The word “education” is rooted to the latin word educere, which means to “bring out,” suggesting that teaching is supporting students to come forward to actualize his or her own vision for the world. The permaculture course, since its inception by co-founder Bill Mollison in the 70s, has been the starting point for many people doing this work. The Permaculture Design Certification (PDC) is generally taught as a 72-hour course, often over two weeks time. The course covers a range of content and includes a design practicum, where students create an integrated design based on their new knowledge and skills. While there are some common standards for these PDCs, each course carries with it a range of content and outcomes arising from geography, culture, and teacher experience.

Rafter Sass Ferguson, Steve Gabriel, Michael Burns and Karryn Olson-Ramanujan

Since the Finger Lakes Permaculture Institute’s (FLPCI) first course in 2005, we’ve held two standards to guide our instruction. First, we require high-quality, professional teaching methods so students will leave the course feeling inspired to learn more, compelled to act, and confident in their ability to do so. Secondly, information for our practice of permaculture must be research and experience based.

After thousands of hours of teaching permaculture to these standards the Finger Lakes Permaculture Institute’s permaculture curriculum is both research-based and rooted in time-tested teaching methods. The course instructors are active in university academic settings (Steve at Cornell University, Karryn at Ithaca College, and Rafter at the University of Illinois) plus Michael, a high school teacher. This combination of research and hands-in experience mixed with a passion for teaching has supported thousands of people on their learning journeys. Each also has recent or current experience on farms, homesteads, community gardens and forests, and a mix of other sustainably-designed projects.

Steve teaching pattern analysis.

FLPCI co-founder and instructor Steve Gabriel has been developing his permaculture experience and evidence-based teaching for the past ten years. Steve is currently an extension educator at Cornell University, where he mainly works with landowners and farmers on agroforestry (mixing of farm crops and trees.) Most of his research and education efforts center around forest mushroom cultivation, where several advances in research have demonstrated that shiitake mushrooms are a viable and economic crop in the Eastern US. Along with a team of professors, researchers, and extension educators, he spends much of his time sharing the basics of cultivation and marketing. This comes after many years of growing mushrooms himself, first as a backyard hobby crop, and now as a major part of the farm enterprise at Wellspring Forest Farm, which he maintains with finance Liz in Mecklenburg, NY.

Steve has been teaching shiitake mushroom production throughout the northeast based on research and his own experience as a small farmer.

Shortly after arriving at Cornell in 2009, Steve partnered with longtime friend and colleague, Professor Ken Mudge along with Professor Jane Mt. Pleasant, who researches indigenous agricultural practices. Together, the three developed a PDC for Cornell students which has been taught for the past two years on the ivy league campus. The course has inspired a new class of students who are starting permaculture clubs, planting gardens, and working on the student organic farm. This past spring the Permaculture course was approved as a permanent listing in the Cornell course book. This upcoming fall, Steve and Ken’s new book will be published: Farming the Woods An Integrated Permaculture Approach to Growing Food and Medicinals in Temperate Forests.

While making these connections professionally, Steve has recognized that the permaculture movement and academia have a lot to learn from each other. While permaculture courses offer a positive vision for the future, many of the practices and strategies taught are not always based on evidence. This need not be the case. Permaculture offers a framework to stitch together fields of study that are often examined separately in academia; soil science, forestry, natural resource management, agriculture. Indeed each of these areas are a deep body of knowledge, yet without the functional, successful application of this research into the hands of working permaculture practitioners, the knowledge may collect dust.

Daily work on his small farm informs Steve's approach to teaching and research.

Likewise, years of experience and struggle with the “real world” of production can guide researchers to ask and answer crucial questions that may be overlooked within the confines of university life. These queries may not be framed in a precise category or traditional academic subject and can challenge researchers to think outside their discipline.

Permaculture offers a view into the integrated nature of ecological systems and the academic setting is a perfect place for permaculture practitioners to help make the connections which are not often apparent to people trained for years in a single subject area. Steve’s work on his own farm typifies the creative potential between researchers and permaculture designers. His time spent doing farm chores and projects means his genuine efforts to produce sustainable yields insights for himself and other researchers.


Hear Steve talk about growing mushrooms on The Permaculture Podcast.
Click here.



Since Steve Gabriel began teaching permaculture, his curriculum has grown and improved with each course. Based in experience and research, he helps creates graduates who are more likely to leave knowing what works and can feel confident that they are sharing truth, not hearsay or poorly conceived theory. Steve Gabriel’s pedagogy offers not only the latest in ecological ideas, but also the practical skills needed to keep learning and practicing permaculture.