias, terraces, ditches and diversion drains) and can call in and direct large machines.
  2. Consultancy and Urban design – I can now design and implement small property designs. Using this skill set I can be a consultant, a designer and a landscaper.
  3. Bio-intensive gardening and seed saving – I can now put in a garden that maximizes outputs, minimizes inputs and grows nutrient dense food. I also know about the importance of seed saving.
  4. Permaculture Teacher Training – I can now competently and confidently convey the key content that makes permaculture what it is.
  5. Soil biology – I now know how much we don’t know about the world we cannot see with the naked eye. Dirt is NOT soil. I can now make healthy soil, compost and natural fertilizers.
  6. Aid work – I can now confidently walk into an Aid project and apply permaculture to help others and their landscapes.
  7. Community Land Trusts – I now understand how to set up a community that builds relationships between people and their land.

Sounds like a lot of information? Well that was only half of it! Outside of the class hours and during the remaining weeks I helped manage a farm unlike any on this earth. I was taught how to kill a goat, a duck, a rabbit and a cow. We processed as much of those animals as we could and, over time, we cooked them. I learned how to plant and manage a forest that feeds you. I ate the bounty from those forests. Guava, passion fruit, jackfruit, rose apple, chocolate pudding fruit, koko yam, sweet potato, aloe Vera, mango, avocado, coffee, caramel sapottee… the list goes on.

Each morning I started the day by doing a chore which was also a significant part of my education. I learned how to:

  • Manage main crop, urban garden and a kitchen garden
  • Work in a tree/plant nursery
  • Manage animal grazing cells
  • Feed, milk and look after goats and cows
  • Feed and care for rabbits, ducks and chickens and put them to work in what we here call aals in “tractors”
  • Manage utilities – solar energy, water, rocket stove (hot water) and garbage.

Do you see what I mean when I said I was having a hard time encapsulating my time here at the Permaculture Research Institute? I hope you have enjoyed the brief glimpse.

But what about weekends? I climbed to the highest point in Australia and had the sunrise touch me before anything else in the land. I hiked a rainforest and swam in subtropical waters. I ran on beaches in the rain and sunsets. I got to stay in a log cabin on the edge of a rainforest next to a babbling creek. In that magical cabin I met amazing people and slept next to a wood fired stove. I went to markets and ate so much food I made myself ill. Weekends? They were all right.

If you enjoyed this tale, you might enjoy the rest of Kenton’s Travels across Australia and Canada as a travelling Permaculture Student, Teacher and Designer, and other his other permaculture related posts at

Thanks for reading!



Kenton Zerbin

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