Going green on your Workaway: Permaculture living – Part One

gardener planting

Jo planting in her garden

We’ve been impressed by how many permaculture projects are signing up to Workaway, looking for volunteers to help in the garden and with the development of what looks like a great healthy way to grow in more ways than one!

Here Jo Crowson, a Workaway host and permaculture enthusiast explains a bit more about it and how you can get involved using Workaway.

Jo has been dabbling in permaculture for many years, finally got around to doing the permaculture design course by dint of arranging to run one on her land, where she organises various permaculture and natural building courses (More can be found on her website at www.casagaia.co.uk) .

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Permaculture in Times of Change

Hen House and Garden – Photo by hardworkinghippy

Hen House and Garden – Photo by hardworkinghippy

We are living in exciting and difficult times of change, but the good news is that all over the world people are reacting creatively to the current economic crisis: travelling, learning new skills, starting great projects. Permaculture is one approach that is giving rise to some of the most creative personal and community responses to the global economic situation and to the need to reduce our impact on the Earth. And Workaway is a great place to find and connect to permaculture practitioners.

The term “permaculture” – from permanent agriculture and, more recently, permanent culture – was coined in the late 70s by the post-graduate student David Holmgren and his mentor Bill Mollison. Walking through the forests of Tasmania the two were struck by the fact that the forest needs no human help to maintain its diversity; in fact the very diversity found in the forest guarantees its sustainability. From its birth in Tasmania, permaculture, grounded in three ethical principles of care for the planet, care for people and care for the future has spread throughout the world.

I entered the word ‘permaculture’ in the Workaway search box last week and 3380 hosts

Ready Vegetables - Workawayer Tracy from the US

Ready Vegetables – Photo by Workawayer Tracy from the US

appeared, based in countries all over the world, with new hosts signing up each day.

Whether you are a permaculture practitioner seeking more experience or a curious traveller wanting to find out more, there is an incredibly diverse list of hosts waiting for your help. They include skilled permaculture hosts teaching from demonstration sites, as well as relative newcomers to the approach keen to share their learning process; hosts asking for help with projects of all sizes, from mini to macro; hosts just starting up and others long established; the list even includes hosts covering rural and urban initiatives. Here are some suggestions drawn from just a few of the hosts that came up in my search:

The old…

Biodynamic Permaculture Farm in New South Wales

Permaculture Farm in New South Wales

A lot can be learned from visiting established projects which allow you to see the results of trial and experiment, demonstrating what can be achieved over time. The best way to see how a compost loo works is to use an established one – and no, they don’t smell! It is inspiring to see how well a garden can grow with little irrigation when swales and other systems to catch and store rainwater are in place.

On Workaway you will find hosts who have been working with permaculture for many years, accumulating great experience.

Check out this new project – a Quinta in Portugal – run by old hands, combining the best of both worlds: lots to do, but in the early design stages, and under experienced guidance.

As permaculture becomes better known, and the need for designing for sustainability becomes more widely understood, there are more and more teaching and demonstration projects starting up. If you are interested in a thorough exploration of permaculture, there are hosts that offer training from their site. This biodynamic farm in Australia has received great feedback, showing how much you can learn as a volunteer:

“…The work was always interesting and varied. Now we know how to build a fence and, of course, how to process garlic. We learned a lot about alternative gardening/farming and we are really grateful for that…”

(A word of advice: if you choose a host that runs educational projects, be sure to ask about any costs entailed with attending a Permaculture Design Certificate or other official course. Even if the dates of a PDC coincide with your visit, attendance on the course may not be considered to be part of a Workaway exchange.)

…and the new


Earthship building and farming in Mendoza

The Workaway host list is inspiring in part because it features so many new initiatives and start up self-
sufficient and environmentally sustainable communities. Hosts, like this multicultural community in Argentina or this farm in Costa Rica, offer opportunities to join new projects for a few weeks or longer.

Several international communities using permaculture in their gardens appear in the host list, as well as new eco-villages incorporating permaculture design principles in the structure of their community.

If you want to be involved in the contagious atmosphere of the early stages of a new project you could try one of several that seem to be springing up simultaneously in Portugal, where the seeds of permaculture appear to be sprouting far and wide.

The big…


Farm and holistic retreat in Chile

Want to get away from it all and really immerse yourself in the world of self-sufficiency? There are Workaway hosts in very rural areas with large properties, using permaculture to support mixed farming practices. Learn to care for chooks or sheep, help with harvest, discover the pleasure of eating what you produce, find out how life is lived off-grid – and how life might look post-peak oil – with hosts like this one in Chile, on 250 hectares of land. The sense of self-sustainability and community living in the nature makes you wonder whether you actually need anything from the city.

…and the small

Permaculture places great value on small interventions, and many of the hosts on Workaway are starting small veggie gardens based on permaculture principles, or working out how to become more self sufficient and independent on smaller plots of land, and in some very interesting parts of the world!

Combine some hands on learning about permaculture with visits to the Ecuador mountains or fruit farm in Thailand in Thailand. With an extra pair of helping hands micro-projects can make great advances and it’s a fantastic opportunity for you to really see the difference your volunteering can make.


Permaculture principles are applied wherever people are found. Nowadays many permaculture courses are offered in urban or semi-urban areas, and permaculture principles are put into practice on terraces and balconies, in small yards, and in community gardens.

Just outside London

Just outside London

Workaway hosts include people who have joined their neighbours to create suburban homesteads, like this host in the USA with a tiny backyard flock of laying hens, honey bees, and approximately 2800 square feet of garden space in eastern Pennsylvania: as well as families who are working to retrofit their suburban homes in more sustainable ways, like this one just outside of London in the UK who is keen to improve their kitchen garden according to principles of permaculture.

…or urban?

You will also find dedicated urban projects offering an alternative lifestyle to city dwellers, such as this organisation aiming to promote self-sufficiency in Belgium, apparently one of the most urbanised places in the world, with more than 50% concrete.

In the next part of this post about permaculture, we’ll discuss what you might learn and the volunteering work you should expect to be doing.

5 replies
  1. Laura Jane Mason
    Laura Jane Mason says:

    Thank you so much for this information. I have a big dream of breaking free from my office job, (working for the Metropolitan Police in London, UK) and just going out there and doing more hands-on conservation type work abroad. I want to learn new skills so I can develop a new career that is more true to myself AND Workaway and the idea of getting involved in Permaculture projects seems to be JUST PERFECT.

    I have applied for a career break at my workplace and been granted a 12month visa for Australia and I’m waiting for confirmation to say that I have been granted a 23month NZ working holiday visa.

    I’m working towards the day that I can say, ‘I’m living the Dream’

    Thank you so much for the info you have shared.

    With gratitude,

    Laura Jane

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Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. […] Workaway hosts and projects come in all shapes and sizes. This community in China are restoring a traditional courtyard house with natural building technology using low carbon features and energy saving inventions. Their land is cultivated based on Permaculture principals. (For more information about Permaculture, see this earlier article) […]

  2. […] expect to be doing as a host, and also some more thoughts on the philosophy behind permaculture. Here’s the link to the 1st part if you missed […]

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